Walk San Francisco stands up for sidewalks

Posted Wednesday June 27, 2018 by Jodie Medeiros

Walk San Francisco stands up for sidewalks

Our stance on electric scooters

The greatest threat to pedestrians is, of course, cars and trucks. The potential harm that automobiles can inflict on people is why Walk SF works every single day to make our streets and sidewalks safe – and make Vision Zero a reality.

So why have we been quoted so many times in the past few months talking about the new dockless electric scooter share companies?

It’s because Walk San Francisco has always stood up for our sidewalks. Sidewalks are our refuge as pedestrians. Sidewalks are the one place where we are safe. It’s where we get to relax a little, soak up the energy of the city, and connect with others.

Walk SF had to respond to what was happening on our sidewalks after several scooter companies launched in March. Many scooter users started riding these motorized vehicles, which go up to 15 mph, on our already crowded sidewalks.

Riding motorized scooters on sidewalks is illegal and unsafe for pedestrians. It is especially problematic for seniors and people with disabilities. This could result in seniors being reluctant to leave their homes, leading to isolation and ill health. People with visual impairments are especially vulnerable to being hit by these motorized vehicles, as well as young children. Sidewalks must remain safe and welcoming for people on foot and using wheelchairs. Period.

However, Walk SF believes that motorized scooters have the potential to be a valuable part of our transportation system in San Francisco. They could reduce the use of private vehicles for trips, which would make our streets healthier and safer for people walking, biking, taking transit, and driving. Walk SF welcomes this sort of future, but this future will require electric scooter companies to create a product and business model that works for people walking.

That’s why we call upon electric scooter companies to:

  1. Advocate for and invest in infrastructure where electric scooters can be safely used, whether that is protected bike lanes or a whole new street design. According to applications from electric scooter companies to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA), users ride on the sidewalk because they perceive the streets to be scary. We agree – the streets are scary! But that doesn’t mean we can sacrifice safety on our sidewalks.
  2. Ensure every rider knows that riding electric scooters on sidewalks is illegal. Required in-app safety trainings, regular reminders to users, and labels on scooters are a good start.
  3. Conduct their own enforcement of illegal riding on sidewalks. The SFMTA simply does not – nor will it ever have – the capacity to monitor scooters sufficiently. Scooter companies must take action and have real consequences for users if they behave illegally.

Electric scooter companies need to do more than protect our sidewalks from illegal riding.

Electric scooter companies must also work toward designated spaces for scooters to be parked so they don’t block sidewalks, curb ramps, or doorways. Walk SF recommends an added locking mechanism and designated space for parking scooters either indicated on the sidewalk or on-street parking, which may mean adding more on-street bike parking corrals. In the meantime, companies need to make sure that if scooters are placed on sidewalks, it’s never in the pedestrian walk area.

We support the cap that the SFMTA has set for the total number of scooters on the streets during this pilot period, as well as meaningful fines to companies for violations (and for the record, it’s time for all vehicles that block sidewalks and bike lanes to have higher fines). We also applaud the SFMTA for requiring companies to have a plan to reach low-income users and those without access to credit cards. The permit also requires companies to share their data in order to improve the city’s ability to plan for growth, as well as how they will reach parts of the city outside of the downtown core, which often lack reliable and frequent transportation options.

When scooter companies first launched their product onto our streets, they didn’t fully appreciate the responsibility they had toward public safety. We believe they have gotten the message that San Franciscans take safety very seriously – especially on our sidewalks – and will respond accordingly.

Beyond safety, we strongly urge these companies to fully embrace equity and the environment within their business models. As scooters have come to symbolize many current tensions in San Francisco, the companies need to demonstrate to San Franciscans that they provide good jobs with living wages and benefits, multilingual and culturally-competent community outreach in historically marginalized neighborhoods, and mitigate the environmental impacts of their battery e-waste and charging practices.

San Francisco can chart bold new territory for sustainable transportation and safer streets for all. Let’s work together to make it happen!