In October of 2018, e-scooters popped onto Arlington County streets. With little or no regulation, riders are zipping through Arlington traffic, and, at times, down city sidewalks.
This will soon change.
Arlington County Police told The Wash about new e-scooter regulations they plan to be imposing this Fall as a response to the safety issues.
“Adults 18 and older are supposed to be riding them but you see kids on them all over the place… and we have all these bike lanes but you’re seeing them on the sidewalks,” said Sergeant Al Taber of the ACPD. “I don’t know if you ever come to Clarendon, but you see two people on them who are intoxicated.”
For the past year, riding safety suggestions have only come from the scooter companies approved for the ongoing pilot program: Bird, Bolt, JUMP, Lime, Lyft, Skip, and Spin.
Riders are instructed to keep off of sidewalks, to stay in designated bike lanes, and to always wear a helmet, said Department of Environmental Services,’ Peter Golkin.
Enforcement and ticketing for these suggestions have been suspended until Arlington’s County Board approves the new regulations. At this time, Arlington law enforcement officials will start a “campaign of warning,” Sgt. Taber said.
The initial goal is to educate. Law enforcement will be handing out pamphlets after stopping those in violation of the newly enforceable rules. After the education period, which may last around ten days, law enforcement will begin penalizing violations of the rules with fines.
Currently, every officer has the discretion to stop scooter riders, but this doesn’t happen unless the rider is doing something “egregious,” said Ashley Savage, Public Information Officer for the ACPD.
“Most of the stuff doesn’t carry points, it’s just all fines,” Taber said.
When The Wash asked county officials about the monetary specifics of the fines, answers were vague.
After learning about the soon-to-be passed regulations, Arlington County resident, Nicole Walkow said, “Bike lanes aren’t always there… and [riding on] the streets can be pretty scary, especially when drivers are hostile towards people on scooters.”
Nonetheless, in the case of a non-existing bike lane, e-scooter riders should remain on the streets moving in line with vehicles, Golkin said.
Despite the existence of potholes, unenforced helmet laws, and often unfindable bike lanes, electric scooter accidents are relatively low in Arlington County, according to Savage.
“From January 1 of 2018 through July 29th of this year, there have been a total of 12 crashes reported. So, not a significant amount of crashes reported in the county,” Savage said.
Jason Gibson, Team Leader for Ballston’s Urgent Care, said it is a rare occurrence that he has a patient come in with a scooter injury. He, personally, hasn’t seen one. In his opinion, the biggest problem with scooters is that “they’re in the way.”
Many Arlington walkers agree with Gibson’s sentiment.
Most of the complaints issued to the police department are by pedestrians coming in contact with scooters on congested sidewalks, said Sergeant Taber.
From May 15, to June 30, 2019, Arlington’s Department of Environmental Services held a formal public feedback process where residents could direct their complaints or support for the electric scooters, said Eric Balliet, who oversees the scooter pilot program for the DES.
“… we had almost 700 emails that we received at our firstname.lastname@example.org address. It was higher at the beginning but tapered off some over time,” Balliet said.
Most of those complaints, Balliet said, were about electric scooters on sidewalks, obstructing walking paths, blocking building entrances, and scaring pedestrians.
“The emphasis [of the October regulations] is going to be to stay off of sidewalks and to stay towards the bike lanes,” said Taber.
Law enforcement officials would not confirm exactly when they will begin passing out fines for improper e-scooter usage, but it could be as early as October.