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CPD Reports Detail Incidents From the Early Days of the Scooter Pilot

Scooter riders on Milwaukee Avenue in River West. Photo: John Greenfield

As we enter the sixth week of Chicago's four-month dockless electric scooter pilot, let's remember all the possible benefits of the new technology. Scooters have the potential to replace private car and ride-hailing trips, especially first- and last-mile journeys to and from transit stations. They can improve transportation access in underserved neighborhoods. Some people with mobility challenges say they’re useful as adaptive devices. And scooters may be helpful in building a political constituency for converting more mixed-traffic lanes to protected, car-free lanes, since their no-exercise, sweat-free rides may appeal to some folks who would never consider bike commuting.

That said, as Chicago considers whether to make rentable e-scooters a permanent part of our urban landscape, we need to keep track of any negative impacts, and use that info to make educated decisions about whether the program needs to be modified or canceled. For example, with at least eight U.S. fatalities involving rentable scooter between fall 2017 and March 2019, according to a recent Consumer Reports study, compared to only two U.S. bike-share deaths in the last decade or so, scooters have roughly 27 time the fatality rate of bike-share.

Here in Chicago there were at least 21 scooter-related emergency room visits during the first two weeks of the pilot. At least three of those cases required surgery, including a June 20 incident where a wrong-way scooter rider struck cyclist Allyson Medeiros, 32, at Division and Damen in Wicker Park, inflicting grievous facial injuries, and fled the scene.

And on Wednesday, a 45-year-old man was riding a privately owned electric scooter on the 2500 block of North Clark Street in Lincoln Park when he struck a pedestrian. That person was unhurt, but in the ensuing police chase, a driver who pulled out of the way for officers in a squad car struck and critically injured the scooter rider.

It must be noted that the daily carnage caused by motorists, including the deaths of 41 people walking and five people biking in Chicago in 2018, is a much more pressing issue than any negative impacts of scooters. But to get a sense of what kind of incidents have been taking place during the scooter pilot, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Chicago Police department for all incident reports involving scooters during the first week of the program. I received info on the following additional cases that occurred within the West and Northwest side pilot area.

June 16: Assailants threaten women with scooter, other objects in University Village

On Sunday, June 16, at 5 p.m., a 19-year-old woman and a 39-year-old woman were leaving a residence at 1061 West 14th Street when five people came towards them "waving a scooter, crutch, lock, and a knife, placing both victims in fear of receiving a battery," the police report stated. The victims left through the back door in order to avoid a physical altercation.

A scooter left on The 606 in Bucktown. Photo: John Greenfield
A scooter left on The 606 in Bucktown. Photo: John Greenfield
A scooter left on The 606 in Bucktown. Photo: John Greenfield

June 18: Scooter thrown from The 606 through car's sunroof in Logan Square

On Tuesday, June 18, at 12:13 a.m. at Sawyer Avenue and The 606, an officer was on routine patrol when he observed a VeoRide electric scooter "that appeared to be thrown from [The] 606 trail protruding from the... sunroof" of a 2018 Honda Accord four-door sedan, according to the incident report. The vehicle owner, a 30-year-old man, told the officer he had parked his car there at 6 p.m. and had no idea who the offender could have been. Not that this would have deterred anyone who'd think it's a good idea to drop a heavy object off an elevated trail, but e-scooters aren't allowed on The 606.

June 18: Scooter rider falls, injures knee in Ukrainian Village

On Tuesday, June 18, at about 5:30 p.m., officers were traveling south on Wood Street when a 26-year-old man flagged them down at 947 North Wood and told them he had fallen off his rental scooter, according to the incident report. "The victim stated that he was traveling north on Wood, slowing down to stop at Augusta, when he fell off," the report stated. "The victim stated he tried to avoid a pothole in the street but was not able to avoid it due to a passing vehicle." After complaining of pain in his right knee, the scooter rider was transported to St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital and was treated for a possible fracture.

June 18: Scooter rider injured in collision with left-turning driver in Ukrainian Village

Just after the aforementioned incident at Augusta and Wood, at nearly the same location, on Tuesday, June, 18, at about 5:45 p.m. on the 1700 block of West Augusta, a 55-year-old man was traveling west on Augusta, which has bike lanes, past stopped car traffic, according to the police report. The scooter rider collided with the left-turning driver of a 2013 Lincoln Continental. The scooter rider was transported to Stroger Hospital in stable condition. No citations were issued.

June 19: Cyclist allegedly pushed a scooter rider intentionally in Bucktown, causing injuries

On Wednesday June 19, at 6:30 p.m., a 38-year-old man was riding a scooter northwest on Milwaukee Avenue just south of Armitage Avenue when he felt a person "bump and possibly push his scooter," causing him to fall and land on his left arm and shoulder, according to the police report. He was taken to St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital.

THREAD: Can’t believe this even needs to be said, but remember that if you’re going to take your anger out on scooter share, take it out on the hardware, not the person riding it. (But honestly, you could also just relax and manage your anger like a grownup. Wishful thinking.)

— Chicago Scooters Are Fine (@ChicagoScooters) June 21, 2019

According to the pro-scooter Twitter account Chicago Scooters Are Fine, the scooter rider, who wished to remain anonymous, told CSAF that he dislocated his shoulder, and broke his elbow and wrist, and that the other person was riding a bicycle, and that he believes the incident was an intentional assault. The suspected assailant is described on the police report as 20-to-25-year-old man in a red jacket. “[The victim is] recovering but in a lot of pain," CSAF tweeted. "A friendly reminder that bike lanes are to be shared between cyclists and scooter riders, whether you like it or not.”

Takeaways from these incidents

The two cases of alleged assault and vandalism with scooters highlight the potential for misuse when objects that aren't difficult to pick up are left unsecured on the public way. Requiring scooter companies to include built-in locks for securing the vehicles to bike racks racks or poles would help prevent misuse. The companies should be required to pay for on-street parking corrals to prevent a bike-parking crunch and keep parked scooters out of the way of pedestrians.

The case of the scooter rider who struck a pothole and crashed highlights the fact that typical e-scooters with relatively small wheels, that place the rider in a position where they have a high-center of gravity, may not be well-suited for use on rough urban streets. Scooters with larger wheels that are ridden sitting down, such as the Wheels model currently in use during the pilot, may be a safer option.

A wheels scooter rider. Photo: John Greenfield
A Wheels scooter rider. Photo: John Greenfield
A wheels scooter rider. Photo: John Greenfield

The incident where the scooter rider collided with a driver appears to be a "left-hook" crash, in which the left-turning motorist failed to yield to through traffic. It's a reminder that scooter riders face many of the same threats from reckless and negligent drivers that cyclists do.

And what is there to say about the case of the bicyclist pushing the scooter rider into the street except that that was obviously a reprehensible action? While it’s understandable that some cyclists are annoyed by having to share limited bikeway space with electric vehicles, there is absolutely no justification for this kind of violence, and the assailant should be held fully accountable for their action.

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