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

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

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.

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

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.

  • DoctorTecate

    “A friendly reminder that bike lanes are to be shared between cyclists and scooter riders, whether you like it or not.”

    I mean, I’m all for non car traffic, but technically that just ain’t true. It’s why they’re called a bike lane.

  • Kevin M

    Users of the roadway are required to signal their intentions to turn, change lanes, or stop, according to IL law. This applies to motorists as well as well As cyclists—though neither group has a high rate of compliance.

    And this law is for damn good reason—safety and functional. All users of a shared roadway need to communicate their intentions to change position or suddenly (unexpectedly) stop. This generally prevents collisions and helps every vehicle move better in the shared space.

    Does this law apply to scooter riders? I should hope so, but nothings been clarified in legislation nor court of law. And why would that not work, anyway, even if such legal clarification was eventually attempted? Because current scooter designs don’t come with turning signals or brake lights, and they require two hands on the handlebar (to maintain balance and control).

    When riding a scooter, there is no way to safely signal your intention to turn or suddenly stop to other users of the roadway (motorists, cyclists, other scooter operators, or even pedestrians crossing a street). Voice is not an equal substitution.

    This oversight by CDOT—to direct scooter users to the roadway when such operators cannot meet IL law for using a vehicle in the roadway—is not only a legal liability by the City (and taxpayers), but it also shows how far we still need to go, as a society, towards understanding that by using our roadways, we are all part of a large system whose safety directly falls back on how well it’s users are paying attention and *communicating* with one another.

    I don’t believe a vehicle should be allowed to use the roadway if its design does not not safely allow for its operator to signal their intentions to change lanes or suddenly stop.

  • JacobEPeters

    Illinois Vehicle Code 11-804 states that all vehicles must signal to turn
    http://ilga.gov/legislation/ilcs/documents/062500050K11-804.htm
    This automatically applies to scooters since they have been deemed vehicles by law.

    It is easy to signal while operating the Wheels scooters because the seat allows for the handlebars to be almost exclusively for steering, rather than for stabilizing the rider since the rider has three points of contact for transferring weight to a portion of the vehicle that is not the handlebars. It’s still possible to easily signal while riding the other scooters, but only at slower speeds.

    The requirement to continuously signal for 100 feet might be a bit onerous for vehicles that are travelling slower than 15 mph since that’s more than 4 seconds of your arm being extended to indicate a turn and not helping to secure the vehicle. I typically signal, check my blind spot, then signal again as I prepare to turn.

  • JacobEPeters

    No, your statement is false. The city specifically passed a law clarifying that bike lanes are for all vehicles that meet certain requirements that apply to most bikes & most scooters. It was reported on this website 4 months ago.
    https://chi.streetsblog.org/2019/03/22/on-the-eve-of-the-lyftdivvy-deal-new-ordinance-sets-rules-for-e-bikes/
    Any scooter that weighs less than 100 lbs & is not capable of traveling faster than 15 mph is allowed in any bike lane.

  • Kevin M

    Thanks for posting the legal source.
    If I ever see a scooter operator signal, I’ll eat my hat.

  • JacobEPeters

    I’ve seen it, but it’s rare for sure, just like seeing most people use their turn signals in compliance with the written law.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yep, as noted on the new CDOT bike map, electric scooter riders are allowed to use bike lanes. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d492c534a79a2f16e4e6ee61495f3c688bedb7a0e20771ea0e02ecbd40c18d7f.jpg

  • Carter O’Brien

    Source? I also routinely see a lack of proper turn signal protocol, but cars actually have them, and you are trained in their usage to get your license. For scooters they seem like an afterthought on all counts.

  • JacobEPeters

    A majority of the time signals are not used 100 feet before an intersection as the law requires. More often drivers will signal just before they make a lane change in advance of a right or left turn at an intersection. Where by law you have to signal 100 feet before making a lane change in addition to 100 feet before executing your turn.

  • rohmen

    Because current scooter designs don’t come with turning signals or brake lights, and they require two hands on the handlebar (to maintain balance and control).

    Not sure how many scooter riders I’ve see signal a turn, but I recall seeing a few take one hand off the scooter at some point. Are they really that unsafe to operate for a few seconds with a nondominant hand off the handlebar at speed? If not, it seems like these arguments apply equally to cyclists, as it’s best practices to keep two hands on a handlebar then as well for balance and control.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I agree in theory but that’s still 100% anecdotal. When you make a comment in an arena involving life and limb and someone asks you for a source, doubling down on the anecdotes doesn’t help your argument.

  • JacobEPeters

    Asking for a source when you know that no agency cares about that kind of driver infraction data on that granular of a level is the kind of “prove it” mindset that props up an implicit argument that drivers are inherently more responsible than cyclists or scooter riders, which is a common pro car narrative that also is not supported by data. When there is no data, anecdotal is all we have. I spent all of 2018 tabulating the moving violations that I saw by all road users during my commute and signaling as required by the Illinois Vehicle Code is very infrequent. That doesn’t mean that all of these turns are recklessly endangering anyone, but by the letter of the law hardly anyone, regardless of vehicle type, is executing turn signaling in keeping with 11-804.

  • Carter O’Brien

    We agree that turn signals aren’t used nearly as regularly as they ought to be.

    When I asked you for a source for your claim that “most” drivers don’t use them properly there wasn’t any kind of gotcha motivation, I assumed you might have seen statistics or studies I haven’t. I am also frustrated by the lack of attention to these matters. I’m completely confident for example that the majority of Chicago drivers blow through stop signs. But defining and communicating that problem would be aided by some actual govt or NGO studies that could be studied and had passed something resembling a peer review process.

  • JacobEPeters

    That’s what we’re constantly pushing for. At least we now have the studies that have shown that all road users break laws at at least the same rate

    https://www.pri.org/stories/2015-07-18/survey-finds-bicyclists-and-motorists-ignore-traffic-laws-similar-rates

    and possibly that motorists are more reckless w/ rule breaking since their lives are not on the line.
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/carltonreid/2019/05/10/cyclists-break-far-fewer-road-rules-than-motorists-finds-new-video-study/#555ad0a24bfa

  • salsaman

    It will be interesting to see how this pans out. I’m not convinced either way, but every time I see two people on a scooter wobbling down the sidewalk, I wonder when how norms will be established.
    Also while I haven’t been bothered much by the leave-then-anywhere aspect of docklessness, leaving charged scooters at transit stops is a problem. Last Wednesday, the bike racks at the Healy Metra station were penned in by a wall of scooters. I had to move one to get my bike to a rack, but the scooter I moved bumped the next one, causing a domino effect. Photo and details: https://twitter.com/jmsaltzman/status/1154014313310556160?s=20

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