Government

'Jury still is out' on Cedar Rapids e-scooters

Popular rental scooters are a safety concern for some

Cyclists and scooter-riders are reminded to walk on sidewalks in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Cyclists and scooter-riders are reminded to walk on sidewalks in downtown Cedar Rapids. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — When it comes to first impressions of the new electric scooters zipping around Cedar Rapids, the Kruegers are like a lot of downtown regulars — their reviews are mixed.

Nicole Krueger, 35, likes them. They are a nice attraction to get people downtown, she said. Husband Jason, 42, is “not a big fan of the scooters,” although he likes the new electric-assist bikes.

“They are always in the way,” Krueger said of the scooters. “They think they own the sidewalks and you have to move out of the way to avoid a collision.”

The Kruegers’ differing opinions mirror those of the community at large, including elected officials, who will help decide in the coming weeks whether the scooters are brought back again next spring as part of the city’s bike share program.

Some see them as a fun and a convenient way to get places quickly. But they also pose safety risks for riders and pedestrians. They move much faster than people expect and are too frequently ridden on sidewalks in violation of the law. The city intends them to be ridden in bike lanes or on trails and streets.

The scooter and bike share program, which currently includes 30 rentable scooters and 150 rentable bikes, is operated and maintained by VeoRide of Chicago at no cost to the city under their agreement. VeoRide did not return messages seeking comment.

Jason Krueger already has had several close calls with the “really fast” scooters and would like to see better enforcement of the rules.

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Elected officials, while generally pleased with the bikes, have mixed feelings about the scooters. They have not resolved to eliminate them, but are undecided about whether Cedar Rapids should have them.

“It adds the fun factor that I think we were looking for,” said council member Ann Poe. But she is “not a big fan,” noting she doesn’t like it that helmets are not required. Helmets are not provided with rentals for either bikes or scooters.

“The jury still is out,” City Council member Dale Todd said. “I’m not feeling warm and fuzzy about the scooters. I am seeing too many examples of people going way too fast in all the wrong places, although I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the bikes.”

Council member Marty Hoeger had reservations about the scooters even before they came, and his concerns remain.

They don’t belong on sidewalks, yet lack the visibility for safe use in the streets, he said.

“If they go away, I’d be fine with it,” Hoeger said, noting he doesn’t plan to actively fight them.

A month and half into Cedar Rapids’ pilot experiment, the city has issued a second reminder that scooters — along with bicycles and skateboards — are not permitted on sidewalks in the downtown core between First Avenue and 16th Avenue S, and between Sixth Street W and 10th Street E.

A violation could land up to a $625 fine, at a judge’s discretion, but at this point authorities are educating the public about the program and not issuing citations, according to city and police officials.

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No specific incident prompted the safety reminder, said Bill Micheel, the city’s assistant community development director.

While scooter-related injuries, as well as scooters littered in public spaces, have plagued other communities with larger rental programs, injuries and collisions have not been an issue here, according to city, police and emergency room officials.

“There haven’t been any serious injuries or incidents, although officers have received some concerns from citizens about scooters on the sidewalks,” said Greg Buelow, the city’s public safety spokesman. “Downtown has significant pedestrian traffic with patrons going in and out of businesses and restaurants, so it is important to use bike lanes in the downtown area.”

The city has a “walk your wheels: pedestrian zone” campaign, which includes reminders painted on the sidewalks, and signs are being added in the coming weeks.

Micheel calls the share program “extremely popular” so far, noting the scooters have been rented 10,000 times in about seven weeks, and the bikes have been rented 17,000 times in about five months.

City officials plan to analyze the first year, incorporating community and council feedback, likely in December to determine whether the bikes or scooters — or neither or both — return next year; if the programs are expanded; and if modifications are needed, Micheel said.

The weather — snow in particular — will dictate when the bikes and scooters, which rent for 15 cents a minute in addition to a $1 fee per use, are shut down for the year, Micheel said.

Bruce Bibbs, 50, who works in the MedQuarter, called the rental program “awesome” and hopes it is here to stay. He views them as a nice complement to the public transit network, which often leaves people well short of their ultimate destination, he said.

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“You can stop and rent them and get places quickly,” Bibbs said. “It really fills in the gaps in public transit.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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