Plan proposed to shift electric scooters from pilot to permanent in Chicago

Weeks after a barrage of aldermanic complaints, Transportation Committee Chairman Howard Brookins unveiled an ordinance paving the way for electric scooters to become a permanent part of city transportation.

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Lyft scooters parked at a West Loop corner.

Lyft scooters parked at a West Loop corner during the city’s first pilot program.

Sun-Times file

Electric scooters in Chicago would shift from pilot to permanent — with “sidewalk detection” technology to prevent them from endangering and inconveniencing pedestrians — under a two-year plan proposed by an influential alderman.

Weeks after a barrage of aldermanic complaints about scooters, Transportation Committee Chairman Howard Brookins (21st) introduced an ordinance that would pave the way for scooters to become a permanent part of Chicago’s transportation system.

It would authorize the Chicago Department of Transportation to issue up to three licenses to scooter-sharing concessionaires, with each company free to deploy 2,500 “lock-to” scooters per day, from 5 a.m. to midnight.

That is, scooters must be “locked to” a tree, pole or bike rack to prevent them from cluttering Chicago sidewalks.

Former longtime Transportation Committee Chairman Anthony Beale (9th) is not among those who want to give electric scooters the green light.

“I can’t stand them. There’s no order. They’re leaving scooters everywhere,” Beale said Wednesday.

“We can’t even clean up our vacant lots. Now we have to clean up all of the scooters and Divvy bikes being left all over the place.”

The Brookins ordinance would establish rigid rules of the road requiring scooters to be confined to bike lanes and bike paths. They could be ridden on Chicago streets — but only “where there are no sidewalks.”

They would require all scooters to be equipped with:

• Warning bells, front white lights and rear lights visible from a distance of 500 feet that stays illuminated for at least 90 seconds after coming to a complete stop.

• Hand and foot brakes.

• Photo validation and geo-fencing technology to ensure parking and operational compliance.

• And sidewalk detection hardware and software to prevent riders from riding on sidewalks in violation of the law, inconveniencing and endangering pedestrians.

For the first time, Brookins would also allow the city’s designated concessionaires to “apply for permits to display advertising signs or devices” on their scooters. The advertising could be a potential source of revenue for the city.

That’s because they would pay the city a $100 fee for “each display of advertising.”

Earlier this month, Brookins argued Chicago needs to make scooters a permanent fixture, if only to keep pace with other big cities that use them to attract tourists.

But after a barrage of beefs from his colleagues, Brookins also acknowledged there are “some kinks to be worked out.”

Ald. David Moore (17th) complained on that day about scooters being “thrown all over the streets.”

Ald. Carrie Austin (34th) said she wanted to ban electric scooters in her Far South Side ward after “they got out of hand” during a pair of pilot programs.

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said she was concerned Chicago taxpayers could be left holding the bag if anyone injured while riding an electric scooter — or family members of anyone killed — tries to hold the city liable.

Smith acknowledged scooters are a “fun thing for young professionals to so,” but argued residents of her north lakefront ward don’t use them for commuting.

“If that’s cool, OK. But I have to say it comes at a high cost,” Smith said that day.

Two years ago, Chicago launched a four-month e-scooter pilot with 10 vendors. About 2,500 scooters were placed on the West, Southwest and Near Northwest Sides.

The 2020 pilot was expanded to 10,000 scooters in nearly of Chicago — with the exception of the lakefront, downtown and O’Hare Airport. But the number of vendors was reduced to three: Bird, Lime and Spin.

During the subject matter hearing that turned into a gripe session, all three concessionaires said they planned to use the summer to test sidewalk detection technology in Milwaukee.

For Bird and Lime, the warning will go to the rider. Spin’s technology involves the scooter making a warning noise — similar to the sound that alerts a motorist who is not wearing a seatbelt — to tell the rider to get off the sidewalk and pedestrians to get out of the way.

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