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Scooter invasion hits West, Northwest and Southwest neighborhoods

Saturday was the kickoff for Chicago’s electric scooter program making 2,500 of the vehicles available for rent in a 50-mile test zone on the West, Southwest and Northwest sides.

Daniel Chovanec, 21, of Garfield Ridge, coasts in to park after an electric scooter trial run at Union Park Saturday. | Karie Angell Luc/For the Sun-Times.

Chicagoans were zipping around Saturday on electric scooters, the newest addition to the city’s summer landscape.

About 50 people lined up for lessons and free safety helmets Saturday at Union Park for the four-month test of the 2,500 machines.

There were few mishaps but lots of questions about downloading apps for the scooter companies, how far they’ll go, and how fast. The rollout is on the West, Northwest and Southwest sides of the city.

“Do you need a license for these things?” asked Veronica Caram, 54, a nurse’s aide from Bridgeport.

“I wouldn’t want to ride in the street. Too much traffic,” said Debra Cooper, 58, a hospital worker who lives near Clybourn and Division.

Others said the scooters made them feel like children again.

“Whee!” said Gregory Hall, 51, stepping off his ride. The casino worker from East Chicago, Indiana said “I felt pretty good.”

Joy Johnson, 43, is in recovery at the Women’s Treatment Center at Lake and Ashland across from the park, where a scooter company called Lime was providing lessons and helmets.

“I’m like a little bitty kid. I’m going to go around the block,” Johnson said. “It’s something I wouldn’t have even thought of doing, when I was using.”

Also at the park was Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st), who said he had safety concerns. He posted a photo on Facebook of other scooters that someone had placed in the middle of a designated bicycle lane, blocking bikes. They’re supposed to be returned in an upright position without clogging sidewalks.

“The first scooters I’ve ever seen for Chicago’s pilot and they’re blocking a marked bike lane,” Ald. Daniel La Spata (1st) posted on Facebook Saturday. “Not a good start.”

The CDC recently studied electric scooter-related injuries in Austin, Texas. Almost half of those injured hurt their heads. Only one of 190 injured riders wore a helmet, the study showed. Excessive speed and lack of training also may have played a role, the CDC said.

Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), chair of the City Council Committee on Traffic and Pedestrian Safety, said he’d been impressed by the possibility of new jobs and boosting tourism. “It gives tourists the opportunity to see the landscape of the city,” he said at Union Park, wearing a Lime helmet. And “for a Baby Boomer like me, it makes you feel like a kid.”

In Wicker Park, scooters from multiple companies were whizzing down the 1300 block of North Milwaukee Saturday afternoon. Zech Pluister, singer with the band Sleep On It, returned a Bird scooter and showed company reps a Bird scooter tattoo on his ankle.

Zech Pluister, singer with the band Sleep On It, showed off his Bird scooter tattoo after taking a spin on one of the devices Saturday. | Maureen O’Donnell/Sun-Times

The 25–year-old Humboldt Park resident said he and other band members became fans of the devices during a stint in congested Los Angeles.

Zech Pluister | Maureen O’Donnell/Sun-Times

“They were everywhere. Every morning instead of getting an Uber we would just get scooters,” he said. “We would ride for 45 minutes. It was so fast to get around L.A.”

“We actually look for them in every city,” Pluister said.

The machines were also zipping around Roosevelt and Halsted near UIC and along Madison and Racine.

Scooters “will give the city a little more edgier vibe,” said Englewood’s Malachi Hoye, 24, at Union Park. “The future is here.”