Hey, Curious Campus: Why are there so many scooters on campus sidewalks? Isn’t that dangerous?

Megan Menchaca

In April, Bird and LimeBike scooters first came in Austin. There are now more than 3,200 dockless scooters licensed for commercial use in the city.

And as the number of scooters and riders on campus has increased, so have conversations among students and city officials about dockless scooter safety.

So, when a few of our readers asked us, “Why are there so many scooters on campus sidewalks? Isn’t that dangerous?” we looked into it as part of Curious Campus, our series where we answer reader-submitted questions every week.

Blanca Gamez, assistant director of UT Parking and Transportation Services, said people on scooters are only supposed to ride on sidewalks when they are going from the street to a bike rack.

“If you walk around campus you'll notice that there are sidewalks that don't have bike racks on them and so scooters shouldn't be operating on those sidewalks,” Gamez said. “We want scooters to operate in the street because the safest place for pedestrians to walk is the sidewalk.”

But the University isn’t the only one with rules about safe scooter usage on sidewalks. Next week, the Austin City Council is expected to propose an update to their rules on scooter safety.

"We need to reduce how fast (scooters go) if we're allowing them on the sidewalks," said Leslie Pool, a member of the Austin City Council, at a meeting last week. "People walk at an average of 3 to 4 miles per hour and they are being passed by — you can't hear the scooters coming."

According to Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services, ATC EMS responded to 28 scooter crashes between May 7 and Sept. 6. Collin Morgan, Lime general manager for Austin and San Antonio, said in a email that Lime is encouraging safe riding habits to prevent injuries.

“Rider safety is our top priority, which is why we urge riders to use helmets, both in the app and on the actual scooter,” Morgan said in a email. “Other tips include riding at a safe speed relative to traffic, yielding to pedestrians at all times and creating a safe environment for others.

And along with scooters ridden on the sidewalks, scooters parked incorrectly can also present safety concerns. Morgan said in a email that people must park their scooter properly to allow safe access to roads and sidewalks.

“Scooters are only permitted to park at bicycle racks or specifically marked scooter areas throughout campus,” Morgan said. “Scooters should not obstruct pedestrian pathways, ADA ramps, stairwells, doorways or be left inside buildings.”

Gamez said before UT Parking and Transportation Services begins impounding scooters, they are using emails and social media to emphasize that students must park their scooters near bike racks.

“We don't want scooters thrown out in the middle of the street or blocking a door or left in the middle of a sidewalk where people can't even walk,” Gamez said.

So, while scooters do present an easy way for students to quickly get around the main campus, they can come with dangers if proper safety measures are not followed, especially on the sidewalks.