Who was that no-vote for Alex?
Who was that no-vote for, Alex? Screenshot of the Seattle Channel

Transportation and Utilities Committee Chair Alex Pedersen voted against the bills that would legalize an electric scooter-share program in Seattle. Though some of us predicted this turn of events and feel vindicated that Pedersen is still a stick-in-the-mud, he didn't actually fuck everything up.

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Pedersen's protest vote against the new transportation option ended up being purely symbolic. The rest of the committee voted to pass the legislation, which changes the Seattle municipal code to legalize the use of electric scooters on Seattle streets and to legalize a scooter-share program. The bills passed out of the committee 3-1, with Councilmember Lisa Herbold absent due to her participation in another meeting. On September 8, the full council will vote on whether to implement the pilot program.

In brief, in its early stages the program will allow three scooter companies to put a minimum of 500 scooters each on Seattle streets. Eventually, as the pilot progresses, that number will be boosted to a maximum of around 2,000 bikes per company. That means there could be around 6,000 scooters rolling around Seattle soon-ish.

In order to deal with clutter, SDOT created 150 parking corrals and other designated parking areas located around the city. Joel Miller, the lead on this project for SDOT, told the council that this version of "free-floating" scooter share wouldn't be as "free-floating" as 2018's scooter-share program. Miller said SDOT will fine scooter companies and even customers who repeatedly park scooters incorrectly.

Council members were wary about fines, especially for the program's low-income users. SDOT said low-income users, who will be eligible for reduced fare, would be exempt from fines. Miller also said SDOT will intentionally focus 10% of fleet distribution in lower income areas of the city based on what the city did with the bike-share program. "The bike-share project wasn't excellent" around equity, Seattle City Council President Lorena Gonzalez said. "I’m really concerned that I’m not seeing any language that sets a minimum deployment in these areas."

Miller admitted that SDOT had not done as much outreach to equity groups as they had initially planned because of COVID-19. Community outreach for the bike-share program, however, began last summer. Was that not enough time to talk to community groups in South Seattle? SDOT has not responded to a follow-up question about that.

Miller said these numbers were a "base" that SDOT would start with and could adjust as the program goes on. Gonzalez accepted this answer but said she wanted to "encourage you all to be proactive in that space instead of waiting for the mole to rear its ugly head and then whack it."

As far as safety goes, SDOT won't allow sidewalk scootering. They'll also cap scooter speeds at 15 mph, reduce first-time ride speeds to a maximum of 8 mph in order to avoid learning curve injuries, and restrict scooters on any roadway that's over 25 mph.

Jonathan Hopkins with Lime said he doubts those restrictions would be geofenced. SDOT is currently trying to reduce speeds on all Seattle roadways down to 25 mph to comply with Seattle's Vision Zero commitment, so enforcement of those scooter restrictions probably wouldn't even end up being necessary.

"I’m worried about Rainier Avenue," Councilmember Tammy Morales said. "I can assure you that very few people drive 25 mph on Rainier Avenue, Martin Luther King Jr. Way, or Beacon Avenue."

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Morales was wary about people riding scooters on busy thoroughfares. "This brings into relief how important it is for us to finish building out the bike master plan," Morales said.

The goal of the pilot program, which seems to be more of a soft, small-scale launch than a pilot, is to determine which scooter companies will make the cut. According to SDOT, nine have applied to partner with the city. One of the slots will be reserved for a company that makes seated scooters, which leaves only one permit left for the rest of the upright scooter companies to fight over.

We'll see how this goes after the September 8 vote.

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