Posts about Scooters
It may have taken two arrests of a 64-year-old Georgetown woman, but there is hope on the horizon for those who want changes in the District's scooter regulations.
DC law classifies all motor scooters as motorcycles, meaning that scooter owners must hold motorcycle licenses, wear a helmet, register their scooter, show proof of insurance, and pass a motorcycle skills test. Violating the law could land you in jail, as it did for Ann Goodman, though Goodman also appears to have deliberately flouted the law.
Many scooter owners want rules specifically for scooters, distinct from motorcycles. Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, who chairs the DC Council committee with oversight of motor vehicles, is sympathetic. "It shouldn't be a matter of police officers measuring the wheelbase or something like that," Cheh told NBC4 after learning of the arrests. "We should have clear categories."
Cheh said she "hopes to introduce a bill before the end of the year that puts scooters and motorcycles in different, easy-to-understand categories," according to the article.
"Hope" is an ambiguous word, so I reached out to Cheh's senior policy advisor William Handsfield to get more clarity on when we might see a piece of legislation.
"We've been thinking about it a lot, but I don't think there are any clear cut answers," Handsfield wrote in an email. "We'll be doing more on this topic soon, as the status quo is unsatisfactory."
Parking is biggest issue
While the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is "responsible for classifying vehicles and determining registration requirements," the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) sets parking rules based on those classifications, said Monica Hernandez, a communications specialist for DDOT, in an email.
In addition to evaluating the policies in place, DDOT is developing a program to create on-street scooter spaces, Hernandez wrote.
Handsfield mentioned that, while at DDOT, he headed a program which installed on-street bike racks around the city. "In the two years since we installed those racks, we've noticed that scooter owners often lock up there as well, which I think most would agree is preferential to scooters on the sidewalk," he wrote.
A quick search turned up articles about on-street racks being installed in numerous cities around the country, including New York and Seattle. In DC, it's illegal for scooters to park in bicycle racks.
In the comments on my earlier post, David C wrote,
We discussed the issue of scooters/bikes at a Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting. ... For parking we decided that we really didn't care if they parked at bike racks. We just need a lot more bike racks. But we don't think they should be riding in the bike lane.The lack of parking options, as well as some confusing information, is the biggest issue with the current scooter laws, said Wellesley Scott, president of Modern Classics, a motorcycle and scooter store in Brentwood, and an authority on all things scooter.
"The problem is that... they're written by people who don't ride," Scott said. "Scooter theft in the city is a huge issue."
He proposed a sidewalk parking permit as a way to address the issue of scooter owners needing to secure their scooter while also providing a source of revenue for the city.
Scott doesn't support a wide-scale change to the laws on the books, and says that riders have to bear some blame, especially in Goodman's case. "People choose to read the laws now the way they want them to read," said Scott, an attorney. "I hear about customers getting arrested all the time."
He said that some prospective owners are deterred by the complexity and strictness of the laws, though that's not necessarily a bad thing. "What's important to me is to have people who are licensed and insured on the road," Scott said.
District law accommodates bicycles and automobiles together on urban streets, but scooters sit in a gray area. Some are classified as motorcycles and others motorized bicycles, which enjoy greater flexibility. To encourage this alternate mode of transportation, regulations should treat scooters more like bicycles than motorcycles.
In February, I purchased what I thought was a scooter. And then I thought it was a motorcycle. And then, a scooter. Now, I can say with certainty that my Vespa LX 50 is classified in the District of Columbia as a motorcycle.
According to a guide from the DC government, a scooter is a motorcycle if it has any of 5 characteristics: wheels under 16 inches in diameter, an engine greater than 50 cc, the ability to travel in excess of 35 mph on level ground, more than 1½ brake horsepower, or a manual transmission. If a scooter has none of those, it's a motorized bicycle.
So why does this matter? Motorized bicycle owners are not required to pass a motorcycle skills test or wear a helmet and can ride in bike lanes. Most importantly, motorized bicycles can park in a bicycle rack or on a street curb "so as not to impede pedestrian traffic," while motorcycles must park in the street.
These parking restrictions cause problems for scooter owners because scooters are easily movable and they must be locked to something (a post or sign) or else they can easily be stolen, unlike a motorcycle. Because there is nothing to lock a scooter to when parked on the street, most scooter owners park on sidewalks, in violation of DC law. They frequently get tickets for doing so.
Because of the complexity of the rules, some scooter owners are unaware that they actually drive a "motorcycle" and cannot park on a sidewalk. Believing themselves to be unfairly ticketed, they resort to tactics like this owner, who posted the DC chart on a sign reading "PLEASE DON'T TICKET":
Photo by the author.
Scooter theft is a real concern. While there are no publicly available statistics about its incidence in DC (an inquiry to both the DC DMV and MPD went unanswered), seemingly every owner I've met has either had a scooter stolen in the past or knows someone who has.
It's time for city officials to understand the consequences of these regulations and to grant scooter owners the right to secure their property, or at least not write a ticket them for doing so.
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