Chicago e-scooter riders caught on sidewalks; city racks up hundreds of scooter litter complaints

ByJason Knowles and Ann Pistone WLS logo
Thursday, November 3, 2022
E-scooter riders caught on Chicago sidewalks
Chicago e-scooter riders are breaking the law by riding on sidewalks. The city has also gotten hundreds of complaints about scooter litter.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Since the electric scooter pilot program became permanent in Chicago in May, the I-Team has received many complaints about riders breaking the law by gliding on the sidewalk. There have also been hundreds of complaints of scooter litter reported to 311.

Scooter companies said new technology and policies would address sidewalk riding and scooter litter. But the I-Team found there are still problems causing potential safety issues.

Over the last few months The I-Team recorded at least two dozen examples of e-scooters not being ridden on the street or in bike lanes, like they should be.

Instead they zip through city sidewalks, some dense with pedestrians.

"My mom, she's a senior and if she can't move out of the way when the people on the scooters are riding real fast," said Chicagoan Somalia Stenson.

Two riders were caught on camera on a less populated sidewalk but going fast and breaking two rules: riding on the sidewalk and doubling up on a scooter. Other offenders dodge people and swerve in between pedestrians on the sidewalk.

"It is tough dodging them. Especially if they are coming right at you," said Fulton Market pedestrian Jeff Mack, who is worried about his dog. "It can almost feel dangerous out there."

Through the Freedom of Information Act, the I-Team found 18 rental electric scooter crash reports filed in Chicago since the latest program started. In two of those cases, scooters were ridden on sidewalks. Most crashes led to injuries and some riders were taken to the hospital.

"I think they are definitely a convenient way to get around but they are definitely scary," said pedestrian Jaime Moisio.

A few riders on sidewalks were on non-rental scooters.

The majority of e-scooters the I-Team found riding on sidewalks were Lyft's Divvy scooters, but they also have the most scooters downtown where street traffic is usually denser, potentially pushing riders out of streets and onto sidewalks.

The Chicago Department of Transportation said all of Chicago's scooter rental companies must use technology that can detect and reduce sidewalk riding behavior.

"Our Divvy scooters are equipped with technology that senses, whether or not a rider may have been riding on the sidewalk, and if that device detects the rider may have been on the sidewalk, we notify them and remind," said Cara Bader, senior policy manager for transit, bikes and scooters at Lyft.

Bader said repeat offenders could lose riding privileges.

"So prior to their first ride, all riders on both the lift and Divvy. Apps must uh successfully complete a scooter safety quiz that covers rules of the road, including sidewalk riding," she said.

Sidewalk riding is relatively small occurrence compared to the number of rides, said Bader. However, Lyft is rolling out more advanced technology.

Lime showed the I-Team how its scooters beep and even make an announcement when a rider is on the sidewalk.

"You must move over to the road and make sure that your keeping pedestrians safe," said Lee Foley, Director of Community and Government Relations for Lime.

Lime also sends a push alert to violators, but believes more bike lanes are needed.

"Riders are always going to be more compliant when they feel protected, when they feel safe," Foley said.

CDOT said Chicago has added more than 100 miles of bike lanes since Mayor Lori Lightfoot took office and that more bike lanes will continue to be built.

The I-Team also found examples of scooter litter scattered in the middle of sidewalks. And there were more than 600 complaints to 311 to get that litter cleaned up since scooters came back in May.

Lyft said its Divvy docking system for scooters and bikes, along with enforcement, reduce incidents.

"They are given a warning first, but then they can incur fines based on a repeat, instances of improper parking," Bader said.

Companies also pick up scooters left behind. Lime said its app shows riders where to park and they have Bluetooth technology locks and newly developed kick stands to encourage proper parking.

Scooter companies said complaints are lower than they were during the city's first two pilot programs.

CDOT said the city is working closely with operators as they improve technologies to keep scooters off sidewalks, adding that Chicago was among the first cities in the world to mandate this tech.