You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Man's broken arm demonstrates another possible problem with Bay Area's electric scooters

SF Gate logo SF Gate 5/18/2018 Michelle Robertson
a sign on the side of a road: Click through the gallery to see some of the worst offenders and hilarious parking jobs of scooters in San Francisco, as identified by social-media users. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Click through the gallery to see some of the worst offenders and hilarious parking jobs of scooters in San Francisco, as identified by social-media users.

Dan Grover had been hearing about electric scooters since late March, when three startup companies deposited them on Bay Area sidewalks without city permission. On Tuesday, Grover decided to give one a go.

a screenshot of a cell phone: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

The 29-year-old Facebook product manager found a LimeBike scooter near Lake Merritt and hopped on.

"I can get to the bus faster today!" he said to himself.

a car parked on a sidewalk: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. a close up of a street: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

At the end of March, three companies — LimeBike, located in San Mateo; Bird Rides, based in Venice (Los Angeles County); and Spin, headquartered in San Francisco — dropped an estimated 2,000 electric scooters on streets and sidewalks in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose without notice.

The unexpected arrival of the scooters ignited a torrent of criticism from pedestrians, merchants and politicians, who decried the piles of scooters clogging their sidewalks and endangering the safety of the citizenry.

a screenshot of a cell phone: A response to Supervisor Tang's scooter photo.

A response to Supervisor Tang's scooter photo.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

"Kids, parents with strollers, seniors or people in wheelchairs shouldn't be tripping over scooters or forced into traffic to get around them," said City Attorney Dennis Herrera. "San Franciscans' safety and public resources are not commodities for these companies to monetize. San Francisco has had enough of the mantra 'move fast and break things.'"

a fire hydrant on the side of a road: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

Much of the conversation up to this point has criticized the barrage of scooters and riders on sidewalks, and their threat to pedestrian safety. But what of the safety to the riders?

a screenshot of a cell phone: Some are pointing out that San Francisco's cars aren't always parked right, either. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc Some are pointing out that San Francisco's cars aren't always parked right, either.

***

Grover said getting a handle on the scooter's acceleration was tricky at first — they can reach speeds up to 15 mph — but he got a hang of it after a few blocks. He liked it, even, noting the ease of use of the Lime phone application and the "well-designed" equipment.

People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

He zipped by blocks of Downtown Oakland, alternating between the sidewalk and the city streets. The going was smooth, a nice change of pace from commuting by foot or Uber.

People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

Then, two blocks from his bus stop, Grover fell. Hard.

California law says riding a scooter on the sidewalk is illegal, but faced with the uneven street pavement and not a bike lane in sight, Grover commandeered the largely empty walkway anyway. It seemed safer than zipping along the car-riddled road.

Five blocks into the ride, Grover encountered a group taking up most of the sidewalk. He maneuvered his scooter down the sloping seam, between sidewalk and street, and zipped past them.

a screenshot of a cell phone: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

While attempting to get back onto the sidewalk, Grover's wheels hit the seam at the wrong angle.

"That's when I fell forward and faceplanted," he said. He used his hand to break the fall.

a bird that is standing in the grass: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

In the emergency room, an X-ray revealed Grover had sustained two fractures — one to his wrist and one where the arm bone meets the elbow. His arm will remain in a splint for up to three months. Lime did not immediately respond to SFGATE's request for comment.

***

State law bans scooters from sidewalks, allows only people over the age of 18 to ride them and requires riders to wear helmets. The websites and mobile applications of the Bay Area-operating electric scooter companies also warn riders to wear helmets, stay off the sidewalks and be aware of possible path obstructions. But anyone who's walked around Downtown San Francisco recently knows these rules are routinely flouted.

City officials find fault in this approach. Earlier this month, the Municipal Transportation Agency (MTA) unanimously voted to charge rental electric scooter companies applying to operate in San Francisco annual permit fees. The vote also stipulates companies must file plans detailing how they intend to prevent scooters from obstructing sidewalks.

People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.
© Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc

San Francisco officials also instituted a one-year test program that allows a maximum of five rental scooter companies to operate in the city at any given time and caps the total number of scooters at 1,250 for the first six months and 2,500 over the next six months. Read more about the new regulations here.

The new rules may keep the city's sidewalks unclogged, but they hardly address the issue Grover, the product manager with the broken wrist, encountered firsthand.

a close up of a street: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

As Grover sees it, there just isn't ample roadway infrastructure to support the scooters, nor dependable public transit to efficiently transport Bay Area commuters.

a green fire hydrant on the side of a road: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

"I'll always take a Muni bus or BART or Muni metro if I can, but there's many times where I'll go to take the 38 or the 19 (bus lines), and it'll be a 20-minute wait," he said. When that happens, he walks, bikes or calls an Uber.

***

Cycling activists have long bemoaned the issues scooter riders currently face. Bay Area cities, they say, lack the infrastructure to keep the commuters not traveling by motorized vehicle safe.

"Instead of cracking down on all things scooter, we should be encouraging San Franciscans to travel by scooter," wrote Matt Brezina in a recent San Francisco Chronicle op-ed. Brezina is an organizer of the @PeopleProtected Bike Lane, and an investor in electric-bike company Jump Bikes and scooter companies Spin and Waybots.

Scooters, he writes, are a viable, environmentally friendly alternative to cars and buses, which emit greenhouse gases and contribute to global pollution. "But to make sure scooter users are safe on our streets, San Francisco must prioritize construction of protected lanes, where all users of active transit can ride safely, separated from pedestrians and motor vehicles," he said.

a person standing in a parking lot: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. a close up of a door: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

Fifty-three percent of San Franciscans report biking at least occasionally, but driving and public transit dominate when it comes to getting around the city. An SFMTA report found only 3.9 percent of work trips were taken by bike in the city in 2016.

The majority of San Franciscans cite the same reason for not bicycling frequently — safety.

a screenshot of a cell phone: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

In 2014 the city launched Vision Zero SF, an ambitious initiative that seeks to eliminate all traffic fatalities by 2024 through data analysis, street engineering projects, public-safety campaigns and smarter police enforcement of traffic crimes. The program is credited in part with helping to reduce the number of 2017 traffic-related deaths to 20, the lowest fatality count in the city's history.

The number of cyclist fatalities has remained relatively stable for the past seven years, with a low of one fatality in 2012 and a high of four fatalities in 2013 and 2015. The city continues to install new bike lanes, with a focus on the "High Injury Network" — a group of 12 percent of San Francisco's streets where 70 percent of severe and fatal traffic injuries take place.

Could a coalition of Bay Area cyclists and scooterists be on the horizon? Perhaps. In the meantime, scooter users would be wise to follow the rules and acknowledge the risks inherent to any mode of transportation — even the zippy, electric variety.

a man riding a skateboard down a street: A person rides a Bird Rides Inc. shared electric scooter on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, April 13, 2018. GPS-enabled�scooters�and bicycles are spreading across several major U.S. cities, driven by a wave of venture capital into a handful of companies.�Policymakers are scrambling to find ways to regulate the�great scooter boom of 2018. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc A person rides a Bird Rides Inc. shared electric scooter on the Embarcadero in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Friday, April 13, 2018. GPS-enabled�scooters�and bicycles are spreading across several major U.S. cities, driven by a wave of venture capital into a handful of companies.�Policymakers are scrambling to find ways to regulate the�great scooter boom of 2018. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Grover hasn't given up on the electric scooters, despite his recent tumble.

a car parked in front of a building: People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters. © Provided by Hearst Communications, Inc People in San Francisco share photos of badly parked or trashed scooters.

"I might just wait for the new models," he said.

Michael Cabanatuan, a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer, contributed to this report. 

Michelle Robertson is an SFGATE staff writer. Email her at mrobertson@sfchronicle.com or find her on Twitter at @mrobertsonsf.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From SF Gate

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon