City DopeNews

Athens Officials Discuss Regulating Electric Scooters

As Athens-Clarke County officials work on local regulations for electric scooters like the Birds that briefly dotted the downtown and campus landscape last fall, state legislators plan to introduce their own bill, according to ACC assistant attorney Sherrie Hines.

The bill, crafted by the Georgia Municipal Association, will “create a floor of basic rules for e-scooters,” allowing local governments to impose additional restrictions, Hines told the ACC Commission’s Legislative Review Committee last week. ACC attorneys had determined that e-scooters were considered mopeds under current state and local law—meaning it’s illegal to ride or park them on the sidewalk—but the bill will create a separate category.

Faced with problems like users illegally riding without helmets, riding on the sidewalk and leaving the dockless scooters everywhere, the commission voted in December to ban e-scooters for a year while local regulations are written. That process has just started. “There are a lot of questions about what it would look like, and a lot of examples” of laws in other cities, Hines said.

The various new modes of transportation that have been introduced in recent years should be differentiated based on speed, said Commissioner Russell Edwards. While mopeds and sit-down scooters are capable of reaching 35 miles per hour, most bikes with electric assist top out at 20 mph, and most e-scooters (which resemble children’s toys) can only go up to about 15 mph.

But where people are riding is as important as how fast they’re going, Leisure Services Administrator Kent Kilpatrick said. “Fifteen to 20 [mph] on the street seems like nothing, but it’s pretty doggone fast if you’re walking down a trail with a child,” he said.

Motorized vehicles are prohibited on city trails, but Kilpatrick said people often left Birds on the greenway anyway. Once the North Oconee River Greenway connects to UGA’s East Campus this fall and Firefly Trail is extended out to Winterville, he said he expects the problem to get worse. Leisure Services doesn’t regularly patrol trails, and police don’t have the time or manpower to do it, so “we may have to be a little more flexible” in allowing e-scooters and e-bikes on trails, he said.

The LRC also discussed revising a county policy requiring local government buildings to be built to the environmentally friendly LEED standard. LEED certification costs four or five figures, which the county could avoid paying by creating its own standards, ACC Sustainability Officer Andrew Saunders said. On the other hand, applying local standards would put more of a burden on local staff, he said.

While it didn’t make a final decision, the committee seemed to be leaning toward keeping LEED. “It seems like the gold standard for sustainable development, and it’s a point of pride,” Edwards said.