If an e-scooter rental company wants to deploy its fleet in Manhattan, they’ll have to contract with the city first. The Manhattan City Commission Tuesday unanimously amended the city’s ordinance regulating bicycles and skateboards to extend to micromobility devices.
The city defines micromobility devices as electric-assisted bikes and scooters as well as motorized and self-balancing skateboards and even extends to bicycles deployed by “micromobility network companies” — though not motorized wheelchairs and other “electric personal assistive mobility devices.” State regulations treat them the same as bicycles, though they give municipalities the authority to further regulate or even ban the devices.
Under the regulations, e-bikes and e-scooters are allowed on streets and sidewalks — except in commercial C-3 and C-4 districts such as Aggieville and Downtown where they are required to operate in the street — while “hoverboards” and other motorized skateboards must remain on sidewalks. A 15 mile per hour max speed limit was set on sidewalks for the devices and riders must yield right of way to pedestrians and audibly signal to pedestrians before overtaking. They also must park in city-approved racks or curb-side on the street outside of C-3 and C-4 districts.
Accidents and safety were the prime concerns for Downtown businesses and Kansas State University. Downtown Manhattan Executive Director Gina Scroggs says she isn’t anti-scooter, but wants to ensure the district remains walkable as bicyclists already disregard the rules barring them from sidewalks.
“We have lots of bike accidents where we have people that are run over by the bikes on the sidewalks,” says Scroggs. “That’s just a common occurrence.”
Previously, K-State banned the devices during a period of highly publicized issues in cities where they were introduced with little or no regulation. Since, university officials have warmed to their presence, but Chief of Staff Linda Cook asked that potential contracts with rental companies address parking needs and safety as well as geo-fence some high-traffic areas of campus where they cannot be used.
“And that includes Athletics,” says Cook. “There’s concern up at the stadium and it’s a parking lot issue.”
Student Body President Jansen Penny says a recent survey of more than 400 students showed 75 percent of respondents said they’d support e-scooters on campus. More than 50 percent said they’d use them multiple times per week. Penny also acknowledged that a sudden, unplanned introduction can be problematic.
“Regulation is going to be key and I really look forward to finding that sweet-spot for our community,” says Penny.
Mayor Mike Dodson says informing citizens about the regulations is going to be paramount as scooters become more prevalent — whether they are privately owned or rolled-out by a rental company.
“Even with bicycles we have issues,” says Dodson. “We really got to try to reinforce the education part of this so that people aren’t surprised and then we don’t have clashes — even if they’re not physical — between pedestrians and the people that use these things.”
Commissioner Wynn Butler says an ordinance is a good first step, but the tougher conversation is what will be included in a contract with rental companies — which is now required in order for a company like Zagster, which operates a program in Wichita, to roll-out their service in Manhattan.
“But it also doesn’t commit us to even have an agreement,” says Butler. “We can still just decide not to make one with those companies.”
Through the agreement, the city can require such a company to electronically limit hours of operation and permitted areas of use and install adequate device docks and racks. Manhattan has not made any agreements at this time, but city administration recommended only contracting with one company due to the city’s size.
Commissioner Linda Morse says the devil is in the details regarding a future deal.
“Safety is paramount, and I do have concerns about pedestrians,” Morse says. “I think the geo-fencing is what we would be counting with regard to some of these more crowded areas.”
Mayor Pro Tempore Usha Reddi wanted more data on how geographic parking, riding and speed restrictions have worked in other cities, citing concerns for safety.
“We don’t want a major accident to happen,” says Reddi. “And if there are preventative measures [for]keeping that from happening then we need that information up front as we make our decisions.”
City staff will be returning with recommendations for additional regulations regarding micromobility devices in city parks at a future meeting.