SCOOTING ALONG: Johan Hood, employee at Mint Salon, rides a Lime Scooter on the BeltLine near the intersection of 10th Street and Charles Allen Drive. E-scooters have become a popular form of transportation in Atlanta since their introduction in 2018. Hood uses the scooters as a form of stress relief. (Katherine Esterl)
SCOOTING ALONG: Johan Hood, employee at Mint Salon, rides a Lime Scooter on the BeltLine near the intersection of 10th Street and Charles Allen Drive. E-scooters have become a popular form of transportation in Atlanta since their introduction in 2018. Hood uses the scooters as a form of stress relief.

Katherine Esterl

Scoot Over, Atlanta

As the city makes room for e-scooter companies like Lime and Bird, residents' safety concerns rise.

September 16, 2019

The first casualty was Eric Amis Jr., 20. On May 16, he was riding one of the 16,000 electric scooters in Atlanta when he was killed by a speeding SUV driver near the West Lake MARTA station.

The second casualty was William Alexander, 37, who was hit by a bus on July 14. The third casualty was on July 27, when Amber Ford, 34, who was visiting Atlanta from Alabama, was hit while on a date with her husband. The fourth was Quinterry McGriff, who ran a red light and was hit by an oil truck early in the morning of Aug. 6, 2019.

Atlanta now leads the country in electric scooter deaths, according to Curbed Atlanta (a real estate and urban design blog that covers cities all over America), after a sudden rise in popularity, prompting a series of government responses.

The first electric scooters took to Atlanta streets in May 2018. Since then, eight electric scooter and bike companies have lined the sidewalks.

“Bird was the first company to drop scooters in Atlanta, and in classic government fashion, it took us a while to get our act together,” said Matt Westmoreland, Atlanta City Councilman.

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Rise of scooters

Charlotte Spears

SCHOLASTIC SCOOTING: Senior Grant McNiff rides an e-scooter to school in the morning. Many Grady students opt to use this mode of transportation as their way to and home from school.

Rise of scooters

Atlanta passed an ordinance at the start of 2019 to create a registration process for electric scooter and bike companies. The ordinance capped the number of devices per company at 2,000. The city also restricted the use of e-scooters to streets and encouraged helmet use.

In response to several casualties and serious injuries from e-scooter riders, Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued two executive orders. The first order prohibited permits for new scooter companies, and the second order banned the use of scooters from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m.

The mouth of the Eastside trail of the BeltLine, a public walkway through Midtown Atlanta, is a hot-spot for e-scooters. Grady sits across the street from this part of the BeltLine, creating an impact on this school’s community.

Senior Grant McNiff works at Busy’s Shaved Ice and Coffee across the street from Grady and the BeltLine. He gets off work at 9 p.m., just after the scooters are disabled.

“It’s a problem for me because I can’t ride them home from work,” McNiff said. “I have to walk home.”

Johan Hood, an employee of Mint Salon at the end of the BeltLine, enjoys riding scooters as a fun way to relieve stress.

“I have to worry too much about falling to worry about my problems,” Hood said.

Piedmont Park is also easily accessible from the Eastside trail. Senior Olivia Benedict rides e-scooters around Piedmont Park every Sunday with a friend as a tradition. However she does not ride on the streets because she fears for her safety.

“I feel like I would swerve and maybe get hit by a car or something, so, I try to avoid doing that at all costs,” says Benedict.

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The Ban

Charlotte Spears

ALL CHARGED UP: Companies like Lime and Bird pay individuals to charge scooters in their homes and place them back on the streets. Rates are based on how difficult they are to locate. Chargers receive messages from the company instructing them where to drop off the scooters.

The Ban

While the four casualties have drawn the most attention, injuries are also common. According to Grady Hospital, 80 to 100 electric scooter-related injuries are treated per month.

Ann Fagan-Podber, mother of Elias Podber, a senior and Southerner editor, was riding an e-scooter during the day when the brakes stopped working, and she was knocked unconscious in Ansley Park. She spent the four following days in Grady Hospital with a small brain bleed, fractured collarbone, fractured cheekbone, nose fracture, a fracture behind the eye and facial bruising.

“When I would walk around and see people on scooters, it just makes me really sad for them,” Fagan-Podber said. “I had already seen through the crystal ball. I knew what could possibly happen to them, but they didn’t yet know it. There needs to be more warnings about this to know that they are dangerous.”

Other Georgia cities, including Marietta, Athens, Alpharetta and Norcross completely banned scooters as early as last year. However, in Atlanta, because of the popularity of e-scooters, efforts have focused on making them safer to ride. Over the past five months, there were 2.3 million scooter rides in Atlanta, according to Atlanta Planning Commissioner Tim Keane.

Keane helped draft the legislation for the night-time ban of scooters. His department approves permits allowing scooters to operate in the city.

“The issue is that we have to make sure people are safe as they can be,” Keane said. “We are concerned, and certainly, the tragic deaths are part of this. We want
to ensure we are doing everything we can to make sure people are safe.”

Keane also made the point that the streets in Atlanta were originally not designed for both pedestrian and e-scooter traffic. Rather, they were designed for as many cars to go as fast as possible.

According to Keane, all three fatalities in Atlanta occurred after 9 p.m. The ban lifts at 4 a.m. because some residents use the scooters to ride to work, and the streets aren’t congested with traffic early in the morning.

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The Curfew

The policy has not gone without push back. Niklas Vollmer, a professor at Georgia State University and an advocate for safer streets, is critical of the ban and believes it does not address the real issue.

“I think the mayor’s kind of response [the curfew] is not where it needs to be,” Vollmer said. “We need to be working on safe infrastructure and slowing speeds down, not just banning scooters.”

Keane said the city understands the advantages of e-scooters, but that currently, Atlanta’s streets can’t support the popularity of the dockless vehicles. He views the ban as a temporary solution until the city leaders can improve Atlanta’s infrastructure.

“The City of Atlanta wholeheartedly supports mobility around the city on scooters,” Keane said. “We thought banning them at night was the smart and responsible move, temporarily, until we get some of the other safety measures put in place so people can be as safe as they can be.”

Vollmer said there are two, short-term solutions the city could pursue besides banning scooters. First is lowering the speed limit. Pedestrians are 80 percent more likely to survive a crash with a vehicle if the vehicle is driving 20 mph than if they were driving 40 mph. The second is re-timing the traffic lights for streets that are naturally faster, such as West Peachtree Street, a road that had one e-scooter fatality.

Vollmer has led multiple protests advocating for safer streets. The most recent was a direct response to the e-scooter curfew. It included the artistic symbol of “putting a car to sleep.”

On the steps of Atlanta City Hall, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle was publicly “put to bed” using teddy bears and blankets that displayed three demands for making Atlanta safer. The demands included slowing the speed limit down to 25 mph, implementing the “Complete Streets” project more quickly, and focusing on “Vision Zero,” a movement that works toward zero traffic traffic-related fatalities.

“Enough is enough, and people are being picked off one by one,” Vollmer said. “We are focused on saving lives and getting infrastructure that protects people.”

Atlanta Bike Coalition director Rebecca Serna said the widespread trend of e-scooters has brought attention to the problem presented by cars. Safety issues on Atlanta’s streets have existed much longer than e-scooters have been around. She, too, is concerned the ban is not enough to solve for these dangers.

“The safety issues on our roads are there all the time, not just in those hours,” Serna said. “They are not safe during the daytime and then, suddenly, become dangerous at night.”

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Equity

Equity is a subject surrounding the new policy. Westmoreland helped pass legislation when scooters first came to Atlanta in 2018.

“The legislation said that [e-scooters] needed to be equitably distributed,” Westmoreland said. “They tend to be in Midtown and along the Eastside Trail, but there are requirements for some scooters to be in different parts of town that might otherwise not be popular spots.”

Serna explained that the curfew disproportionately affects communities of color or lower income communities. The people in these communities may be more reliant on the e-scooters at night. They also have less power over how their streets are designed, such as a lack of sidewalks.

“People are walking in the street out of necessity,” Serna said. “There was a young man hit by a car and killed on Campbellton Road this year and the spot where he was hit, there was no sidewalk.”

Vollmer added that people working in service-related jobs are more impacted by the curfew because they usually leave work later and depend on scooters to get home.

“These are people who have counted on scooters as their revolutionary, cheap alternative to transportation to connect them,” Vollmer said.

Even though there is disagreement over how e-scooters should be handled, ultimately, the goal of city officials and independent advocacy groups is to improve public safety.

“In Atlanta’s case, the most important thing is that we change our streets to be more accommodating to pedestrians, cyclists and scooter riders,” Keane said.

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The Permits

Charlotte Spears

SCHOLASTIC SCOOTING: Senior Grant McNiff rides an e-scooter to school in the morning. Many Grady students opt to use this mode of transportation as their way to and home after school.

The Permits

The permits for the e-scooter and e-bike companies were granted in early 2019. As the new year approaches, the permits will expire, and in 2020, the Atlanta City Council and planning commissioners will contemplate not renewing all eight companies.

“Three of four comapnies will likely be picked and there will be more requirements, like a closer relationship with the city,” Westmoreland said.

Westmoreland also said other conversations are taking place that will lead to safer streets for pedestrians in general.

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About the Writers
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Ava Smith, News Section Editor

Ava Smith is a sophomore and the News section editor for the Southerner. When she is not working on the paper, dances, likes to eat good food, is a member...

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Lindsay Ruhl, Writer

Lindsay Ruhl is a sophomore and this is her first year writing at Southerner. Outside of Southerner, she loves hanging out with her friends and family,...

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