A powerful advocacy group for disabled Oregonians hopes to press City Hall into banning parking electric scooters in the public right of way — also known as the middle of sidewalks.
In a Wednesday, March 6 letter to senior deputy city attorney Ken McGair, the nonprofit Disability Rights Oregon lists creating those regulations, as well as enforcement, hosting public forums and collecting parking violation data among their top priorities.
The letter expresses concern that the Portland Bureau of Transportation OK'd a year-long sequel for the upright contraptions that will begin this spring without "any public meetings or open discussion, especially with the disability community."
Disability Rights' legal director, Emily Cooper, sat down Tuesday with the city's top attorney, the city's Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator and a lawyer from the Department of Justice (which prosecutes ADA violations) prior to sending the letter.
"I hope the city really understands that we're talking about equal access to public places and safety," Cooper explained in an interview, "and that they take our concerns seriously and address them."
Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, who oversees the transportation bureau, is said to share the organization's distress. "The next iteration of the scooter pilot will reflect most or all of DRO's recommendations," Eudaly staffer Marshall Runkel said in a statement to the Tribune.
Portland's apparent infatuation with two-wheeled transit blossomed rapidly after their arrival on July 26 of last year. Planners ultimately recorded some 700,000 trips traversing about 801,000 miles during the four-month test drive with three companies: LimeBike, Bird and Skip.
Supporters say it's a tech solution to last-mile gaps in public transit, one capable of luring residents out of their cars. Detractors say scofflaws rode on sidewalks, in parks — and left their helmets at home. A government report later found that e-scooters generated about 5 percent of the 3,220 total traffic crash injuries reported within city limits.
Cooper admits that riding the devices can be "super cool," but says there's no trade-off that can justify hampering people with disabilities' federal right to equal access to public spaces.
Her organization has suggested e-scooter companies use "geofencing" technology to prevent riders from operating or parking scooters in pedestrian pathways. Alternatively, riders could be required to send regulators a picture every time they park a scooter, or use docking stations like those designed for the ride-sharing program Biketown.
"Litigation is a possibility," Cooper said. "If we can resolve it short of that, we always look forward to those opportunities."
Disability Rights Oregon wants the city's aggregate data collection to include the number of parking violations involving e-scooters in right of ways, incidents involving pedestrians and the number of hazard or maintenance issues.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.