Scooters Face Ban But Could Come Back

Three scooter riders cross Broadway with cars and cabs while pedestrians wait for their green light.

By Peter White

NASHVILLE, TN — Mayor Briley has called for a moratorium on scooters. Carol Swain wants them banned permanently. John Ray Clemmons says public safety must be the top priority. John Cooper wants a helmet law, a nighttime curfew, and more bike lanes.

An accident waiting to happen. This rider crossed the street against two lanes of traffic on 4th St.
As he makes it safely across the street, he slows down to hop the curb.
He avoids the parked scooters, two $25 tickets, and cruises towards Broadway.

All the mayoral candidates agree on one thing: downtown is like the wild west. Day or night, music blares from every honky-tonk and cars, cabs, tour buses, dump trucks, pedestrians, and scooters make their way up and down Broadway like Walmart shoppers on Black Friday.

The district used to be limited to lower Broadway, about a 10-block area.

But now you see tourists south of Broadway from 2nd to 12th Avenue, past the Bridgestone Arena and the Country Music Hall of Fame on Demonbreun St. Downtown is no longer just lower Broadway. It now includes the Music City Center and the new hotels going up along Korean Veterans Boulevard. You see scooters there, too.

In fact, you can find them past Demonbreun along 12th Ave South and 11th Ave South all the way to Division St. in the Gulch. As Nashville has grown, so has its entertainment district. It’s about five times bigger than it was just ten years ago.

Brady Gaulke, 26, ran into a Nissan Pathfinder at Demonbreun and 14th Ave South on May 16. He died from his injuries. Gaulke’s family asked Mayor Briley to ban scooters from Nashville to prevent more deaths. 

“He was killed because e-scooters are inherently unsafe in urban environments like Nashville,” wrote Gaulke’s family. A week later Briley gave scooter operators 30 days to propose better regulations and safety rules or he would ask the city council to terminate the scooter pilot project early. It was scheduled to run until April 1, 2020. Briley waited 30 days but didn’t like what the scooter operators proposed.

Last Friday he called for a ban. “Today, I notified Nashville’s seven scooter companies of my decision to end the pilot period and ban e-scooters from our streets. We have seen the public safety and accessibility costs that these devices inflict, and it is not fair to our residents for this to continue,” Briley said. 

“The scooters pose a public safety hazard for the riders and the public. I would move to permanently ban them from sidewalks and public streets,” said mayoral candidate Carol Swain.

Mayor Briley hasn’t permanently slammed the door shut on scooters. On July 2 he is going to ask the city council to end the scooter pilot program. If the council passes his resolution on its third reading, July 16, it will include a provision calling for a request for proposals (RFP) within 90 days to restructure scooter operations. 

“The purpose of the RFP would be to consider adding back one or two operators to provide a limited number of scooters if they are able to meet our requirements for safety and accessibility,” Briley wrote. What those rules will be has not been determined yet.

“More stringent rules should’ve been negotiated on the front end before people were injured and killed,” said John Ray Clemmons.

The Nashville Fire Department was dispatched to scooter accidents 43 times in April, up from 15 in March. Local hospitals say they are getting more injured riders, too. Vanderbilt reports 1-2 injuries a day and St. Thomas Midtown emergency treats 2-3 scooter injuries in a single 8-hour shift.

Scooters crash a lot and most riders don’t wear helmets. Mandatory helmets would decrease the number of injuries and a nighttime curfew would reduce accidents. John Cooper thinks both of those are good ideas. But, like Clemmons, he criticized the mayor for not taking action sooner and said Briley is not banning scooters, just redoing the program with the two big operators.

Community input about scooters has emphasized lack of enforcement. Metro Police Department spokesperson Don Aaron says MNPD just doesn’t have the manpower to enforce scooter regulations.

“Metro needs to issue citations when scooters block sidewalks, just like if a car is blocking a sidewalk or bike lane. Scooters can be a useful mode of transportation, but we need to facilitate safe operation, and that involves increasing our protected bike infrastructure,” said Cooper. 

“Scooters will never be a safe ‘last mile option’ until we have the necessary infrastructure to support them and a commitment to enforcing regulations. As mayor, I will ensure foresight in all policy decisions, particularly those that directly impact the safety of residents,” Clemmons said.

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