Riding an electric scooter on the Lady Bird Lake hike-and-bike trail, and other off-street park paths, is illegal, city officials say.
But riding one of the stand-up scooters now available for rent around Austin is legal on most Austin vehicle lanes and in all bike lanes.
And what about sidewalks, where the scooter riders are safest, but risk running into pedestrians?
“Scooters are allowed to use sidewalks when bicycles are allowed to be on sidewalks,” Austin Police Department spokeswoman Anna Sabana said. “However, people using scooters are encouraged to use designated bike lanes, or streets, if the speed limit for that road is less than 35 mph.”
Riding a bike (and therefore an electric scooter) on an Austin sidewalk — other than at the University of Texas campus, which has its own rules — is legal throughout the city except on a patchwork of downtown streets laid out specifically in a city ordinance.
The questions about scooter use have become increasingly relevant since April 5, when California-based Bird Rides Inc. first launched several dozen dockless, rental scooters in Austin. The number of Bird scooters now has increased into the hundreds here, the company says.
And LimeBike this week put hundreds of its 15-mph electric scooters into circulation.
The sudden influx of scooter riders has been noticeable downtown, along South Congress Avenue and in the UT area. But the rules for active users, not just the problematic discarding of idle scooters, have been far from clear as Austinites dabble with the new way of getting around. The American-Statesman has heard from a number of hike-and-bike trail users who said scooters have buzzed by them on the decomposed granite path around the lake.
The confusion grows, at least in part, from inconsistent city and state law about the use of other two-wheeled vehicles.
The downtown sidewalk prohibition, for instance, is idiosyncratic and widely misunderstood. For instance, riding on a Sixth Street or Fifth Street sidewalk is illegal for virtually the entire run from Interstate 35 to North Lamar Boulevard. But for the other numbered streets, the sidewalks west of Colorado Street and east of San Jacinto Boulevard are fair game for bikes. Congress Avenue, Colorado Street and Brazos Street sidewalks are off limits, while the sidewalks on downtown’s other north-south streets are open for bicycle and scooter use.
And riding a bike or scooter on a sidewalk is illegal on four blocks of 15th Street, and on Guadalupe Street from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to West 25th Street, but legal everywhere else north of the Capitol other than on the UT campus.
Violations of that section of the city code are generally a Class C misdemeanor, carrying a potential fine of up to $500.
Meanwhile, using a sidewalk with a Segway, those big-tired, upright contraptions introduced about 15 years ago, is legal everywhere in Austin because of a state law on “electric personal mobility assistive devices” passed in 2003.
Bobby Stone, UT’s director of parking and transportation services, said Friday that riding an electric scooter on a UT sidewalk is illegal other than in cases where there is no way to get to a destination on an inner campus drive or the Speedway mall. Bicycles, likewise, are supposed to stay on UT’s street network.
“They can ride (scooters) on campus anywhere a bicycle can go,” Stone said. “That means they are not supposed to ride them on sidewalks.”
UT Police Department Capt. Charles Bonnet said, however, that scooter citations for moving violations are unlikely to occur.
“From UTPD’s standpoint, unless we see something that is an obvious safety hazard, we’re not going to intervene” other than with a verbal reprimand, Bonnet said. “What we’re trying to do is get compliance.”
Stone said campus officials with been working with Bird and LimeBike to combat what it sees as the greater problem, that of idle scooters being left in the middle of sidewalks and, occasionally, blocking the doors to buildings.