Have you noticed those brightly colored bikes and scooters on Chicago streets lately? Chances are, you’ve encountered one of those “dockless” vehicles – bicycles and scooters that can be rented without the need for docking stations. Equipped with digital locking mechanisms, these two-wheelers can be unlocked with a paid smartphone app and then digitally locked again at any point in the neighborhood.
Dockless vehicles are new in Chicago, but they have been operating in various cities across the US for several months now. What we’ve learned from those cities’ experiences is that this disruptive new form of transportation is a double-edged sword.
Because they are freestanding and easily shared, dockless bikes and scooters are extremely convenient for those going on quick trips and for those wanting to avoid Chicago’s notorious traffic congestion. The downside is that these two-wheelers are often irresponsibly used and left behind by riders, cluttering up sidewalks and posing injury risks.
As these vehicles enter Chicagoland, here’s what to be aware of as a commuter.
Sidewalk Clutter, Unsafe Riding, And Related Injuries
From San Francisco to Dallas, Miami to Scottsdale, dozens of cities in the US have adopted some form of stationless bike-sharing and scooter-sharing. Most of these are operated by private companies such as Lime, Spin, Ofo, and Bird, and most of their two-wheelers have been instant hits among riders. Not so much among pedestrians and traffic enforcers.
Perhaps the most common complaint against dockless rentals is that they are haphazardly left behind on the sidewalk by some riders, taking up space meant for pedestrians. There are also reports of dockless vehicles being dropped on private property and outside doorways. Citizens have voiced out against this careless parking behavior, citing that not only does it create eyesores, it also poses tripping hazards for walkers.
Pedestrians have also complained of bike riders and e-scooter riders zipping past them on sidewalks – a practice that’s not only illegal in many states, but can also cause pedestrian collisions.
Real accidents and injuries have been associated with dockless rentals, though many of these have occurred due to unsafe riding behavior. In cities such as Santa Monica, Seattle, and Indianapolis, reports have cropped up of unhelmeted riders sustaining fractures on motorized scooters or stationless bikes. There is even a case of two Nashville women in critical condition after being struck by a car while riding their scooters without helmets.
Chicago Law On Dockless Bikes and Scooters
When dockless ridesharing first boomed in the US, it became clear that additional regulations were needed in order to address safety issues around the new transportation model. Chicago has taken a cue from early adopters, establishing certain restrictions on dockless vendors.
In particular, the City requires dockless bike-sharing companies to add devices to their bicycles so that they can be physically tethered to a post or other fixed object. Examples of these devices are U-locks and cables. This “lock-to” requirement is intended to create a middle ground – they help avoid sidewalk clutter while still allowing the bikes to be parked without stations.
The restriction is currently being enforced in Chicago’s dockless bike-share pilot program on the Far South Side. Vendors such as LimeBike and Pace are testing their bikes under this program, but not without objections to its requisites. Already, a leading dockless company, Ofo, has pulled out of Chicago due to the lock-to requirement.
It’s still unclear if a similar restriction will be enforced on dockless scooter companies. Dockless scooters have just arrived in the city last week, with Lime conducting a demo at Lincoln Park, and Bird testing their products at Wicker Park.
We’ve also yet to see how Chicago will compel dockless vendors and riders to uphold road safety. Currently, dockless bikes and motorized scooters are governed only by existing rules. To name some:
- Scooter riders must have a valid driver’s license of any classification.
- Riding a scooter is prohibited on the sidewalk.
- Riding a bicycle is prohibited on the sidewalk.
- Helmets are not mandated by law for bicyclists and scooter riders.
While policies are still emerging to match the dockless model, it’s important to know that existing laws can still work for you in the event of an accident. If you have been hurt in a crash involving a dockless vehicle, we at Willens & Baez are ready to answer your legal concerns. Call us at (888) 445-1446.