New technology aims to keep e-scooters off SF’s sidewalks. will you work?

A drive to ride electric scooters on sidewalks has reached San Francisco, though it’s unclear whether it will lead to noticeable changes.

Lime, Scoot and Spin, the three scooter operators allowed in San Francisco, recently began deploying scooters equipped with various technologies intended to detect and slow riders on sidewalks.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which regulates the companies, has asked them to act to discourage people from riding e-scooters on sidewalks to improve pedestrian safety.

The operators plan to move their fully assembled fleet of 5,500 motorcycles to use the various technologies later this year.

Befitt Brackett Thompson, the company’s senior director of government relations, said Lime uses “a GPS area-based tracking system that allows us to be able to detect if someone is either on the sidewalk or on the streets as well.” Pilot started around the Embarcadero.

Scooters move along San Francisco sidewalk as Lime, Spin and Scoot companies showcase new technology to detect sidewalk riding.

Leah Suzuki / The Chronicle

Scoot combines GPS and “sensor fusion technology” to detect when his scooters are riding on the curb, according to Jonathan Grob, Scoot’s senior manager of city technology. Scooters will slow down before they stop, requiring users to either walk on the scooter or return to the bike lane or road. The company has deployed 300 scooters equipped with the technology so far.

Spin bikes will be fitted with sensors and a down-facing camera designed to distinguish the scooter on the curb or the road, according to Vong Bui, head of government partnerships.

It is unclear how accurate these technologies are in detecting use on sidewalks. The companies showed off their scooters this week on the Embarcadero between Bryant and Brannan Streets as cyclists and scooter riders occasionally passed by on the sidewalk.

On several test rides, the scooter’s speeds were clearly creeping up to a tempo very cautiously once it entered the waterfront pier. But in at least one case, an SFMTA representative noted that one of the scooters started to slow down too soon, while the user was still on the adjacent bike lane.

Kate Turan, SFMTA’s director of taxi, access and mobility services, said the agency will work with companies to test and monitor equipment accuracy and effectiveness in curbing pavement riding behavior. She said the agency may require companies to use whatever technology proves most effective.

With the new technology, an alert pops up on the phone when the scooter is moving on the curb.

With the new technology, an alert pops up on the phone when the scooter is moving on the curb.

Leah Suzuki / The Chronicle

“We’ll be working with licenses, so when we see a clear first runner and technology that we think really works, then we’ll have that requirement,” Turan told The Chronicle.

The proliferation of scooters in San Francisco frustrated both pedestrians and cyclists after their surprise arrival in March 2018. The city banned scooters two months later before gradually allowing them to do so.

Some residents say the city is still doing a poor job of enforcing proper parking and use of scooters on crowded sidewalks, exposing them to potential damage as scooters advance at speeds of up to 15 miles per hour.

Fran Taylor, a senior disability advocate who saw the test running on the Embarcadero, said she was skeptical that the new technology would reduce scooter use on sidewalks. She described the city’s process for reporting such behavior as cumbersome.

On the other hand, some cyclists say that motorcyclists would be less likely to ride on sidewalks if the city had better infrastructure and more protected bike lanes to give riders a sense of safety. For example, the popular scooter destination North Point Street in Fisherman’s Wharf lacks bike lanes, forcing riders to choose between sharing a road with cars or a sidewalk with people.

Riding bicycles or scooters on sidewalks can come with a quote and a fine in San Francisco, although the sidewalk detection requirement only applies to e-scooters operated by Lime, Scoot or Spin, according to an SFMTA spokesperson. The authorization does not apply to Baywheels, the city’s bike rental operator.

Ricardo Cano is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected] Twitter: Tweet embed

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