Tulsa was all abuzz a year ago when word got out that Lime would be bringing its electric scooters to town, and the buzz hasn’t subsided since.
“I think the use and the continued sustained use of them is pretty remarkable,” said Nick Doctor, the city’s chief of community development and policy. “They were such a new technology and cities across the country had such different models and templates for dealing with that. Translating that to Tulsa was challenging when we first launched them.
“But what those numbers have shown, at least as we have reviewed them, is a broad popularity that is pretty widely geographically spread across the city. And that popularity wasn’t just a surge at the initial point when they were new and popular — it’s really continued to sustain itself throughout the last year.”
The city isn’t done figuring out what rules and regulations should apply to the new technology.
Doctor on Wednesday told city councilors that the Mayor’s Office was dropping its proposal to place a minimum age requirement on users of rented bicycles and electric scooters. The age limit was first proposed in May as part of a series of updates to the city’s electric scooter and bicycle ordinances.
The Mayor’s Office proposed setting the minimum age limit at 16 — the same age a resident of Oklahoma is eligible to drive a car — because it believed it was reasonable to assume that a person that age would be familiar with the traffic laws.
But Doctor explained Wednesday that after doing more research, city legal determined the minimum age requirement could not be applied only to customers who rent bicycles or scooters but would have to apply to anyone who operates a bicycle or scooter.
“The last thing we wanted to do was to prohibit individuals generally from riding their personal bicycles, to make Tulsa the first city in the U.S. to prohibit children from learning how to ride bikes,” Doctor said.
Lime, Bird and This Machine (the local bike-sharing program) all require users to be 18 years old, but the city has no authority to enforce it.
Doctor noted that people who rent bicycles and electric scooters must still comply with the city’s traffic regulations. That would include proposed city ordinance changes clarifying where scooters and bicycles can be driven and the number of persons allowed on a vehicle.
The City Council is expected to vote soon on ordinance changes that would limit the number of riders on an electric scooter to one and clearly identifying where electric scooters cannot be driven on sidewalks.
The existing electric scooter ordinance prohibits their use on sidewalks in “business districts” but provides no specific definitions of those areas. The proposed ordinance change would remove the “business district” designation and provide specific boundaries.
They include the Inner Dispersal Loop, which is defined as the area of downtown bounded on the east by U.S. 75, on the west and north by Interstate 244, and on the south by Oklahoma 51.
Along south Peoria Avenue in Brookside, people would be prohibited from driving electric scooters on sidewalks from East 33rd Street to East 36th Street.; and along Cherry Street, the prohibition would apply to East 15th Street, from south Peoria Avenue to south Utica Avenue.
Doctor said Tuesday that Tulsa has had to deal with the same challenges other cities have faced when scooters arrived, including abandoned scooters and a lack of understanding of the rules.
That is one reason why the city plans to use part of the revenue it raises from licensing scooter companies to further educate the public on scooter and bicycle regulations.
“Generally, I think Tulsa’s response has been pretty positive,” Doctor said.