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St. Louis Begins Rolling Out Safety Updates For Bird, Spin And Lime Scooters

A Bird scooter in Forest Park. August 23, 2019.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio
A Bird scooter in Forest Park in late August.

Scooter riders in Forest Park are cruising at a bit more leisurely pace as of this week. 

St. Louis city officials asked electric scooter rental companies to throttle speeds to a max of about 10 mph within the boundaries of the park.

It could be the first of several changes to how the scooters operate in St. Louis, as officials look for ways to increase the safety of riders, cyclists and pedestrians. 

The new speed caps come less than a year after emergency department doctors reported an increase in injuries related to electric scooters

Dr. Larry Lewis, a professor of emergency medicine at Washington University’s medical school, said the university’s emergency department at Barnes-Jewish Hospital is seeing scooter-related injuries less frequently this year. He said those injuries are also less severe.

A woman rides a Lime scooter in Forest Park. August 23, 2019.
Credit Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio
A woman rides a Lime scooter in Forest Park in late August.

Lewis is conducting a study that asks patients who crash on scooters about the circumstances of their accidents. He said that at this point in the analysis, it’s not clear what could be causing the decreasing rate of injuries. 

From January to August, Lewis said a little less than half of the 33 patients in the study came to the emergency room with broken bones. About a quarter were treated for head injuries. 

More than half of the patients said road conditions caused their falls, Lewis said. "Bikes are much more forgiving. If we go over a pothole, we won’t necessarily be thrown. But a scooter [rider] could easily be.” 

Rider inexperience on the scooters and drug or alcohol use were also factors in many of the crashes. 

Better injury tracking and safety improvements ahead?

Bike- and scooter-share companies first introduced the scooters to St. Louis last summer. Currently Lime, Spin and Bird rent the electric scooters within city limits. 

The scooters can reach up to 15-20 mph on flat surfaces, with higher speeds on steep downhills. 

Lewis said that injury rates in his emergency room increased almost immediately after the scooters began appearing on city streets. 

After Lewis and other emergency room doctors first raised their concerns, the city planned a task force meeting among company representatives, emergency doctors and city officials. 

There, officials considered adding speed limits, preventing nighttime scooter rides, requiring proof of age from riders and evaluating areas that have high rates of injuries or accidents, according to meeting minutes. 

The task force also discussed ways to improve emergency services’ tracking of scooter-related incidents. 

At the beginning of the year, emergency service staff did not have consistent ways to record injuries or accidents caused by electric scooters. City officials said the department has already changed that. 

But other updates might take more time to implement, said Scott Ogilvie, transportation policy planner for the city. 

He said that the city is working to get more injury data and determine what changes could improve public safety. 

“In general, I think that scooters are being operated relatively safely in St. Louis,” Ogilvie said. “I don’t think there are huge issues with the program that’s being operated. But I think we’re always looking to make tweaks and improvements.” 

Two companies have implemented the Forest Park speed cap, and Ogilvie said the third is expected to begin throttling riders on Friday. 

Forest Park is the only area that currently has a speed limit mandated by the city. The scooters are banned in Gateway Arch National Park and parts of the Gateway Mall and power down to low speeds. 

Some universities and other private entities have also requested speed caps on their properties, Ogilvie said.

Ogilvie said that any additional city-mandated changes would likely happen over the winter, when ridership is down.

Follow Kae on Twitter: @kmaepetrin

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Kae Petrin covers public transportation and housing as a digital reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.