BY J.M. RAYBURN
(Image courtesy of Jeff Skinner)
Welcome to the new column covering development in our community!
As a practicing urban planner and realtor, it is exciting to talk about the breadth of projects and special initiatives throughout the central Ohio region. These projects and initiatives are important because they serve to advance local and regional goals in some form. Concurrently, they may help to solve acute urban problems or mitigate chronic growing pains as Columbus approaches 900,000 people. In fact, Columbus’ status as Ohio’s fastest-growing city has propelled the metropolitan region to the second highest in the state for overall population. We all know big cities have problems. Great cities explore them too. Let us begin with the topic of mobility, as we dive into the world of electric bikes and scooters for rent.
Recently the City of Columbus established new rules for e-bikes and e-scooters aimed at ensuring a safe experience for riders, as well as the automobiles and pedestrians that interact with them. The most notable change in policy comes in the form of a sidewalk ban, which is consistent with existing rules for bicycles. It makes sense: sidewalks are relatively narrow and designed for slower pedestrian traffic. Bike lanes, trails and streets are wider and designed for traveling at higher speeds. Furthermore, existing state law prohibits electric vehicles such as golf carts and Hopper Carts from operating on streets with speed limits over 35 miles per hour. It should come as no surprise to hold e-bikes and e-scooters to the same standards.
What is surprising is the pushback for these rules and standards. Mr. Donovan O’Neil is a local resident who leads the group SCOOTERCBUS, which stands for Scooter Customers Organized to Oppose Temporary Excessive Regulations. Mr. O’Neil has been engaging with neighborhood commissions and community groups to rally support against safety rules and standards. The interesting thing is Mr. O’Neil’s Twitter profile showcases that he is affiliated with Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political advocacy group funded by David H. Koch and Charles Koch aka the Koch Brothers.
That doesn’t sit well for me knowing that Americans for Prosperity funded and organized opposition to the Affordable Care Act, the expansion of Medicaid, improvements to public transit, environmental protections and raising the minimum wage.
What Mr. O’Neil and his followers fail to appreciate is something called the public right-of-way. We commonly refer to the public right-of-way as the publicly-owned land designated for public roads, streets and alleys. The key word to remember is public. Public does not mean free-for-all. Public means shared- ownership and established standards for design and accessibility. It’s why we all need a valid driver’s license, insurance and vehicle plates for the privilege to drive on public roads. It’s also why we pay meters to park on public streets, which is essentially renting a piece of the public right-of-way for a period of time at an established market rate. The same concept applies to private companies who want to make money using publicly-owned infrastructure.
As such, Columbus is not wrong to charge a fee to e-scooter companies for the privilege of operating in the public right- of-way. In Nashville, for example, both Lime and Bird paid $18,000 each to the city as part of the permitting process to deploy up to 500 e-scooters. Other cities that charge fees include Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Boulder.
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