I didn’t see the bicycle cop until he had pulled up right next to me.
I was standing atop a speeding Lime scooter traveling east on Market Street, heading back to the Rivard Report office, anxious to start writing about CPS Energy’s February meeting, and my deadline was looming. That’s why I ran two red lights.
Scooting in the right lane, I had stopped at Navarro Street, looked both ways, then crossed while the light was red. At an empty Presa Street, I did the same.
The cop caught up to me at the intersection of Market and South Alamo Street. He didn’t seem to be winded at all, though a serious cyclist can easily outride a scooter, which tops out at only around 15 miles per hour.
“Why don’t you pull up on the sidewalk,” he said. At first, I thought he was telling me to ride on the sidewalk instead of the street. “That seems unsafe,” I replied.
“Pull over,” he repeated. That’s when I understood I was being detained for my irresponsible scootering ways.
On Monday, new City ordinances meant to reign in scootering scofflaws took effect. These include prohibiting scooter riding on sidewalks. San Antonio Police Department officials have said they’ll start with a 30-day grace period during which officers will give warnings before citations start on Aug. 1.
For me, riding these dockless doohickeys is much more about practicality than style. I’m fully aware that I look like a dork when I roll through downtown on a freshly charged scooter. But they’re also convenient, ubiquitous, and a good way to get around without a car while dressed in business attire without getting covered in sweat, especially during the summer.
Still, like everyone else, I have witnessed every brand of scooter stupidity downtown. People swerving clumsily on sidewalks, causing pedestrians to practically dive out of the way. People parking scooters directly in front of curb cuts with no regard to those in wheelchairs or pushing strollers. Parents riding scooters with their children standing in front of them like human shields, clinging to the handlebar at a perfect teeth-smashing level.
I thought I was better than these people, a more responsible breed of millennial rat in this trendy urban maze that downtown is becoming. But as I looked into the police officer’s sunglasses, the reflection gazing back at me was just another scooterer behaving badly.
“You ran two red lights,” the cop said as we stood on the sidewalk, his partner catching up to us. “You did it right in front of us.” He asked for my driver’s license and I handed it over.
Responsible cyclists are going to hate me for saying this, but running red lights after looking both ways twice is a habit I picked up from riding my bike. On a bike, it takes some physical effort to build up momentum again after coming to a complete stop, so many cyclists like to run the intersection after confirming there’s no approaching traffic (I’m not recommending it, just saying it happens).
But that’s not the case with a scooter when the only muscle group getting an active workout is your right thumb. There’s really no good excuse for running red lights on a scooter.
I knew that as the cop was giving me a mild talking-to, so I didn’t say much in response. He told me that scooters are essentially motor vehicles and need to follow all traffic codes. When people do things like run stop signs or red lights, it increases their likelihood of being creamed by cars.
“Then we’re the ones who have to clean up the mess,” his partner added.
Since late September, 105 people in San Antonio have injured themselves while riding a scooter to the point of needing an ambulance ride, according to San Antonio Emergency Medical Services data. Thirteen of those were serious enough activate a “trauma alert,” with 11 of those resulting in some kind of head injury.
I braced for a citation, but in the end, they gave me only a written warning. It was a more-than-fair response, and I felt grateful. And it had the desired effect – since then, I haven’t run a red light on a scooter or a bike.
I know this is going to come off as a little too “do as I say, not as I scoot,” but here’s the ethical and legal framework that I think we should all abide by as these new forms of transportation take shape:
Drivers, please share the road with bikes, scooters, and everyone else. Just because you’re wrapped in a personal cocoon of metal and glass doesn’t make your life any more valuable than others on the road. Sometimes, cyclists or scooterers need to travel in the middle of a lane for safety. When that happens, you have to wait until it’s safe for you to pass them on the left while leaving them at least three feet of space. If that delays you by 30 seconds or even one or two minutes, then so be it.
Scooterers and cyclists, please get off the sidewalk. That space is for pedestrians and people in wheelchairs, and they don’t need to be worried about being run over in the only public space that’s truly theirs.
Many of our streets are unsafe by design, but we have to start operating under the premise that the road is a space for all vehicles: cars, bikes, motorcycles, and scooters.