Astoria, Ore., Leaders Divided on E-Scooter Pilot Plan Leave a comment

(TNS) — A proposal to bring electric scooters to the streets of Astoria is in limbo while one city councilor collects feedback from the community.

Bird, an electric scooter company, approached city leadership about running a pilot program for pay-to-ride scooters. The company, which recently rolled out a similar program in Hermiston, would need permission to use city rights of way to stage scooters across the city.

In a City Council work session Wednesday, Mike Butler, a company representative, argued the scooter program would provide low-cost transportation options for tourists and residents and bring indirect benefits to the city.

But opinions were divided among city councilors. Mayor Bruce Jones and City Councilor Tom Brownson voiced concerns, but said they were open to discussing a pilot program.

“For me, the primary concerns have to be with people just being bad citizens and irresponsible,” Jones said. Overall, he believes scooters pose no greater safety risk than bicycles.

“The problems are going to identify themselves,” Brownson said, adding, “These are good things to try out. They’re working in other places. We just have to see if it’s going to work here or not.”

City Councilor Joan Herman and Councilor Roger Rocka were adamantly opposed, saying they had significant concerns about riders’ safety, particularly on the stretch of U.S. Highway 30 that runs through Astoria and can fill up with tourist as well as heavy truck traffic.

Under Bird’s model, riders download an app and are required to watch brief training videos before taking their first ride. The scooters can reach speeds of up to 15 mph and are intended for use on public roads. While helmets are required in Oregon, Bird does not supply riders with helmets and has not required helmets in order to use the scooters.

Herman worried that the short training videos were not sufficient and the use of scooters could further strain city resources.

City Councilor Tom Hilton became the deciding voice about whether city staff would continue to talk with Bird about developing a pilot program to bring back to the City Council for consideration. At first, he echoed Herman and Rocka, saying safety was the biggest issue for him, followed closely by potential nuisance issues related to the scooters.

“I can see those things in the river, at the boat dock, in the river,” he said.

But Hilton concluded that despite his own opinions, he wanted to hear from people in his east side district. When he is satisfied that he has heard enough, he can bring the matter up again at a City Council meeting. The council would need to formally vote on any pilot program agreement with Bird.

Others who attended the meeting shared the city councilors’ concerns but were more in favor of trying out the pilot program.

Kathy Kleczek, a transportation options specialist for the Sunset Empire Transportation District, and David Reid, the executive director of the Astoria-Warrenton Area Chamber of Commerce, see the scooters as a way to encourage car-free exploration and help ease summer congestion.

In Astoria, electric scooters — and any motorized vehicles — are not allowed on the Astoria Riverwalk. If Bird were to bring scooters to the city, the company would work with the city to designate no-ride zones. A scooter would automatically, slowly come to halt if riders tried to enter those areas. Scooters are not allowed on sidewalks.

Some cities have decided not to proceed with Bird’s scooters after the pilot program. Hermiston is still evaluating the program, with 75 scooters on its streets for now. Bird has proposed bringing the same number to Astoria.

©2021 The Daily Astorian, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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