Local regulators say a lack of specificity means electric scooters are allowed for now

The two tech start-ups that have dropped thousands of electric scooters across the West Side promise the technology will free Angelenos from their cars. At the moment, however, critics say the omnipresent scooters have simply extended the area’s notoriously bad traffic all the way to the ocean and created a quagmire for local leaders.

On any given day, Bird and Lime brand scooters are as prominent on the Marvin Braude bike path as bikes, pedicabs and strollers. The scooters zip down the path up to 15 miles per hour. At any given moment, even the casual observer can see nearly every type of traffic violation including multiple riders on a single scooter, young children riding without a license and adults without a helmet.

“The Bird plague has made the Santa Monica beach path an incredibly dangerous place for those of us who bike, run or roller skate,” local surfer Luca Bentivoglio told the Daily Press. “The beach bike path should be a relaxing road for runners, bikers and roller skaters, not the Indianapolis Raceway.”

Over the recent holiday weekend, visitors from all over the world stood along The Strand, staring at smartphone screens as they downloaded Lime and Bird apps to access one of the dozens of scooters left along the path. Many of the visitors found themselves out of luck, however, since most of the scooters were simply out of battery and abandoned to bake in the sun.

Just south of the Pier, the flock of scooters strewn in the sand increased by the minute, creating a sort of scooter graveyard. Two broken Breeze bikes and an empty pedicab completed the scene. North of the Pier, families walked shoulder-to-shoulder along the path as scooters zipped around them.

“There’s just so many people,” said Recreation and Parks Commission Kurt Schwengel, who lives near the path. “The main problem is where it’s a shared path between bikes and pedestrians between the Pier and the Jonathan Club. That stretch is a death trap.”

When the Daily Press began asking about the rules governing the path, some officials seem as confused as the riders themselves. The Los Angeles County path is enveloped by a state beach and governed by layers of laws.

On Monday, a police department spokesman said the Santa Monica Police Department does not enforce traffic laws on the beach path.

“Last I was told, the beach path – we cannot enforce there right now,” Lt. Saul Rodriguez said regarding the scooters.

Rodriguez said the department has not issued tickets for scooter violations on the beach path and when officers have written tickets for non-scooter violations of the vehicle code, judges have dismissed them due to questions over the applicability of the law to the area. He said the department is waiting on clarification from the court system.

However, after follow-up questions were sent to the City and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the City Manager’s office sought to clarify the issue, asserting jurisdiction over the path.

“This has been an evolving situation. The beach is always a tricky area in terms of multiple jurisdictions,” PIO Constance Farrell said.

However, confusion remains over whether the County even allows the electric scooters there in the first place. A County map of bike lanes says the path is “intended exclusively for non-motorized use,” but says electric-assist and electric-powered mobility devices (e.g. electric bikes) are allowed as per state law. The map stipulates “type 3 electric bicycles (with top assisted speeds of 28 mph) may not be used on County trails or bike paths.”

Farrell said the city is seeking clarification on the rule better understand how the county views electric scooters.

Local jurisdictions like Santa Monica are allowed to enforce their own ordinances along the 22-mile path and could limit or prohibit the devices if the City Council chooses.

In the meantime, a spokesperson for Lime said the company does not place scooters along the path.

“Lime does not deploy scooters on the beach path and we encourage riders to follow all local laws including restrictions related to riding on the beach path, spokesperson Gene Kim told the Daily Press. “All of our scooters are picked up each night and redeployed each morning.”

For now, the City is hoping the companies will continue to educate their riders on age limits and helmet requirements. On Tuesday, the Santa Monica Police Department released an online video outlining the laws. Rodriguez said is only the beginning of an upcoming crackdown on the scooters zooming around the city.

“In the next few weeks there is going to be a big, high profile enforcement effort that will last some time,” Rodriguez said. “There’s way too many violations.”


Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press