Skip to Content
Streetsblog San Francisco home
Streetsblog San Francisco home
Log In

Scoot Over: Nashville Unplugs E-Scooters

Sponsored post: Spin and Better Block Foundation are calling on designers, urbanists and anyone who cares about safe and livable streets, to submit ideas for a new generation of multimodal parklets. Winning designs will get built and installed in Denver in September. Let’s take back our streets from cars, one space at a time. Apply now:

Baby, meet bathwater: Nashville Mayor David Briley is moving to end his city's e-scooter program after a scooter rider was killed by a car driver last month.

Briley instructed city lawyers on Friday to draft a bill terminating the e-scooter pilot program, although he said a smaller number of public scooters could return if companies met stringent safety guidelines.

If Nashville's Metro Council approves the measure, and a ban is gaining support, all 4,150 devices would be removed from city streets within weeks.

"It’s pretty clearly a failed experiment,"Briley told NewsChannel 5. "The way it’s worked out here in Nashville has just not been good for safety of people on the sidewalks, people using them, and it’s really just not worked out."

The relationship between Nashville officials and scooter companies was rocky from the start.

Two days after Bird introduced 100 e-scooters to Music City in May, 2018, the company received a cease and desist letter from the city for "obstructing the public sidewalk." City officials pointed to users parking scooters on sidewalks and leaning against trees and illegally riding the devices on sidewalks.

Yet riders argued that bike lanes infrastructure was unsafe and the streets were too dangerous because of speeding vehicles. Two scooter riders were hit by a car within the first month of the pilot program.

Bird temporarily pulled its fleet, set up shop in Memphis, and came back to Nashville later that summer once the city implemented new rules and regulations for riding and parking on sidewalks.

But complaints continued to roll in. The city received 200 online incident notices in the first seven months of the program, and 630 in the first year, largely requesting scooter removal.

Injuries also began to rise. The Nashville Fire Department responded to 43 emergency calls for scooter-related crashes compared to 15 in March, four in February, and 12 in January, according to The Tennessean. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center treats one to two scooter related injuries per day, the Tennessean reported.

Yet a Center for Disease Control study that tracked scooter hospitalizations in Austin found that scooters are generally safe once people figure out how to ride them — a third of riders reported injuries on their very first trip.

The scooter ban comes with an ironic backdrop: cars are far more dangerous to East Tennesseans. In Davidson County, which encompasses Nashville, there were 33,419 traffic crashes last year including 9,146 injuries and 78 fatalities according to the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. In the first three months of this year, there were 7,859 crashes including 2,145 injuries and 15 deaths, state records show.

One of those fatalities was 26-year-old Brady Gaulke, who was struck by a car while riding a scooter on a downtown street on May 16 and died from his injuries three days later. The driver was not hurt.

Gaulke's family launched a petition to outlaw scooters in Nashville — and a week later Briley threatened to ban the two-wheeled transit devices unless the companies that own them address problems within 30 days.

"Based on what I have witnessed firsthand, the recent influx of scooters in our city is causing us to be less safe and more visually cluttered," Briley wrote in a May 23 letter to the transit companies.

Scooter companies including Bird, Lime, and Lyft, responded they would work with the mayor and Metro Council to curb abuses, but urged against an outright ban because it would be detrimental to transit in the region.

Five of the city's seven scooter companies met with Briley in mid-June and shared 19 recommendations in an open letter including the distribution of free helmets, more safety training, and capping the number of scooters. The seven companies currently each manage between 500 and 1,000 e-scooters on city streets.

But that didn't placate city officials.

With a ban, Nashville may allow one or two companies to reintroduce a much smaller fleet of scooters in to the city after they receive approval by the Transportation Licensing Commission.

"If these devices return in the future, it will be after a public process, on our terms, with strict oversight for numbers, safety, and accessibility, Briley tweeted.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog San Francisco

Call to Action: Demand a Safe West Portal

The San Francisco Transit Riders wants YOU to urge the SFMTA Board of Directors to approve stronger West Portal safety and transit improvements

July 15, 2024
See all posts