Matt Driscoll

Disabled people have serious concerns about e-scooters. Tacoma leaders need to listen.

Lime scooters buzzing through Tacoma streets

UW Tacoma students say electric-propelled Lime scooters are both fun and practical.
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UW Tacoma students say electric-propelled Lime scooters are both fun and practical.

For a family accustomed to navigating the urban landscape with a disabled child, Halloween came with a familiar observation this year.

For a person with disabilities, getting around this city is way more difficult than it should be.

Oftentimes, it can be darn near impossible.

So what happens when a new obstacle — in this case, e-scooters and bikes — is hastily added to the gauntlet?

It’s something that members of the Tacoma Area Commission on Disabilities, including chair Todd Holloway, have good reason to want to bring to the forefront. The commission advises the City Council on policy and helps bring awareness to key issues involving disabled people.

“This is an issue that could end up costing peoples’ lives,” Holloway said this week by phone, without exaggeration.

That’s why last month the Commission on Disabilities sent a pressing letter to the Tacoma City Council.

“The speed of these bikes and scooters on the streets of Tacoma are concerning, particularly for residents who experience mobility disabilities, deaf, blind or deaf-blind individuals,” the commission wrote in the Oct. 18 memo. “One of our commissioners knows of an associate who is blind and tripped over a bike on a sidewalk and suffered a head injury.”

For many Tacoma residents, the new options are quirky, if not overdue, additions to the transportation mix.

For others, the sight of folks darting around town on e-scooters is perhaps humorous but hardly threatening.

But to Holloway and members of the Commission on Disabilities, the e-scooters and bikes represent an obvious safety concern that needs to be addressed through inclusive policy and regulations.

At least if they’re here to stay.

“Having people being able to do 14 miles per hour on the sidewalk on electric scooters, it’s a concern, not just because of their ability to navigate and how quickly they move around, because of the ability of others not to notice they’re there,” Holloway said. “Also, (the e-scooters and bikes) get left just about any place, and sometimes in public right of ways where they may not be noticed until it’s too late.”

Holloway has a point, though it’s one many able-bodied individuals might not immediately realize.

That is why the Commission on Disabilities exists. And thank goodness for that.

All of this brings me back to Halloween.

Last week the trick-or-treating was difficult, and not just because of the rain.

Our son, August — who dressed as a very believable Harry Potter — relies on a wheelchair. We picked a new route this year because there were some particularly festive houses down the street we didn’t want to miss.

Unfortunately, getting there meant navigating cracked, uneven sidewalks and a series of intersections lacking ramps. Street after street, the path required my wife and me to hoist August down off the curb and then back onto the sidewalk again.

It was exhausting, and — if I’m being honest — a little demoralizing for all of us.

Luckily, at that hour — at least in our neighborhood — we didn’t have to dodge any oncoming e-scooters. We did have to navigate around a pair of parked bikes, but with two able-bodied parents, it wasn’t a huge inconvenience.

But what if August was older and trying to get around alone? What if he was deaf or blind and didn’t have his parents by his side?

To put it mildly, it’s a likelihood that doesn’t seem to have been fully considered.

“I feel unheard,” Holloway said. “Absolutely.”

For Tacoma, the good news is we’re currently in something of a test phase. Lime recently requested an extension to the company’s original 60-day permit, which began on Sept. 21. Meanwhile, the 60-day permit granted to Bird, the other company offering e-scooter rentals in Tacoma, is set to expire Dec. 11.

In other words, there’s ample time to get this right. There’s no reason why thoughtful policy can’t be crafted, ensuring that the safety and well-being of individuals with disabilities is taken into full consideration before Tacoma zooms toward its bike- and scooter-share future.

At its most basic, that likely will mean regulations regarding use on the sidewalk as well as where e-scooters and bikes can be parked.

“What I hope happens is that we are able to have some input in the future model for having electronic scooters and bicycles in the city of Tacoma,” Holloway said. “That way they can hear our concerns, and we can come up with some compromises that will be acceptable to everybody.”

It seems like the least we can do.

Because, really, there’s no reason to make getting around this city more difficult — and dangerous — than it already is.

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