On a sunny, 90-degree August morning, hundreds of electric scooters lined the sidewalks of intown Atlanta streets. In a few short hours, thousands of riders will pilot them onto the city’s roads and paths.
These devices are now commonplace since arriving in the city a little more than a year ago. The scooters have generated conversations all over the metro Atlanta area, mostly centered around regulatory efforts by city officials and concerns for rider safety.
But what do riders who rely on them for transportation — or just for fun — think about the regulations, safety issues and the place e-scooters have in Atlanta’s mobility landscape?
To find out, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently spent an entire day interviewing 50 e-scooter riders at several locations in the city.
About half of the riders told AJC reporters they had concerns about their safety while aboard scooters, though many said they were experienced users. Most said they were unaware of the four recent deaths of e-scooter riders in metro Atlanta and those incidents would not stop them from riding.
However, a majority of riders said the city should improve the infrastructure for e-scooters, increasing the number of bike lanes to safely accommodate the devices.
In the heart of Midtown’s Tech Square, early-morning scooter riders shared roads with cyclists, cars and skateboarders. Dozens of riders zipped down 5th Street on their way to class, a coffee shop or the bookstore — often without wearing helmets, which are not required by Atlanta law.
Among them was Erwins Saget, a 27-year-old Georgia Tech student, who was rushing to a 9 a.m. class.
“There are no clear laws about whether or not motorized vehicles should conform to car standards or pedestrian standards,” Saget said. Under city and state law, e-scooters are required to ride in the street and not on sidewalks, though an overwhelming majority of e-scooter riders the AJC interviewed said they felt safer on sidewalks.
Strapping on a helmet and elbow pads, Georgia Tech research engineer John Doane said he purchased his personal e-scooter in April for an easier ride around campus — and to cut down on his commuting costs.
“I was finding that with how much I ride around campus that I could pay this off in about six months,” he said. The 51-year-old had been riding Bird and Lime scooters a couple of months prior to the purchase.
But the convenience and savings do not come without danger.
“I did crash once and I had a helmet on,” Doane said, showing lingering scars from the accident. “I tore all of the flesh off of my forearm and elbow.”
The Atlanta area has seen four scooter-related fatalities since the devices first landed in the city in 2018, the most recent of which killed a 45-year-old man riding through an intersection in East Point in early August. Atlanta is now believed to have more reported scooter-related deaths than any other metro area in the country.
But news of those deaths didn’t deter Tech students Kylie Semper and Emily Toma from hopping aboard scooters for a quick ride. “We haven’t had to ride on a road where there’s a lot of traffic,” Semper, 18, said, before posing for a photograph with the scooters. Asked if the deaths changed her attitude toward the devices, Semper said: “I’ll probably still ride them.”
‘I went flying’
As the day warmed, the downtown area around Centennial Olympic Park and the CNN Center became a popular scooter spot. It attracted tourists who wanted to zip through Atlanta’s streets via scooter, while some local employees wheeled around during the lunch hour.
Jeff Petersen, 34, moved to Atlanta from Indianapolis three weeks ago and said he is still getting a feel for the streets on his personal e-scooter, which he purchased about three years ago.
“I use it literally every day,” he said, after visiting his girlfriend for lunch at the CNN Center. Between the two of them, they own one car and two e-scooters.
The streets were mostly clear of cars, so Petersen said he felt safe riding without a helmet. But he said Atlanta should invest in more designated lanes to protect bike and scooter riders.
Outside the Centennial Park Waffle House, Diamond and Christina Sanchez approached two scooters for a ride through the park. They were visiting from Austin, Texas, where scooters are also fairly popular. But they said Austin’s streets are more friendly to the two-wheeled devices as they have more bike lanes.
Riding in Atlanta, Christina Sanchez said, “We’re gonna go to the park, not ride in the streets. It says not to do it on the sidewalks, but … we see people on the sidewalks,” Christina Sanchez said. After picking up her scooter, she quickly made her way onto the safe paths inside Centennial Park, where the devices are technically outlawed.
After lunchtime, Rodney Daniel and Kimberly Carlisle strolled past rows of scooters outside CNN. They didn’t even think about getting on them. Carlisle said she almost died riding one about six months ago.
The couple lives in Vine City and used to take scooters to Atlantic Station. On their way home one evening, Carlisle said, she was “going really fast, so it was a little too hard to stop” on the sidewalk near the Coca-Cola headquarters. The 38-year-old said the scooter skidded out from under her, “and I went flying.”
She suffered a leg injury and is hesitant to ride again.
Lanyse Ruff was lost when she pulled up to Centennial Park during her first-ever scooter ride. It hadn’t gone that smoothly so far for the Georgia Tech freshman from Covington, who was looking for a classroom building. She held up her hand to reveal a scrape, a nasty result of an earlier fall on the sidewalk.
“I had to swerve around pedestrians and they weren’t moving. I’m OK though. I got right back up,” the 18-year-old said.
Scooters, sunset, safety
With the sun setting and temperatures dropping, residents and visitors took to the Eastside Beltline Trail for some food and fun. Riders said they felt safer taking the devices on the Beltline.
Still, Acworth resident Laura Peden said she wanted to know more about scooter safety regulations.
“The safety should be in training not only the riders but the community. Because if I’m driving down some major road in Atlanta and someone pulls in front of me, I need to know who has the right of way,” Peden, 51, said while riding near Krog Street Market.
Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms implemented a ban on using the devices between 9 p.m. and 4 a.m., but scooter users like Gregory Angrum said the new rule limits when they can go out.
“It’s unfortunate the events that have happened, but I think people should be able to ride when they want to,” said Angrum, 33, a real estate investor who has been riding the scooters for a year and has no concerns over safety.
Less than a mile north on the Beltline, Jonathan Mann picked up several discarded scooters that had been tipped over near Ralph McGill Boulevard. An avid bicyclist and scooter fan, Mann works part-time for Lyft picking up the company’s scooters and charging them at night.
Though he wasn’t working this day, he said he rides the scooters for fun once or twice a week and has concerns about safety. Mann, 59, who has been hit by cars three times while riding a bike, called the new technology disruptive because “we live in a landscape of cars.”
“Scooters, with all the money and excitement behind them, are forcing the city to finally be serious about pedestrian and cyclist safety,” he said. “The attention is important, but it’s very late.”
As afternoon turned into evening — and the ban deadline crept closer — Ponce City Market became a hotspot for scooter drop-offs and pickups. At the development’s Beltline entrance, Christian Mann and Miles Wilson appreciated the relaxed atmosphere of the path.
The 20-year-old Georgia State University students ride the scooters a couple times a week, usually braving the congested streets of downtown Atlanta. They acknowledged that scootering downtown is more precarious than the smooth Beltline, but that doesn’t deter them.
“It’s a lot more to watch out for, though,” Christian Mann said.
Wilson even leans into the danger factor.
“That’s what makes it fun to me.”
Amber Sanchez was just two miles into her ride atop a Lime scooter as she stopped outside Centennial Olympic Park to check her phone. The first-time rider lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., and decided to take a 30-minute scooter ride during a recent visit to Atlanta.
“So far so good,” said Sanchez, 26, “I’m more concerned about hurting other people.” That worry heightened as Sanchez heard about the recent scooter deaths. Among the concerns was safety: “I would definitely recommend everyone wear a helmet, especially if you’re going a long distance.”
She would also like to see dedicated lanes for scooters as opposed to requiring them to ride on the street with cars: When it’s “a car versus a human, a human is always going to lose.”
Derek Captain, 30, of Tallahassee was riding on scooters with a group of his friends toward the Georgia Aquarium. He said safety was a concern, even though he had only been in Atlanta for one day.
“I crashed into a wall yesterday,” Captain said.
But he said the recent deaths and injuries didn’t concern him that much, since “there’s deaths and injuries in everything.” Captain viewed the scooters as a fun way to get around a new city.
“We had an hour to kill, so we drove around for the past 30 minutes seeing the city. It’s beautiful,” he said. He wasn’t very familiar with the city’s regulations, except the requirement that scooter users ride in the street. While riding downtown, however, Captain stayed on the wide sidewalks adjacent to Centennial Olympic Park.
Rodney Daniel, 52, used to ride scooters several times a week until his wife Kimberly fell and injured her leg while riding one six months ago.
“I was actually in front of her when she fell. I had to jump off and stop her from falling into the street,” Daniel said while walking near the CNN Center.
The Vine City resident is familiar with Atlanta’s regulations and said the city should do more to keep younger people from riding scooters.
“If you’re not 21 and older, you shouldn’t be on a scooter,” he said. He also believes the city should build more bike lanes, and argued the recent 9 p.m. ban on electric scooters “hurts tourism.”
Daniel’s wife doesn’t ride the scooters after her fall. But he admitted he will “sneak and ride every now and then.”