The popular electric scooters available for rent in the District, Arlington and Alexandria will be rolling through the streets of Montgomery County starting Saturday.
The county is launching a pilot program to allow shared scooters in Silver Spring, Takoma Park and North Bethesda, joining a growing number of jurisdictions in the Washington region and beyond that have welcomed the personal mobility services.
Concurrently with the program, the county is set to allow electric bikes and scooters on some of its park trails, a shift from a long-standing policy banning the devices. E-scooters and e-bikes are not allowed on trails in the region, including those owned by the National Park Service.
Montgomery County is one the first jurisdictions in the Washington region to change that policy, in part responding to a higher usage of e-bikes. Other jurisdictions in the region and across the U.S. are revising regulations that restrict their use, including bans against riding them on sidewalks and trails. Cycling advocates say the policies are outdated, unrealistic and confuse riders.
The District is drafting rules to allow the pedal-assist bikes on trails and possibly sidewalks outside the downtown area, where conventional bikes are allowed, officials said. And the National Park Service, which operates major bike paths in the region, including the 18-mile Mount Vernon Trail and bans the motorized bicycles, has said that it is tracking what surrounding jurisdictions are doing.
In Montgomery County, the six-month pilot will allow e-bikes with speeds up to 20 mph and e-scooters with speeds up to 25 mph on the Rock Creek Trail, Sligo Creek Trail, the Matthew Henson Trail, the Long Branch Trail and the Northwest Branch Trail.
Montgomery Parks officials say they will closely monitor their use, keeping an eye for any conflicts with other trail users, to determine whether to permanently remove the ban and expand the new policy to other more popular trails, such as the Capital Crescent Trail.
The new e-bike policy coincides with the launch of the e-scooter rentals, the latest phase in the county’s dockless program, which up to now included only bicycles. Montgomery is allowing companies — Lyft, Bird and Lime — to operate as many as 500 e-scooters each. As part of an agreement, the companies will be required to respond to reports of improper parking, monitor sidewalk scooter clutter and ensure that users are no younger than 18. Scooters will not be allowed to be operated on sidewalks.
Sandra Brecher, the county’s chief of commuter services, said residents have been asking for the scooter options and the county views the addition of the services as another way to facilitate short trips including first- and last-mile connections to transit.
“Our mission is to get people out of their automobiles and into any of the alternatives available,” she said. “We don’t expect people to take a scooter and ride all the way down to downtown D.C., but they can take a scooter and ride to the Metro station or to the nearest bus stop,” she said.
Brecher said the county is requiring companies to provide regular and free public training sessions to acquaint users with how to properly use the devices and familiarize them with the rules of the road. She said the education can help reduce incidents involving scooters.
A CDC study of scooter injuries recently found that first-time users are more prone to crashes.
County transportation officials say their agreement with the companies establishes safeguards to ensure successful, safe and sustainable operations. Among those are performance measures like fleet size and condition, customer information and training on safe and appropriate operations, and quick response time to service requests such as the removal of scooters inappropriately parked. If issues with parking arise, official say, they will work with the companies to identify designated parking areas.