Citing Pedestrian Safety, the Pearl Bans Electric Scooters

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Scooters cross in front of the Pearl as pedestrians and vehicles share the road.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Scooter riders cross in front of the Pearl on Avenue A as pedestrians and vehicles share the road.

The Pearl quietly outlawed electric scooters last week.

Rentable electric vehicles have become ubiquitous over the past six months with companies such as Bird, Lime, Razor, and Uber licensed to operate as many as 14,000 e-scooters and e-bikes, with about two-thirds of those vehicles deployed on a given day.  After months of conversations about scooters, the Pearl’s property managers decided to bar e-scooters from the center of redeveloped brewery complex, with pedestrian safety factoring heavily into the decision, said Jennifer Chowning, a spokeswoman for the Pearl. Scooters are not allowed in the area bounded by West Josephine Street, Avenue A, Newell Avenue, and East Elmira Street.

“We just decided, as we’re really trying to shift to more of a pedestrian-centric zone, that the scooters were becoming problematic,” Chowning said. “We really want to be protective of the pedestrian – the people that come to this space that don’t want to be worried about being run over from behind by a 16-year-old.”

The prohibition may prove difficult to enforce. The Pearl employs a force of so-called courtesy patrol officers who are tasked with monitoring scooter presence in the 22-acre complex, among other issues. No punitive measures exist for scooterists who ignore the ban, but management is hopeful patrons will follow its rules.

“We have such a porous campus that it’ll be a challenge” to keep the campus scooter-free, Chowning said. “The onus is on the riders to follow signage and be respectful of it.”

Before imposing an all-out ban, the Pearl had posted signage urging scooterists to use caution and observe a 5-mph speed limit. But those rules were “violated routinely,” Chowning said, and it became clear riders would not heed the Pearl’s cautionary guidelines.

Through a technology called geofencing, scooter companies have the ability to control where vehicles go and how fast they go in certain areas. For example, Lime recently instituted “low speed zones” in Santa Monica, California, to reduce accidents in crowded pedestrian areas, including along the beach. But the Pearl said it has not met with any local operators about implementing such limitations, Chowning said.

Even though he suspects the Pearl’s ban will be hard to enforce, something had to be done to make shopping there safer, said Whit Snell, who owns Bike World at the Pearl. He’s heard regular complaints from customers who have been hit by scooters, had close encounters, or tripped over them.

“Of course, we’re all about alternative transportation,” said Snell, “but not at the expense of having people trip over them and get hit by them.”

The City of San Antonio is midway through a six-month pilot program to test regulations of the dockless vehicle market.

Since the City started formally tracking scooter-associated injuries in September, two 911 calls reporting injuries to riders who fell off scooters originated in the vicinity of The Pearl.

Because the Pearl is privately owned, its management can prohibit dockless vehicles on the premises. On any public right-of-way, riders must adhere to the rules set forth in the City’s pilot program. Those include riding only on streets that have a speed limit of 35 mph or less, a minimum age of 16, maintaining a two-foot buffer for pedestrians on sidewalks, and using bike lanes where available.

Frank Pakuszewski, part-owner of Peruvian restaurant Botika at the Pearl, said although he believes scooters are part of the solution to modern transportation needs, the complex was not built to handle dockless vehicles, especially with some scooterists riding irresponsibly.

“There are instances where you have to do what you think is right, and I wouldn’t disagree with what [the Pearl is] doing,” Pakuszewski said. “I enjoy scooters. I enjoy riding them. I think they’re an interesting alternative to [solving our] parking issues. … But there are times when I’ve witnessed collisions and near-collisions, and unfortunately … not all riders are the same.”

Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), whose district covers the Pearl and downtown, where most of the scooter activity is concentrated, said commercial property owners should feel empowered to create policies that work for them.

“This is an example of the Pearl exercising their rights,” he said. “They’ve done a tremendous job of creating a place people want to visit. It is an amazing place for pedestrian mobility. If they feel this is something they have to do, then I suspect they’ve done that [through a] thoughtful process.”

Hundreds celebrated the Red, White, and Blues celebration at Pearl.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The mixed-use Pearl development located just north of downtown.

Treviño hopes the creation of a pedestrian mobility officer to monitor downtown sidewalks will result in better enforcement of parking guidelines for dockless vehicles. In addition to sidewalk parking zones, the City is set to install several parking areas, called corrals, that will use on-street parking spaces as scooter parking in an attempt to conserve sidewalk space for pedestrians, especially where walkways are narrow. It’s all part of the framework Treviño said the City needs to create for all modes of transportation to coexist.

Homegrown scooter company Blue Duck Scooters, which has offices at the Pearl, said it was still gathering information on the ban, as it appears the scooter prohibition has not been thoroughly advertised in the mixed-use complex. A spokeswoman for the company said Blue Duck respects the decision of any private property owner to ensure scooters are used appropriately.

“That being said, we look forward to hopefully having conversations with the Pearl to partner with them long term and hopefully help provide the right solution for their needs,” said Elizabeth Houston, Blue Duck’s chief marketing officer. She said that could include geofencing to control speed or restrict rides in certain areas. Scooters are rented through smartphone apps, typically for a $1 to unlock the vehicle and 15 cents for every minute of usage. With geofencing, users would not be able to end their ride in a prohibited area, Houston said.

Last week, the City Council’s Transportation Committee imposed a moratorium on dockless vehicle permits. City staff recommended several other tweaks to the pilot program that will be considered at a February meeting of the full Council. What’s clear is that the City’s laissez-faire approach to regulating the industry is coming to an end as more personnel, including San Antonio police officers, have been charged with enforcing parking guidelines and other violations.

Members of council have fielded a growing number of calls from residents concerned about safety and accessibility issues related to the influx of scooters.

But Tech Bloc CEO David Heard advised against knee-jerk reactions to a pilot program that was designed to find the right regulatory balance over time. Heard, whose organization advocates for the tech sector in San Antonio, along with other industry stakeholders, helped craft the pilot program rules and has been part of the conversations to update the regulations.

“I think everyone agrees we want to do some tuning, and that’s exactly what this pilot program allows us to do,” Heard said, adding decisions will be driven by data.

He said the utility of scooters is evidenced by the 230,000 monthly scooter rides that have occurred in the city since the beginning of the pilot program.

“I don’t think many people who are enjoying their scooter [are] picking up the phone to thank the mayor’s office for allowing these options,” he said. “They’re voting with their usage.”

But many San Antonians’ embrace of electric scooters does not negate the list of concerns that have “exploded to a level that potentially compromises pedestrian safety, creates congestion on sidewalks, and even impedes the City’s ability to effectively clean the sidewalks,” Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement Tuesday.

The Council will consider updates to the pilot program on Feb. 14.

“I am confident that we can develop regulations that protect pedestrians and drivers,” said Nirenberg, “while enabling e-scooters and e-bicycles to remain a viable form of transportation.”

18 thoughts on “Citing Pedestrian Safety, the Pearl Bans Electric Scooters

  1. They have technology that prevents golf carts from getting to close the green on golf courses. Same tech could be used to keep scooters off the riverwalk, Pearl, Alamo, sidewalks, etc. if you ride into a prohibited zone the scooter should shut off until you leave the area. Already tech that doesn’t allow you end a ride in a prohibited area. Combine these two features and then many of the biggest complaints are addressed.

  2. The Pearl has their right to ban scooters but if their actual goal is pedestrian safety they should also ban cars at The Pearl.

  3. Remember that there are some privately owned (not rental) electric and non-electric scooters being used also. These are owned by individuals for their own use and also becoming more and more popular.

    • I am a private scooter owner as well. It’s odd that cars (privately owned) have parking lots and garages but scooters are kind of shunned.

  4. So all owners of private land within the city can establish their own rules regarding how pedestrians move about the city. I can see it now, driving down commerce street stopping to pick up your scooter when a land owner bans their use only to put it down and ride a few more feet to once again pick up your scooter. What??? Maybe all the land within San Antonio is owned by the city?

    • No, (and we are discussing scooters here) – all owners of private land within the City can determine how people/vehicles move about THEIR land.
      you’re not paying attention (surprise).
      Now read it again, s l o w l y ……

  5. The pearl applauds themselves on being trendy and also o”utside the box”, then they ban scooters but allow gas guzzlers thru. 🙄

  6. This is good, because pedestrians don’t know how to stop and look both ways at the pearl. They just expect everyone to stop for them, even when they’re not using a designated crosswalk. Quick story about the pedestrians there. I remember when I was coming up on Grayson st and approached a 4 way stop and was wanting to make a left turn towards the pearl. There was a woman, her dog, and her BF or husband or friend or whoever that was about to cross the street when I was already slowed down about 15-20 ft away from Stopping. I guess they got startled and hopped back on the sidewalk. I stopped before I even got to the crosswalk (didn’t even slam hard on the brakes or anything) and allow them to cross because the pedestrians always have the right of way. So when they cleared my way, I turned left towards the pearl and the guy with the woman gives me the “what’s your problem?!” hand gesture like I was in the wrong for even approaching the crosswalk or like I was about to run the stop sign and run them over. My point is, some of the people there don’t have common sense to stop look both ways when crossing and I know people on those scooters are so careless, especially around the pearl so i’m glad they did this.

    • Quick clarification, when I said in my post “They expect everyone to stop for them” I mean as they expect every single driver to automatically stop for pedestrians, which all drivers should do but with distractions like cell phones or trying to rush to get somewhere, that might not always be the case! Pedestrians, please don’t put all your faith in drivers and stop and look both ways before you cross, please…

  7. If the City was truly serious about transportation it would push VIA to expand service. Scooters on downtown sidewalks driven or parked just make it more difficult for pedestrians to walk. This is especially hard for those of us who are older and/or disabled.
    Downtown San Antonio has become almost like an amusement park.
    How did we exist before these scooters? (sarcasm)

  8. finally someone is using their brain! I am so glad to hear this news. I hope other businesses, especially downtown businesses. The city leaders need to do something about this asap, get some balls city leaders and do something about this eyesore of littered scooters all over downtown and surrounding areas. Fingers cross!

  9. Ops! the cool spot, all of a sudden became uncool. Don’t they know scooter caters to millennials. I thought that was what Pearl was all about. Oh well! Banning instead of thinking and coming up with pedestrian and scooter solutions.

    • I’m 27 and it doesn’t cater to me…you can say “don’t do this, don’t do that. Don’t ride on the side walk” all you want but people won’t listen and there aren’t enough people on patrol to stop others who don’t obey the rules.

  10. If you haven’t spent much time at the Pearl, you may not realize that on the whole, cars move *much* more slowly than scooters through and around the campus. I agree that there are more cars on the campus interior than is ideal. But they don’t fly through intersections without stopping, drive on the sidewalk at full speed, or park in random places not meant for parking. Scooters down there do. And frankly, the people operating cars give the impression of having EVER done so before; most of them even seem pretty good at it. Same for bikes. People on scooters – especially the ones hauling ass down the riverwalk – are often in groups where one oblivious and fearless person’s out front setting a Speed Racer example followed by one to four people careening, wobbling, and looking confused and terrified.

  11. The Tech Bloc leader should see the mess that the scooters and their riders have created fear in front of the Rand Building (Houston Street) and a hangout for his people. Several of us older downtown residents have tripped over the scooters left blocking the sidewalks at night. The techies never obey the walk signs and go the wrong way into traffic. Someone at City Hall must have ftold the police to allow this type of behavior to continue. Sidewalks are for WALKING! I am going to check the candidate doner lists to see which Councilpersons to get money from the the scooter and tech industry leaders. See you at election time! Hats off to the Pearl for their scooters rules!

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