By Wayne Antle
Ottawa Citizen, April 12, 2021
Recently, Ottawa Council passed a motion to allow and expand the use of e-scooters on our streets in the downtown and some suburbs, putting blind people, other persons with disabilities and all pedestrians at risk. Despite the very real safety concerns raised by various groups, council did not even require the e-scooter companies to implement measures to lessen the risks.
Last summer, the city ran its first e-scooter pilot project in the downtown area. Of course, there were far fewer pedestrians in the city’s core because of COVID-19. Nevertheless, there were many cases of e-scooters illegally parked, blocking pedestrian traffic, and instances of e-scooter users driving along the sidewalks.
These e-scooters are motorized vehicles that can travel at 20 km/hr, and can be rented by anyone over the age of 16 with a smartphone app. There are no insurance requirements, and helmets do not have to be worn if the driver is 18 or over. To make matters worse, e-scooters are a silent menace, emitting no sound.
This pilot project was tried in Montreal and had to be discontinued because of widespread disregard for the rules. Toronto city council is also considering allowing e-scooters to operate there, but the city’s accessibility advisory committee has unequivocally come out against this proposal because of the safety threats that would be imposed on Toronto pedestrians.
As shared e-scooters become more prevalent in cities around the world, there have been corresponding increases in the number of injuries associated with these devices. For example, Calgary, which currently allows shared e-scooters, has seen hundreds of emergency room and urgent care visits attributed to injuries caused by use of these vehicles.
I am a blind Ottawa resident and lead the Ottawa-Gatineau chapter of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC). Our chapter is very disappointed with council’s disregard for the safety of disabled persons, and indeed all pedestrians. Imagine walking along the sidewalk with your child as a silent e-scooter approaches from behind while your child inadvertently sidesteps into its path, unaware of it. The risk is even more pronounced if you are a blind person walking with a white cane or guide dog, and have no warning of an e-scooter’s approach.
This is not an acceptable risk to impose on pedestrians, especially pedestrians who are blind, disabled or elderly. Ottawa’s sidewalks should be pedestrian-friendly and not allow people to be put at risk by e-scooters.
At the very least, if council is determined to allow e-scooters, it should follow the advice put forward by the AEBC and other groups representing persons with disabilities. E-scooters should be equipped with a device to emit a sound so that pedestrians are aware of the scooter’s approach. A bell is not sufficient since it depends on the user ringing it. These scooters should also have to be parked at designated docking stations before the user’s billing period ends. Finally, they should be prevented from riding along sidewalks by either electronic means, if possible, or through increased enforcement and penalties.
I don’t think that many people realize how much these e-scooters will increase congestion, and the safety threats they will pose to both riders and pedestrians. If you are as concerned as I am, please contact your councillor to re-visit this decision and require, at the very least, the mitigation measures outlined above. I would like to thank Somerset ward’s Catherine McKenney for being the only councillor to recognize the risks and vote against council’s motion.
Wayne Antle is President, Ottawa-Gatineau Chapter, of the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (blindcanadians.ca). Twitter: @wantle1 Email: email@example.com