The Atlanta Beltline is billed as a network of trails and parks away from the traffic, noise and other disruptive aspects of city life. It is a prime destination for walkers, joggers and cyclists, and is designed to connect communities.
In line with the project’s mission, a “no motorized vehicles” rule has been enforced since the first trail opened in 2008. However, the introduction of electronic scooters has been disrupting the peace and harmony of some of people who enjoy the trails.
In January, the Atlanta City Council passed an ordinance allowing for the use of e-scooters on the routes. Seven months later, hundreds of Lyft, Lime, Bird and Bolt e-scooters bustle down the paths.
“The whole point should be walking, getting your exercise, and the scooter riders aren’t really doing that,” said Lara Coole, who lives along the Eastside Trail, which extends from Kirkwood Avenue to Piedmont Park.
She frequently uses the trail to go to and from the nearby Starbucks and Trader Joe’s. Coole said she has had dangerously close encounters with speeding scooters, almost being struck by one from behind as she jogged on the trail.
Atlanta and Beltline officials say it’s not easy to balance all of the elements that make up the corridor’s mission.
“We have to be very protective of the Beltline pedestrian corridor, that’s very important. And its future transit service,” said Tim Keane, Atlanta’s planning commissioner. “But we’ve got people getting around on scooters for transportation and that is one of the focuses of the Beltline.”
Keane, an e-scooter user, said city leaders are developing regulations that will help improve the safety for e-scooter riders, pedestrians and cyclists.
“It’s hard to get the control we need,” he said. “We will have that in place once this round of permits is due in February of next year. I feel like we’re being really thoughtful about it.”
Fixes are working
In June, the Beltline and the city imposed an 8 mph speed limit on the Eastside Trail after visitors complained about the scooters’ speed and how they were parked, Beltline, Inc. Officials also designating scooter parking areas along the Eastside and Westside trails.
The speed limit is in effect from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., when there is high traffic on the trail, and in a designated zone from Monroe Drive to DeKalb Avenue. Otherwise, the citywide speed limit for the scooters is 15 mph.
Earlier this month, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued a temporary ban on the devices from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., after the fourthscooter-related death in the metro area. In July, Bottoms stopped issuing new permits for companies operating the scooters.
Beltline President and Chief Executive Officer Clyde Higgs said that when e-scooters were first introduced to the Beltline about 70 percent of his emails consisted of complaints about the vehicles being on the path.
Since the city required scooter operators to geofence the corridor and limit scooter speeds to 8 mph, the complaints about e-scooters have dropped significantly, Higgs said.
“We feel like this first round of fixes is working,” Higgs said. “It doesn’t feel as imposing.”
Higgs said Beltline officials have embarked on an etiquette campaign to educate the path’s users about how to conduct themselves so that everyone can enjoy it.
When the organization first instituted the prohibition on motorized vehicles years ago, e-scooters weren’t part of the discussion. The rule was intended to keep gas powered vehicles off the path, such as cars and motorcycles.
He said that allowing e-scooters on the Beltline is consistent with the organization’s original vision.
“It was always contemplated to be a transit corridor and a way to get around the city without getting into a car,” Higgs said.
The Beltline also receives federal grant money because it is used for transportation. Banning e-scooters from the trail might threaten that source of funding, Higgs said.
Users say the Beltline is the perfect place to ride e-scooters in Atlanta.
Sisters Laura Peden, 41, and Jan Brown, 51, only ride the scooters on the Eastside Trail, where the electric vehicles are allowed to glide among the bike riders, pedestrians and skateboarders.
“I would never ride these on city streets,” said Brown, who was visiting Peden from New York City. Scooters are banned there.
The women were surprised Atlanta requires scooters to be on the street given the many safety hazards.
“It makes no sense to be weaving in and out of traffic on one of these,” Peden said. Their suggestion: allow scooters to ride in bike lanes.
‘Wild west right now’
TK Hadman has worked at Three Heart Coffee Roastery, which is situated right on the Beltline, for three months. He said he has already grown frustrated at scooter users leaving the devices in front of the shop, which eventually turns its front steps into a “congregation spot,” he said.
There used to be stickers on the order window with the “not allowed” symbol across pictures of scooters, he said. Nearby, the stickers appear on one of the Beltline’s official “no motor vehicles” signs, which includes pictures of a motorcycle, a car and a moped, but no scooters. Another sign that reads “The Beltline is for everybody” is also scattered with the stickers.
Before the nighttime ban, Hadman would ride an e-bike along the trail to get home. He said he’s noticed a higher level of courtesy among e-bike riders. Cyclists alert others when passing, monitor their speed and share space, practices the scooter riders don’t employ, he said.
“I don’t think [the scooter riders] mean malice, I just think they don’t know,” Hadman said.
Although Hadman deems the scooters a “nuisance,” he said they shouldn’t be subject to the same regulations as other motorized vehicles, like mopeds and golf carts.
Jonas Ho, an organizer of the Ebike Atlanta Facebook group, agreed. Its group members use their own e-bikes, not the rentals. He said it concerns him that people leave the scooters knocked over and don’t use helmets, especially because Atlanta doesn’t have the proper infrastructure to accommodate them.
“It’s kind of a wild west right now,” he said.
Despite his reservations, the frequent use of the e-scooters has helped bring attention to the electronic vehicle community, Ho said. He admitted, though, there has been a lot of criticism.
“There is a clash, but there’s going to be a clash with any growing pains,” Ho said.
Jack Douglass was jogging on the Beltline last week while on summer break from Washington and Lee University. He appreciates the scooters’ usefulness for people with short commutes, but would like to see more regulations for them, such as a separate lane or wider paths, he said.
“I actually like the scooters…as long as people are constantly aware of their surroundings and watch where they’re going,” Douglass said. “You don’t want a bad relationship with the riders, bikers and walkers.”
By Ayana R. Archie and Stephen Deere