Wheel Talk: Scat, Scoot!

Wheel Talk for Wheel People is a monthly advice column written by Christopher White, our adult education program coordinator. Though bikes, biking and getting around SF are our areas of expertise, feel free to ask anything! To submit your questions, please click here.

Wheel Talk, I was biking on the Embarcadero and witnessed someone on a Scoot enter the bike lane in order to get around slow-moving traffic. He drove in the bike lane for roughly half a mile and was tailgating a cyclist for much of this time at an unsafely close distance. This wasn’t the first time I’ve seen unsafe and illegal behavior on these shared electric scooters. What can we do to stop this behavior? —Give a Scoot, Stay Off My Route

Dear Give a Scoot: Yes, we’ve all seen those zippy red scooters all around the city, and many of us who bike regularly have probably seen them in designated bike lanes more than once. Totally illegal, right? Erm … there are two answers to that question, likely eliciting different responses.

Frowns first: Scoot’s scooters are fully electric, lack pedals and have a max speed of 30 mph, so they’re categorized as “motorized bicycles” or “mopeds.” This class of vehicle, according to the California Vehicle Code, is allowed in regular bicycle lanes unless a local jurisdiction prohibits it, which SF does not. (Note: mopeds like Scoots are restricted from all protected bikeways.) So someone on a Scoot would not be ticketed if caught red-scootered in a regular bike lane.

Smiles second: Scoot’s internal policies are a bit more sympathetic to your frustration. The company’s user policies prohibit members from riding their scooters in the bike lane. At the first infraction of Scoot policies, a violating member gets a warning; at the second, their membership is terminated. So how should you let Scoot know? My sources tell me that Twitter likely gets the fastest response, though email (hi@scoot.co) works, too. They have a designated Community Engagement human sifting through complaints and following up on them. A photo could help, or just the number on the back of the Scoot (see below) and the time and location of the encounter.

Note Scoot’s identification number for this “bike” 694, which can help the company address terms of use violations like driving in bike lanes.

Wheel Talk, when I’m biking with my friends, I like to use the ride as an opportunity to chat and catch up, which often means riding side by side. I’ve been yelled at more than once for doing so. Is this behavior illegal? —Two Abreast

Dear Two Abreast: If you fit ten different people abreast in a traffic lane, they’d probably all have different answers to this question. This ambiguity arises from California Vehicle Code’s utter silence on the matter. There’s certainly the argument to be made — and heck, I’ll make it right now — that, since it’s not prohibited, it is legal. Now allow me to roll up my sleeves and get nuanced.

If you and your friend can fit side by side in a bike lane, go for it; just make sure that nobody is riding close to parked cars, with their unpredictable doors. On streets with no bike lanes, I’d somewhat counterintuitively suggest doing so most confidently on narrow-laned streets. On streets too slender for a single bike and a vehicle to travel safely next to each other (with at least three feet in between), the safest place for the person on the bike to ride is in the center of that lane, discouraging people in cars from passing. That’s also what the law dictates. And if one bike is going to take the full lane, two may as well, also.

However, in wider lanes where a car could safely pass a single bike, preventing that car from passing by riding next to each other is inconsiderate. My main goal is to keep people on bikes safe, and offering respect to those with whom we share the streets helps encourage peaceful coexistence.

Wheel Talk, Some of our busy streets have those red lanes for buses, and most (if not all) of those streets also lack a bike lane. Biking on the red lane makes me face the ominous “ONLY BUS” notice, but then riding on the next normal lane puts us riders right in the middle of the street and surrounded by cars on all sides. So where are we supposed to ride on those streets? —Red but Not a Bus

Dear Red but Not a Bus: The SFMTA has recently offered greater clarity on this matter: people on bikes must obey the same rules as people in cars regarding transit lanes. This means you may not enter the red lane on your bike unless you are turning or heading to the curb.

So what should you do when you must ride on streets like Mission, where the red lane is furthest right? You should stay in the general traffic lane, where you are completely allowed to be. It’s not a wide lane, so don’t be shy about it: take up the whole dang thing. Sure, cars might not be able to pass, but better to prevent them from trying than to keep to the side and get squeezed between a rushing car and a massive bus. If you don’t feel safe doing that, Red, I’d opt to travel on a parallel street with designated bike lanes. Going a block out of your way for greater safety and comfort is a modest adjustment.

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