Fayette County

Should scooters be allowed on sidewalks? After death, Lexington looks at changes.

A Lexington councilman said he will propose changes to city ordinances that would allow electric scooters on some city sidewalks after a man was killed riding a scooter on a busy Lexington street earlier this week.

“We want to make this as safe as possible for everyone,” said Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilman Josh McCurn.

McCurn said he plans to offer an amendment to allow people to ride scooters on some sidewalks, largely outside of the downtown core.

“It will largely mirror the bike ordinance,” McCurn said.

The city’s bike ordinance only allows riding on sidewalks in certain areas.

McCurn said he was still working with the law department on the proposed changes and will have more details Tuesday, when the council next meets.

Timothy Ryan Freeman was riding a Lime scooter on Richmond Road Monday when he lost control of the scooter and was pitched into traffic.

The 35-year-old was taken to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital but died later Monday from his injuries, according to Lexington Police and the coroner’s office.

Freeman’s death was the second major accident involving an electric scooter since they launched in Lexington on Oct. 21.

Another man, whose identity was not released, was driving a scooter and was hit by an alleged drunk driver on South Limestone near Virginia Avenue near the University of Kentucky campus around 2:30 a.m. on Oct. 26. The scooter rider sustained non life-threatening injuries. The driver of the vehicle was arrested.

Both men were operating the electric scooters legally, police said.

“Both drivers were operating the scooters in the roadway,” said Brenna Angel, a spokeswoman for the Lexington Police Department. “The South Limestone driver was on the right hand side of the road near the curb and the Richmond Road driver was initially in the bicycle lane before losing control of the scooter. Neither man was wearing a helmet.”

The council discussed allowing scooters on sidewalks prior to Freeman’s death and when it debated the ordinance earlier this summer.

“We don’t have the infrastructure for bike lanes,” McCurn said during an Oct. 29 Lexington council work session.

McCurn said in an interview Thursday that even roads with bike lanes aren’t always safe for scooters.

“For people going down Leestown Road, there may be a bike lane there, but it’s much safer for those people to be on the sidewalk,” he said.

Councilman Richard Moloney said he has had multiple complaints about scooters in traffic lanes on Versailles Road. The scooters, which go a maximum of 15 miles per hour, block car traffic, Moloney said.

“People are calling me and saying the scooters are holding up traffic,” Moloney said during the Oct. 29 meeting.

But Moloney said many of the sidewalks in Lexington aren’t wide enough for both scooters and pedestrians. Also, there are areas in Lexington where there aren’t any sidewalks. For example, there are many sections of Versailles Road that don’t have sidewalks.

“I’m not sure if this city was built for scooters,” Moloney said in a recent interview. “I still think there are tweaks that still need to be made.”

McCurn said he plans to propose the changes to the scooter ordinance at the council work session on Tuesday. But the changes to the ordinance likely won’t be the last changes, he said.

“My condolences go out to this family,” McCurn said. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Other cities have struggled to regulate electric scooters and keep people safe. Louisville, the only other Kentucky city that has electric scooters, prohibits scooters on sidewalks. Washington D.C. only allows scooters on sidewalks in certain areas. Its city government had pondered banning scooter use after 11 p.m. but recently scrapped that idea.

Currently, there are two scooter companies in Lexington, Lime and Spin.

Lime scooters held a free safety demonstration in late October to show people how to use the scooters. The smart phone application used to lock and rent the scooters also has prompts to encourage riders to wear helmets and to alert scooter riders where they can and cannot ride.

A spokesperson for Lime said they are cooperating with police in the investigation into Freeman’s death.

“We are devastated to learn of this tragic incident,” the company said in a statement. “ Our thoughts are with the victim’s family and friends during this extremely difficult time. We have been in contact with local authorities and have offered to assist in their investigation however possible.”

UK has also stressed education and safety prior to the late October launch, said Kathy Johnson, a spokeswoman for UK. That included multiple emails and other messages about scooter safety and helmet use, she said.

Only two serious incidents involving scooters have been reported to UK police, she said. One of those incidents was the accident on South Limestone in late October.

Beth Musgrave has covered government and politics for the Herald-Leader for more than a decade. A graduate of Northwestern University, she has worked as a reporter in Kentucky, Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois and Washington D.C.