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A Spin electric scooter thaws out in a flower box at St. John's Cathedral in Denver on March 1, 2019. Lawmakers are looking to change the legal definition of the scooters statewide to keep them off sidewalks. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Scooters, get off the sidewalk.

It makes sense to pedestrians and scooter riders alike that the electric scooters zipping around Colorado ought to use bike lanes instead of dodging people on sidewalks. But in fact, state law says it’s illegal for them to drive in the street.

The electric two-wheelers that top out at about 18 mph are classified as toys under Colorado law. And under the law, toy vehicles — motorized Power Wheels Jeeps, pink Barbie Corvettes and tiny electric Kawasakis included — are allowed only on sidewalks.

A proposed change to state law will put electric scooters in the same category as electric bikes, giving them free rein to cruise the bike lanes.

The scooter craze in Denver, jolted by the arrival last spring of scooter rental companies that plunked the cruisers throughout the city, is prompting the law change. The companies have plans to expand to Fort Collins and Lakewood.

“We need to embrace every kind of transportation possible,” said Rep. Alex Valdez, a Democrat who represents downtown Denver and is sponsoring House Bill 1221. “This is just another step in the right direction in finding new and innovative ways to get people around quickly.”

Read more transportation coverage from The Colorado Sun.

Cities are allowed to make their own laws governing scooters, and in January, Denver booted scooters off its sidewalks and banned them from the 16th Street Mall. The city ordinance says scooters must travel in bike lanes or on streets where the speed limit is 30 mph or slower.

If there is no bike lane and the speed limit on the road is higher than 30 mph, a scooter is allowed to pop onto the sidewalk. But riders must keep it to a “slow jog,” defined as no more than 6 mph.

Changing state law to put electric scooters on par with e-bikes will save cities the hassle of making their own laws to help scooters and pedestrians happily coexist. Whatever is legal for bikes will become legal for scooters. And it wouldn’t mean scooters can’t use city sidewalks, only that they are allowed in bike lanes.

“As a pedestrian, and someone who has enthusiastically ridden scooters, I don’t enjoy riding a scooter on a sidewalk,” said Piep van Heuven, policy director for Bicycle Colorado. “Having scooters in bike lanes makes sense.”

Scooters are likely just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of small, lightweight options to move people, Van Heuven said. “Cars are choking our cities and we have to have other healthier ways to get around,” she said. “Anything that gets people out of their single-occupancy vehicles is a good thing.”

For Valdez, a key motivation for his legislation is to alleviate traffic and pollution. Scooters are zero-emission, cheap and easy to find, but “we want to prevent any pedestrian irritation,” the lawmaker said. “Pedestrians on the sidewalk shouldn’t have to look out for a motorized vehicle.”

So far, the bill introduced this month has no public opposition and is seen by supporters as a necessary step after what was a rough start for scooters in Colorado.

A rider cruises on a Bird electric scooter in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood on Sept. 24, 2018. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

The arrival in Denver of hundreds of rental scooters last May caused chaos, mostly because people were dumping them along the 16th Street Mall and at curbs all over town when they were finished with their ride. Denver Public Works scooped them up and confiscated them, and the city ordered rental companies to suspend operations until they could establish some rules.

After a several-week break, scooters were cleared to return to the streets last summer under a new permit pilot program. Three companies — Lime, Lyft and Bird — each have a fleet of 438 scooters in Denver.

And they are quite popular: more than 800,000 scooter rides to date have been logged in Denver and nearly 1 million miles traveled, according to Denver Public Works. The average ride on a rented scooter was almost a mile.

Rentals are $1 to start a scooter, plus 15 cents per minute. Scott Chase, a lobbyist who represents Lime at the statehouse, typically spends about $4 and 18 minutes to cruise between his Capitol Hill office and appointments downtown. It’s way cheaper and faster than parking, he said.

Plus, “they’re a kick in the pants” to ride, Chase said. “When you ride the sidewalk with pedestrians, it’s not appropriate or safe. But on a bike lane, it’s wonderful. It’s a clear shot.”

Jennifer Brown writes about mental health, the child welfare system, the disability community and homelessness for The Colorado Sun. As a former Montana 4-H kid, she also loves writing about agriculture and ranching. Brown previously...