Dockless mobility pilot program on Austin trails to begin in December


A new pilot program allowing electric bikes and scooters on some Austin trails will begin in mid-December, according to a Nov. 26 memo issued by the Austin parks and recreation department.

The pilot will run nine months, through fall of next year, and will help the parks and recreation, public works, transportation and law departments craft recommendations for potential code changes.

Since Austin City Council authorized a dockless mobility program in April, the number of such electric vehicles licensed to operate within city limits has grown to 11,371—and residents have raised concerns about accessibility and safety.

Motorized vehicles are currently prohibited from public recreational areas, including trails maintained by the parks and recreation department.

The department has received feedback regarding electric bike and scooter use on trails via surveys, email communications, stakeholder meetings and from advocates, per the memo.

In response, the relevant city departments developed the pilot, which will gather feedback from trail users and nonprofit partners, monitor the speed of electric vehicles, identify pinch points, develop a trail etiquette education campaign, update signage to indicate the trails included in the program, and track crash reports and injuries.

Five trails are included: Johnson Creek, Shoal Creek, Northern Walnut Creek Trail, Southern Walnut Creek Trail, and the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail.

The Ann and Roy Butler Trail will only allow electric bikes. The parks and recreation department heard specific opposition to electric scooters on this trail, whose surface is questionable for safe operation of scooters, according to the memo.

To enforce this program, the parks and recreation department will follow its processes already in place: increasing signage in areas of concern and increasing patrols from the park ranger unit. In more serious cases, the department will work with its parks police unit to address issues.

“Our trails are being used by both electric bikes and scooters,” said Amanda Ross, Natural Resources Division Manager for the parks and recreation department.

The pilot, Ross said, will help the city understand the best way to deal with this issue, whether by increasing enforcement funding or investing in divided use trails.

“We’re really just trying to understand what our options are,” she said.

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  1. A little common sense suggestion… since these vehicles are being rented by people who may not otherwise use our trails regularly and who therefore may not be familiar with the basics of trail etiquette, The City should consider posting signs or use other means to communicate basic trail courtesy and safety suggestions. Otherwise, the combination of pedestrians, pets, bicycles, and newbies on these motorized vehicles is likely to create frustration, at best, on The City’s trail network.

  2. Electric scooters are inappropriate for the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. The surface and terrain are not well suited to the combination of pedestrians and scooters. The particulate, fine material composing the trail makes it great for walking, but terrible for scooters. It creates a slippery, dangerous surface, especially when the scooters are going down hill. Worst of all, when it is dry, the scooters kick up a lot of dust behind them. This leaves pedestrians breathing in all of the airborne particles from the trail after they zip by. This is very unpleasant and unhealthy for “hikers,” for which the trail was intended. If the trail was meant for electric scooters, it would be named the “hike, bike and scoot trail.” It is not.

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Emma Freer
Emma Freer began covering Central Austin for Community Impact Newspaper in 2017. Her beat includes the Travis County Commissioners Court and local business news. She graduated from Columbia Journalism School in 2017.
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