The next sidewalk clash: Pedestrians vs. scooters?

Motorized scooters and skateboards are a growing issue in cities where they provide cheap, fast fun ways to get around. They also create safety risks, and it makes sense for officials to set rules that allow all road users to safely coexist.

Those zingy electric scooters you may have spotted on sidewalks and streets look like fun.

Until one of them zips up behind you at 15 mph and nearly clips you.

Or until one cuts across two lanes of heavy traffic in a nonchalant, I-own-the-road gesture of defiance.

Electric scooters and their daredevil cousins, motorized skateboards, now join the ongoing joust between motorists, pedestrians, bikers, skaters and everyone else claiming a slice of sidewalk or street.

Swarms of these powered scooters have suddenly appeared in many cities via rental companies. A scooter typically rents for an initial $1, and then costs 15 cents a minute to ride — good for a crosstown jaunt. The scooters are supposed to be properly parked and the company is supposed to collect them overnight to make them ready for the next day.

The machines inspire a loyal cadre of scooterati — and a knot of critics who complain about hot-rodding drivers and the nuisance of stepping over scooters left splayed on sidewalks after rental periods end.

As the Washington Post observed: “The gentlemen scooting coolly across our city streets and sidewalks at 15 miles an hour, the wind gently flapping their ties and tousling their hair, are indifferent to your angry glares. They’re unbothered by your #scootersbehavingbadly tweets, and the cyclists hollering at them in the bike lanes, and the pedestrians who leap in front of them — not the wisest move, really — to shout, “You’re going to hurt somebody!” Nothing fazes the scooter bros.”

No, we’re not giddy about adding traffic to already-clotted city streets and sidewalks. Many pedestrians already maneuver around oblivious bike riders who aren’t supposed to be on the sidewalks and roller-skaters who dance across sidewalks as if they’re performing in a Disney musical. The walking hordes don’t expect, nor should they, kamikaze scooter pilots bearing down on them.

But this isn’t a you-kids-get-off-my-lawn! screed. People need cheap, fast, fun ways to get around the city. That’s why bike-sharing Divvy and its competitors are popular. Motorized scooters for rent could help commuters save time, and keep cars off the streets.

But the scooters often bring legal and regulatory kinks to be worked out. Officials in Milwaukee, San Francisco and elsewhere are scrambling to figure out how to deal with a sudden influx of scooters. Milwaukee, for example, is battling scooter rental firm Bird Rides Inc. in federal court. City officials argue that the scooters are illegal under current law. Bird’s response? Let’s just say the company is aptly named.
We don’t know when or if the scooters will descend like cicadas on Chicago. But it’s not too soon to think about some scooter-specific safety rules.

“Generally, if an item is motorized, the user must have a driver’s license and it must be used in the street,” according to the Chicago Department of Transportation. “If it’s not motorized it must be used on the sidewalk, except for skateboards, which may not be used in the Central Business District. Motorized scooters may not be used in a bike lane.”

Short version: If it isn’t powered by feet, take it to the street. Does that work for motorized scooters? We’re not sure.

Most of us are in a hurry to get somewhere — and all of us seek to avoid a trip to the ER. Happy trails, everyone.


Travelers should be able to sue abusive airport screeners

If your rights are violated by an FBI agent, you can file a lawsuit. If you’re manhandled by a TSA employee you’re out of luck, a federal court ruled.

Most Americans are far likelier to be searched by an agent of the Transportation Security Administration than by an FBI agent. But according to a federal appeals court, if an FBI agent violates your rights you can file a lawsuit. If you’re manhandled by a TSA employee you’re out of luck.

By a 2-1 vote, the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia has ruled against Nadine Pellegrino, a business consultant from Boca Raton, Fla., who claimed that a search of her belongings at Philadelphia International Airport in 2006 was too rough and invasive. She was arrested and charged with assault after she clashed with TSA agents, but was found not guilty. She then filed a lawsuit against the TSA and the individual agents.

The appeals court’s decision turned not on the truth or falsity of Pellegrino’s allegations but on a question of how a law called the Federal Tort Claims Act should be interpreted.

Generally, the federal government is immune to lawsuits under the doctrine of “sovereign immunity.” But the Federal Tort Claims Act creates various exceptions, including one allowing citizens to sue “investigative or law enforcement officers” for civil wrongs including false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

Writing for the majority, Judge Cheryl Ann Krause said that TSA agents didn’t qualify because the searches they performed were “administrative.” The judge suggested that if searches by TSA agents could give rise to lawsuits, so could other routine searches by government officials, such as those carried out by meat inspectors and employees of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Yet Krause conceded that airport screenings are particularly invasive because they “may involve thorough searches of not only the belongings of passengers but also their physical persons — searches that are even more rigorous and intimate for individuals who happen to be selected for physical pat-downs after passing through a metal detector or imaging scanner.” She suggested that although current law didn’t authorize lawsuits against TSA agents in her view, Congress could pass a law allowing them.

We disagree. The judge’s cramped reading of the law seems to miss the point of what TSA agents do. And it denies recourse to people who are abused by them.

Most TSA agents do their jobs diligently and courteously. But those who take advantage of the sometimes intimate contact they have with the traveling public shouldn’t be immune to legal sanctions. If the courts won’t recognize that, Congress should step in.