Off the waterfront

Hoboken bans electric scooters on the waterfront walkway and in city parks

On Sept. 18, local mother Kate Cohen, who was struck by an OjO scooter, spoke to the council before it voted to ban escooters along the waterfront.
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On Sept. 18, local mother Kate Cohen, who was struck by an OjO scooter, spoke to the council before it voted to ban escooters along the waterfront.

All electric scooters will be banned along portions of Hoboken’s waterfront walkway and all city parks after the City Council unanimously adopted an ordinance sponsored by Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher.

The Sept. 18 ordinance bans riding e-scooters on the portion of the Waterfront Walkway that begins at the North End of Sinatra Park running south to the municipal border, “including but not limited to the promenade area adjacent to Blue Eyes Café.”

It also bans riding on the portion of the waterfront walkway that begins at the south end of the skateboard park and runs north to the city’s border.

The ban does not include bike lanes or the roadways along the walkway. It states that riders must dismount before getting on the sidewalk or waterfront promenade but can walk e-scooters on the sidewalk.

Ordinances typically take effect 20 days after adoption, making the start of the ban Oct. 8.

This came after Mayor Ravi Bhalla terminated the city’s contract with OjO, one of the city’s e-scooter-sharing providers, after a mother and her 3-month-old-child were hit by a 13-year-old riding an OjO scooter on the sidewalk near Eighth and Clinton streets.

The mother, Kate Cohen, spoke at the Sept. 18 council meeting before the council vote, describing the collision and how it has affected her.

She said it was fortunate the scooter struck the right side of her double-wide stroller, which was empty because her two-year-old son was at daycare that day.

“This is where my toddler’s legs would’ve been dangling,” she said. “His tiny legs would’ve been smashed … Every time I put Elliot in place, I wonder what his life would be like if he had been crippled in that accident.”

The OjO scooters weigh more than 50 pounds.

Cohen said she is thankful her three-month-old was not seriously injured and that she is tall. The collision bruised her tibia. Had she been shorter the scooter could have seriously injured a joint.

Emotional stress

She said while physically she was fine, the day after the collisions she had a panic attack.

She said she did not want scooters to be banned from city streets but advocated for stronger enforcement and stricter penalties for those who violate the city’s e-scooter laws.

A blind student at Stevens Institute of Technology also spoke at the meeting, relating that since returning to school this semester it has been difficult to get to and from campus because parked e-scooters often block her path.

She said she values her independence and would often leave her apartment and walk to campus independently using her cane to clear the area in front of her, but the e-scooters are two small for her cane to always locate.

“The scooters, when they’re parked, they’re narrow on the bottom and the handlebars stick out on the top, and so when I wave my cane in front of me to walk, the cane will not find the scooters before I do, and so I have gotten hit twice and fallen down twice,” she said.

The university’s Chief of Police Timothy Griffin said he and his officer often attempt to clear a path for her, but the scooters are difficult to move.

“Students use them and love them, but because there is not a parking area staged … they are being dumped as soon as they can to the edge of campus,” he said, noting that they are often found in the crosswalks near campus, and the university has other students with disabilities who have difficulty getting to campus because of the scooters.

“We are sending emails to students to educate them about scooters and being conscientious, but this is something we all have to think about,” Griffin said.

CEO of OjO Max Smith spoke at the meeting, stating that the city’s actions weren’t “unreasonable,” but he believes the city should clarify why the contract was canceled.

“We believe it is important for the mayor to clarify what prompted its recent course of action – which occurred without prior discussion with OjO – so there can be a clear criterion set regarding any issues with or questions regarding our service.”

He said the company remains committed to working with the city and cited a Sept. 9 letter in which Director of Transportation and Parking Ryan Sharp said the company “proved to be a good partner.”

Fisher thanked her colleagues on the council the following day.

“I would like to thank my colleagues for joining me in moving to restrict e-scooters from our city parks and Waterfront Walkways, building on the continued efforts this City Council and the administration have undertaken to protect pedestrians, especially children and families walking in our public spaces,” said Fisher in a statement Sept. 19.

“While there are clearly mobility benefits offered by the e-scooter program, the simple fact is that until residents feel safe walking in our city we must continue working to make the program safer… Last night was the first real public discussion we have had on the e-scooter pilot, and I appreciate everyone who came to speak and share their experiences. As we continue to evaluate the program, input from everyone is critical, so we can decide how best to make this work for Hoboken, or not.”

For updates on this and other stories keep checking www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.