Downtown festival crowds and scooters, what could go wrong?

Luke Netto, left, and Kevin Ernest, right, took the new Lime scooters out for a ride in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. They like them better than Bird scooters so far.
Luke Netto, left, and Kevin Ernest, right, took the new Lime scooters out for a ride in downtown Raleigh on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2018. They like them better than Bird scooters so far.

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World of Bluegrass 2018

The International Bluegrass Music Association conference, awards ceremony, Bluegrass Ramble and World of Bluegrass is in Raleigh, NC, Sept. 25-29, 2018. Find our stories here.

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It seems like the perfect storm: big festival crowd plus the electric scooters that have been zipping around downtown Raleigh streets and sidewalks since July.

That confluence could happen starting Friday with Wide Open Bluegrass, the street festival that typically draws six-figure crowds to Fayetteville Street and the surrounding area.

There’s no way to keep the scooters out of the festival grid, but there are plans to at least discourage their use in its vicinity.

Bird and Lime, the two scooter companies, work off mobile-phone apps. Michael Moore, Raleigh’s director of transportation, said the city has been in touch with both companies. The city is asking both to create a geo-fence that labels the festival grid as a restricted area.

“It will show up as a ‘no-ride zone’ on the app, and people can’t leave scooters within the area,” Moore said. “We hope people will be mindful of that and behave themselves.”

While this setting won’t prevent riders from entering the festival area, the app won’t let them terminate their ride and log out there. If a scooter is left in the restricted area, it will continue registering time that the rider has to pay for.

“We have been in communication with the city and have agreed to geo-fence the event as a no-ride zone and will ask our users to not ride our scooters at the event,” said Lime communications manager Alex Youn in a statement. Bird has yet to respond to a request for comment.

No major problems with scooters were reported during either the Hopscotch Music Festival or La Fiesta del Pueblo, both with major crowds in downtown, according to city of Raleigh spokesman John Boyette.

Earlier this month, the city had a similar arrangement in place for SPARKcon. But it was not put to the test because Hurricane Florence postponed the event, now rescheduled for Oct. 18-21.

There were also scooter management plans for Dreamville Festival at Dix Park the same weekend, said Derrick Remer, director of emergency management and special events for the city of Raleigh. It, too, was postponed on account of Florence — to April 6.

“We were talking to (Bird and Lime) about putting a geo-fence around Dix,” said Remer. “They were going to have people come in and leave them at a ‘birdcage’ dropoff area, so no one would try to use them afterward.”

The International Bluegrass Music Association’s World of Bluegrass brings upward of 200,000 people to downtown Raleigh and turns us into Nashville East for a weekend. Travis Long

These electric scooters began appearing in the Triangle over the summer and became instantly popular. They can go up to 15 mph. The rental cost is $1 to start plus 15 cents a minute.

They’re supposed to be restricted to the street or bike lanes. But it’s easy to spot riders using sidewalks, and no helmets (which are required).

They’ve been largely unregulated, leaving cities struggling to figure out what rules should be in place. While neither Moore or Remer were aware of any major issues with them, social media is full of anecdotal accounts of their dangers.

It could be that the best deterrent to their use during Wide Open Bluegrass will be the sheer size of the crowd. Last year’s event drew 221,000 people, a record for downtown events.

If the weather is good, Fayetteville Street can be as crowded as the NC State Fair midway, which would be a challenge to try and ride through.

“In transportation,” said Moore, “you always hope people show some sense.”

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