Knowledge Share Spotlight: Chicago’s Low Speed Mobility Ordinance and Regulation Table

In April of 2019, the City of Chicago passed an update to the municipal code, legalizing new modes of micromobility and setting expectations for user behavior. Chicago Department of Transportation Assistant Commissioner Sean Wiedel provides more context and history behind the ordinance.

What was the impetus for creating the ordinance?

While we had previously only piloted dockless bikeshare in the City, we were beginning to see personally-owned electric skateboards, e-scooters and other micromobility devices in use in Chicago. We wanted to make it clear where these devices can and can’t operate in the City.

What is new vs. existing regulation?

The biggest difference is that our approach explicitly amends the Chicago Municipal Code to define low-speed electric mobility devices or LEMDs (we say it LEM-dees). With the amendment, we gave LEMDs riders the same rights and responsibilities as people riding bikes. We haven’t seen any other cities take this approach.

What is the intention for passing one ordinance for low-speed mobility?

This is a permanent update of the Chicago Municipal Code that is intended to be broad enough to cover the devices in the market (or coming) that we felt could safely operate on our streets and in our bike lanes. We have already seen a variety of these devices operating in Chicago.  We also have seen the rapid evolution of the marketplace for shared services.

We tried to develop a broad definition that would the would encapsulate the micromobility market from speed, size of device, weight and other elements that would allow them to safely operate in our city. We felt it was important to look ahead and move at the speed of the market by developing a definition that can adapt as the market changes.

What does the ordinance allow/disallow?

Allows a variety of LEMDs – from ebikes and scooters, to skateboards, hoverboards, and electric unicycles – but set a top speed of 15 mph for devices to legally operate in a bike lane. Importantly, none of these devices may operate on the sidewalk.

While this ordinance did not set up a regulatory pilot scheme for shared devices, it did lay the groundwork for us to be able to do so.

Does this also include pilot programs or other test phases?

The ordinance is complementary to piloting different technologies but does not explicitly allow for them. We legalized the devices so we can pilot them through a separate mechanism with our Business Affairs and Consumer Protection department.

What’s next for Chicago?

Chicago will be piloting scooters in a geographically-limited area of the city’s west side, launching soon. We are trying a slightly different approach than other pilots, requiring that all scooters must be taken off the streets by midnight every night. We are hoping that helps to stave off some of the issues we’ve seen in other cities. When rebalanced in the morning, 50% of the scooters need to be in equity areas with lower incomes and more limited access to transit.

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