With plans to implement an electric scooter rideshare program in downtown Riverhead, the town board is considering restrictions on their operation. Photo: Adobe Stock

Riverhead Town is changing the town code in preparation for the inclusion of rentable electric scooters in the downtown area.

Councilman Ken Rothwell, Councilman Tim Hubbard and Deputy Town Attorney Erik Howard outlined changes to the town code for the inclusion of electric scooters during a work session on July 22. The town is looking to enter a contract with Bird Rides, a California-based company that proposed bringing scooter rentals to Riverhead at a town board meeting in April.

The proposed code changes put heavy restrictions on the operation of the scooters. Under the proposed amendment, scooters can only be operated up to 15 mph and cannot operate on roadways with a speed limit of more than 30 mph. They also cannot be operated in designated bicycle lanes or on sidewalks. Only one person is allowed on the scooter at a time and must be wearing a helmet. (Read the draft of the proposed changes here)

Scooters will be restricted to the downtown area using Bird Rides’ geo mapping, which will stop scooters that leave the designated area. Riders also won’t be able to operate them on Main Street, but will have designated areas where riders can cross into other areas of downtown, Rothwell said in an interview after the work session.

Hubbard and Rothwell said the scooters can be ridden on Heidi Behr Way along the Riverfront and on First Street. People can park the scooters in designated zones and then walk up an alley and onto Main Street to shop or go to restaurants, they said.

Electric scooters are classified as vehicles under the New York state Vehicle and Traffic Law, which prohibits operation under the influence of drugs and alcohol. 

The electric scooters are the second rideshare project the town has participated in. Riverhead and several other municipalities around Suffolk County, are currently in the Bethpage Ride program run by Pedalshare. Unlike the pedalshare program, e-scooters will not be available at the Enterprise Park at Calverton, as Rothwell said the town wants to encourage runners and bikers in the area.

Bird Rides has implemented their rideshare services in cities and university areas in the United States, Europe and the Middle East. Riders use an app on their phone to rent their scooters for use, with prices varying by city and program.

In an email, a Bird spokesperson said that the company has not been directly involved in the code change, but has provided Riverhead with recommendations for operating zones and policies for the electric scooter program.

“Bird is not aware of any of the changes Riverhead is planning to make in their code changes, but they’re sure they will be able to work within their parameters,” a Bird spokesperson said.

The code changes are subject to a public hearing and can change. A public hearing has not yet been scheduled.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.