Key West Bike, Walk, Transit and Streets for People Top 10 Stories for 2020 – #8: Some Progress on E-Bikes and Scooters Ordinance
By Chris Hamilton, December 23, 2020
Fear of Deluge of E-Rentals Nets Moratorium
Back in February the City Commission put a 180-day moratorium on new companies coming in and renting motorized or non-motorized vehicles. The impetus was the fear of rental electric bikes and electric standup scooters overrunning the town, and specifically overrunning our sidewalks and making them unsafe for pedestrians. The time was said to be needed to review data on traffic safety and capacity as leaders figured out what to do first.
New Florida Law Regulates E-Vehicles
On July 1, a new Florida law provided for three classifications of e-bikes or pedal assist and throttle bikes and gave them all the rights, privileges and duties of human powered bikes, meaning they could operate anywhere a regular bike could operate, including a sidewalk. However, the new law also gives counties and municipalities the ability to regulate their use on sidewalks. It also allows local governments to regulate their use on streets in the same manner as bicycles.
Moratorium Extended and E-Bike Ordinance Drafted
At the Commissioner’s October 6 meeting they extended the moratorium by another 180-days or longer in order to complete the tasks needed to get an ordinance in place, citing the Corona Virus as a reason for the delay. At the City Commission’s final meeting of the year on December 2, City Attorney Shawn Smith let everyone know that since a draft ordinance was part of his annual goals for the year, he had given Mayor Johnston a completed draft to review the previous week. This draft codified the new State rules in the City’s ordinance but did nothing to address safety on the sidewalks or streets, in fact it simply permitted e-bikes and e-scooters on sidewalks. As the Citizen newspaper put it in reporting on the issue of the Mayor’s response:
“That the ordinance essentially says open the city’s streets and sidewalks to e-vehicles and let them come in. I had great concern about that because we have not data on sidewalk safety, on where these vehicles go, how we control them, how we monitor them. Because of our lack of bicycles lanes, we have shoved everything onto our sidewalks which, I think we can all agree that they’ve become very dangerous…. We’ve got small sidewalks. We’ve got busy sidewalks. And we’re trying to put one more form of transportation on them. We need to know how to do that safely.”Mayor Johnston
The Mayor doesn’t think another traffic study is needed but does want some data on potential conflicts between e-vehicles and pedestrians and wants safety recommendations included as part of a package. She suggested an existing consultant could help.
We agree with the Mayor. The current draft of the ordinance simply let’s all vehicles use the sidewalks and that’s a recipe for disaster. We think it would be easy enough, as the new State law allows, to simply insert language in the ordinance that ban e-bikes and scooters from most sidewalks that aren’t already part of a multi-use path, like on North and South Roosevelt, Bertha Street and Atlantic Avenue.
We think it should be noted that Commissioner Kaufman has voiced concern about the length of time this has been taking and wanted to insure that our City’s Multi-Modal Coordinator, Tim Staub, was given more sway in final recommendations. We agree with the Commissioner as well.
More Comprehensive Package Should Be Brought Forward
Rather than just handing the City Commission a draft ordinance, City Management was tasked with and should have provided Commissioners with a more well-rounded and thought-out approach. It should have included data and safety recommendations. It should also have included recommendations on making our streets safer for bicycles, e-bikes and scooters to ride on, so riders don’t even feel the need to ride on sidewalks. So good for the Mayor for pushing back and demanding better. We think this is progress THAT’S why it is on our list coming in at number #8. Perhaps next year a completed ordinance with lots of safety recommendations will appear higher on our list. We hope so.
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If E-Vehicles Don’t Belong on the Sidewalks, We Have to Make Our Streets Safer
We strongly believe that e-bikes and scooters have an important place in our city’s transportation options mix. They need to be supported. Commissioner Wardlow likes to rail against these crazy, new-fangled vehicles. And while we agree with him that their use on most sidewalks is a problem for pedestrians, we have to point out that he’s not been known as a supporter of safer bicycle infrastructure, like protected bike lanes, when it would inconvenience cars.
If e-bikes and scooters shouldn’t be on sidewalks, FDOT and the citizens agreed on a solution in 2017 for making S. Roosevelt Boulevard safer. The plan was to narrow the four car-traffic lanes down to three, one in each direction with a middle turn lane. This would have allowed for a wide, protected bike lane in each direction – something that e-bikes and scooters could have used and then avoided conflicts with pedestrians when they use the sidewalk or multi-path or promenade as it is alternately called. But Commissioners Billy Wardlow and Clayton Lopez as part of a 5-2 majority of the City Commission voted against FDOT’s solutions and most of people in a focus group and public meetings. Instead they sought to keep four through travel lanes for cars and to keep the bicycles on the sidewalks along with the pedestrians. (The graphics below depict the options presented. The red and green dots on one graphic depict people that say yes or no to each option.) To their credit, Commissioners Jimmy Weekley and Sam Kaufman were the lone dissenting voices for common sense, voting against keeping the status quo of four car-lanes.
Perhaps now that there are more e-vehicles around, we can get Commissioners Wardlow and Lopez to change their tunes. It still isn’t too late as FDOT doesn’t plan the rebuild the road until 2023. And now what about N. Roosevelt Boulevard?…
More info on this issue here:
Key Wes Takes a Look at Rebuilding S. Roosevelt Boulevard Into 2-Lane Road With New Bike Paths; by Gwen Filosa, February 4, 2017; Florida Keys News