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Discussion continues on e-bikes on shared use path

By Staff | Sep 18, 2019

After a lengthy conversation, the Sanibel City Council decided to continue discussion concerning “micro mobility devices,” specifically electric bikes, when everyone could not come to a consensus of allowing electric bikes on the shared use path.

“I think for the health and safety for our citizens and visitors this ordinance will help,” Vice Mayor Mick Denham said. “I have done extensive research of documents available to me. I’ve sought advice and opinion of the vast majority of residents on the island. The majority of them are against them, not because of the nature of the technology, but the position we have on our shared use path.”

According to the ordinance, “no operator shall drive a motor vehicle, micro mobility device, motorized scooter, moped, or other vehicle other than exclusively by human power upon a bicycle path, sidewalk, shared use path, except for crossing incident to appropriate access to adjacent property.”

Many residents and a few bike shop owners spoke during public comment concerning e-bikes.

Some of the concern was if banning the e-bikes from the shared use path it would lead individuals to riding on the roads.

“Legislation is a breathing instrument,” Mayor Kevin Ruane said. “It can be modified, enhanced and changed at any time. It goes with the demand.”

Resident Karen Storjohann said you cannot safely put e-bikes on the shared use path system.

“Part of the reason they don’t work here is because we have a large influx of people from all over the place. Common sense that they exhibit in other places has disappeared,” she said while they are on vacation. “During season adding anything else that requires greater control on part of the rider than what we have already got is a mistake. They are not in control of common sense now, I could not imagine on an e-bike.”

Co-owner Lisa Badolato of Pedego Bikes in Downtown Fort Myers said they opened shop to help the older generation be active again. She said the average age of their customers range from 60 to 90 because they want to still be active.

“All we want to do is make people active and be able to get active,” she said of the e-bikes, which are good for those who have had knee surgery, or a back injury. “These people don’t go faster than 10 miles an hour. They want to ride a bike. We do not support putting a 60- to 90-year-old person on an electric bike on the street here in Sanibel.”

Billy Kirkland, owner of Billy’s Bike Shop, said there are a lot more residents on this island than they would believe that use a pedal-assist bike.

One of those residents, Gary Kilbourne, said he and his wife ride e-bikes as their main transportation.

“Class one e-bike do not have a throttle and cannot be self propelled,” he said. “They need human power. They don’t go without human power. They have electric assist to make it easier to peddle.”

Ruane said they are probably unaware of the extent of people using assisted bikes.

“I think whenever you have to do legislation you are required to listen to your citizenry and make a decision. By and large, there is a majority that believes in one aspect and a minority that doesn’t,” he said, adding that he believes there is some confusion with what class of bikes there are and how they are lumped together.

Council member Richard Johnson said it is a relatively complex issue and one of timing. He said the micro mobility devices came into being at the same times as e-bikes.

“I did some work on this and went out on the shared use path and made observations, as well as spent time walking and riding,” Johnson said. “I did take advantage of riding a pedal assist category one bike. I made sure I understood what that was and how I could use that as a user on the shared use path. I think some consideration should be given for folks that live in our community that rely on a pedal assist bike that keeps them active. I am looking for balance in this legislation. I would look for a change in the ordinance to allow the pedal assist bike and regulate the behavior and use on the shared use path. I do believe that we have folks that live in the community that utilize pedal assist bikes to get from A to B. I would like to respect that choice and allow them to continue to get from A to B.”

Council member Jason Maughan agreed in stating that in the very near future assisted bicycles may become a necessity for the community.

“I’m opposed solely if it bans e-assist pedal bikes that require engagement,” he said, for the simple fact that when his mom visits he would like her to have the opportunity to use one.

Council member Holly Smith, on the other hand, disagreed.

“If we had a dedicated bike path, I would be in full support of the ability to use electric powered,” she said. “I cannot support anything but exclusively human powered at this time. We have to look at the majority of the users on our path and not specifically to a minority of users. To include a motorized vehicle on our shared use path, I think is a hazard.”

After a lengthy discussion, Ruane said he believes they owe it to the community to continue the conversation at their Oct. 1 board meeting.

“I would like to hear from more people in the community. I would like to hear more public input on this. I want to pass legislation that fits our community. I would like to hear a large segment of our population weigh in on this,” he said.

The council unanimously approved the motion, which included Denham including a proposal to the ordinance, which the council will add to their October discussion.

Denham said his contingency proposal includes “the prohibition does not apply to the following: a public officer, or employee in the performance of his duty, a person operating a motorized wheelchair or a similiar other powered mobility device operated by a person disabled for mobility purposes, or a person aged 18 or older operating a cross one electric assisted bicycle, which for the purpose of this section means an electric assisted bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and when that bicycle reaches a speed of 20 mph.”