The Village Council voted unanimously Wednesday to start a limited ban of e-bikes and scooters in Village parks, but judging from the level of traffic the very next morning, police will face significant enforcement challenges. Some council members predicted tougher rules will probably be needed.
The action came just days after a frightening collision between a scooter rider and a car, which sent a child to the hospital, according to police. The boy’s parents were present in the Council chambers in support of increased regulation and said their son was OK, but declined to comment further.
The sheer number of riders, however, presents a daunting task for the 38-member department, even on the relatively small area of the Village Green. In a 30-minute period Thursday morning, about three dozen electric mobility devices –mostly students with backpacks headed to school — zipped on the pathways. One young person rode an e-bike in circles on the playing field as soccer players kicked balls and fitness instructors taught morning classes.
Key Biscayne Police Chief Frank Sousa said a month-long crackdown won’t come cheap, putting the cost at $2,500 a week. Fines would be $75 for the first offense and $175 for a second offense.
The measure does not cover scooter or e-bike use on Village sidewalks or streets. Although police can enforce state laws on sidewalks, they have been reluctant to do so because of the fear it would drive youth riders onto the more dangerous Crandon Boulevard.
Some council members said this effort will have to be followed with tougher measures, including the possibility of a wider ban.
“I get parents talking about walking their kids to school, and their three year old almost gets nailed on a sidewalk,” said Council Member Brett Moss, whose cousin is recovering from a hit-and-run collision with a car while riding on a stretch of Crandon Blvd. outside the Village last month. Moss said he was pessimistic about a short-term crackdown achieving lasting results.
“We’re going to have to increase our police budget pretty dramatically to hire more police officers, to police children on these toys,” he said.
Council Member Frank Caplan said reviving a more expansive ban on the devices may be needed because police will not be able to tell when a person is operating the pedals, which makes e-bikes lawful on sidewalks under current rules. He called the situation “a public safety emergency.”
“We’re just gonna have to put the big boy pants on,” Caplan said, a comment that appeared to be directed at his colleague Oscar Sardiñas, who expressed misgivings about an earlier measure to ban Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes. The Council shelved the measure after it passed unanimously on first reading. Sardiñas was a reluctant “yes” vote at the time, expressing concern about the unintended consequences of a ban.
The Village is also supporting changes in Florida law that would give the Council more flexibility to write regulations on the devices, which currently places limits on what rules localities can enact. A bill introduced by Rep. Vicki Lopez is pending before several committees, but no hearings have been scheduled and its prospects for passage are uncertain. No companion bill has yet been filed in the State Senate.
Miami-Dade County Commissioner Raquel Reglado said she has been working with the Florida Department of Transportation on a more comprehensive solution that may involve action at the County level, stopping short of fully endorsing the Lopez bill.
“I will say this about the scooters and the e-bikes. There are good ways and bad ways to do this. But I think you all are ahead of the curve,” she said during a presentation at Wednesday’s meeting.
“We don’t want to do something that’s vague and then unenforceable.”
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.