Tearful students. Angry parents. And a hope the first day of ticketing motorized scooter and e-bike riders in Key Biscayne will solve what local officials believe is a safety crisis with the popular battery-powered devices.
Police said they issued 23 civil citations Thursday afternoon, mostly to children on e-scooters at the Village Green. They also issued dozens of warnings, often skipping a ticket if a rider dismounted. Police also stopped people on traditional bicycles, which are also prohibited in island parks.
But the police couldn’t stop everyone. Despite five police cars, a half-dozen officers, the chief and deputy chief, several powered scooters and e-bikes zipped on the pathways surrounding the playing fields.
There simply weren’t enough officers to cover every path.
“This is not sustainable,” said Deputy Chief Jason Younes, who stopped several young riders who were bewildered by the enforcement action. “We need the parents to help us,” he said.
Some of the scenes were emotional. One girl wiped back tears after she was stopped and issued a ticket, as her mom got into an animated 15-minute conversation with an officer.
Chief Frank Sousa stopped many riders, including two girls wearing their St. Agnes uniforms who had been cruising on the pathway right in front of him. They stopped, and started walking, but Sousa called out. “Hold it, ladies. We’re not done,” as he whipped out the ticket book.
Then came the phone calls to the parents.
“Your daughter is getting a $75 dollar ticket,” Sousa said. Pause. “I’m not going to argue. I’m issuing a citation.”
Sousa’s department had previously issued 400 warnings, held two community meetings, met with school leaders, and made many media appearances. He said schools had spread word of the enforcement campaign, which led to many riders walking their bikes and scooters on Village Green.
But the enforcement burst, with a $2,500 weekly cost, is only set to last a month. And officers are holding off on enforcing state laws on sidewalks that already prohibit e-scooters and e-bikes that are not being actively pedaled. Officials fear doing so would simply result in children riding on Crandon Boulevard, increasing the danger. State citations can also lead to a child losing the right to get an automobile learner’s permit at age 15.
The Village is working with its lobbyist and State Rep. Vicki Lopez on a bill that would grant municipalities more enforcement powers, but the measure’s prospects are uncertain. And Village officials are already working on follow-up measures if the Legislature doesn’t act.
In many of Thursday’s interactions, police tried to convey the danger the devices pose not just to children, but to pedestrians.
“Do you have a horn on this?” Sousa asked one very young child. “You have to, because abuelita (granny) can’t hear you.”
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.