BY TONY WINTON and THEO MILLER
A proposed change to Florida law making it easier to regulate scooters and e-bikes is dead, after State Rep. Vicki Lopez withdrew it ten days ago, citing lack of support from leadership in the Florida House of Representatives.
“I worked so hard,” Lopez said. “But I’m not disappointed because I’m going to get to the same place” by working with state Transportation Department officials and Miami-Dade County leaders to grant municipalities more ability to tackle safety issues.
Lopez said other lawmakers felt that Key Biscayne already has the legal tools it needs, including the ability to ban e-bikes on its own roads and the ability to write tickets for use of motorized devices on sidewalks, which is already illegal. The Village had engaged its lobbyist to push the bill, because it wanted a wider range of options.
But other lawmakers felt the language of the Village’s bill would result in a patchwork of inconsistent laws from town to town, Lopez said.
Key Biscayne’s Village Council endorsed a crackdown on scooter and e-bikes in parks, but the council has not ruled out tougher enforcement.
Much of the current Florida law stems from model e-bike legislation drafted by People For Bikes, an industry group that says it represents manufacturers, riders, and “bicycle-forward” policies at all levels of government.
Key Biscayne is not unique in wanting to regulate e-bikes, according to Ash Lovel, the group’s e-bike policy director.
“To me the idea of fining a nine-year-old $75 for riding their bike just doesn’t work. Is there a guarantee that that child is going to bring that fine back to their parents? That seems difficult in the line of trying to make this effective.”
After withdrawing her bill, Lopez had a meeting last week with Manager Steve Williamson and County Commissioner Raquel Regalado to discuss alternatives. One idea? A state-sanctioned pilot program that would involve collecting data to help guide legislation.
The goal of the pilot would entail Miami-Dade County delegating its authority over Crandon Boulevard to the Village, which would allow police to reduce unsafe e-scooter and e-bike use without tempting juvenile riders to simply ride in the bike lane or main roadway. The fear of that result is what has deterred police — so far — from issuing the heftier state tickets.
“The rest of the state will catch up” to Key Biscayne, Williamson predicted. He said the Village attorney is reviewing exactly how much latitude the Village has in regulating electric device traffic on streets.
Williamson said one development that might help enforcement is the issue of writing state citations to minors and their future eligibility for automobile learners permits.
Police have opted to use local civil citations under the belief that unpaid state citations could lead to forfeiture of learners’ permits. But according to Lopez, state officials don’t believe that to be the case.
“It may not have worked out the way we wanted, but this may be a better approach,” Williamson said.
Lovell, the industry representative, said her biggest concern right now isn’t making sure that kids are riding bikes safely, but rather that the bikes are safe for kids. Out-of-class bikes, often sold directly to the consumer, don’t follow the legal 3 class system.
Under Florida law, e-bikes sold within the state must have a non-removable label that outlines a bike’s class and speed capabilities. But e-bikes sold directly online can often bypass this law and can sometimes vastly exceed the legal speed and safety limits. Lovell said the direct-to-consumer models are often made cheaply, without many of the safety checks that legally certified bikes receive.
“Speed is a real concern, especially with the young children that are riding these bikes. We are working at the federal, state and local levels around clearly defining what is and is not an electric bicycle, and who should ride them,” Lovell said.
Theo Miller reported from Tallahassee, Fla.