Start-up music for the Mario Kart video game would be entirely appropriate for anyone getting behind the wheel in Key Biscayne when the schools let out.
There, on the left: a mom in a golf cart, chatting on her phone after picking up her first-grader, her unbuckled cherub bouncing in the back seat like popcorn on a hot skillet. Suddenly, to the right: two preteens riding on one e-scooter – both holding Big Gulps – darting in and out of traffic.
Then there are the teenage boys on their expensive Super 73s e-bikes riding Mad Max-style. Road, sidewalk, swale – they own it. You are in their way. And wait, here comes the cement truck backing out onto Harbor Drive.
As pop star Olivia Rodrigo would say, “It’s brutal out here.”
It’s also potentially deadly.
“I think everybody has a story of something almost happening,” Fire Chief Eric Lang said. “Drivers, pedestrians – no matter what modality – and families. They all play a role in preventing an accident.”
In a 24-hour period last month, there were three car vs. scooter accidents – one where a teen ended up in the emergency room. “We are going to have a serious accident,” Police Chief Frank Sousa said at the time.
At Tuesday night’s Village Council meeting, Sousa is expected to say that “motorized scooters and e-bike enforcement” tops the list of priorities for the next coming year.
October is Pedestrian Safety Month, and government statistics show that pedestrian roadway deaths have been on the rise for years. Police will again appeal to parents, holding a “Scoot Safe” community meeting on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at the Village Hall Community Room.
Of course, it takes two to tango and drivers are part of the equation.
Nationally, safety advocates say part of the problem is increasingly large trucks and SUVs that are especially dangerous to walkers, runners and bicyclists. Since 2011, pedestrian and cyclist deaths have increased by 64%, to an estimated 8,413 in 2022, the Associated Press reported.
In Miami-Dade County, there were 105 pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in 2022. Cyclists already know that 95 percent of bike lanes in the county are unprotected.
Zoom out even further, and Florida has the third-highest pedestrian fatality rate in the country, with four fatalities per 100,000 residents. The national average was 2.3.
Yet on the island, there is little doubt that the problem is not so much SUVs – but e-bikes and e-scooters. Golf cart culture adds to the chaos.
The Village is not alone in tackling this issue – in many cities scooters are part of ride-share programs.New Orleans and Las Vegas have strict ride-share e-scooter bans. San Francisco has written thousands of tickets.
Portland, Ore., requires all riders to wear helmets. In Nashville, e-scooter riders must be 18 and have a driver’s license. Atlanta bans all scooters from riding on sidewalks. Some cities have banned them completely.
Village Council Member Brett Moss has said he fears a fatality involving a motorized scooter or e-bike. Council Member Fernando Vazquez has said he would like to ban e-bikes.
Lang said since 2018 the Village has experienced on average eight incidents a year where a car collided with a pedestrian, bicyclist or scooter. “It hurts to have to respond to some of these emergencies,” he said.
There has been progress – especially along Crandon Boulevard where most of the accidents occur, Lang said. The flashers on the crosswalk across from the Village Green have helped.
Still, the Village will see a concerted effort to regulate and enforce scooters and e-bikes safety in the coming months. And it will remain to be seen if cooler heads will prevail at Wednesday’s community meeting as the issue can run hot.
In February, the Independent’s Tony Winton was threatened with physical violence “if you don’t leave these scooter kids alone” for just reporting on the issue.
State Rep. Vicki Lopez, who represents Key Biscayne, proposed a Florida law to make it easier to regulate scooters and e-bikes but she withdrew it, citing lack of support from the Republican House leadership.
Lopez did get legislation passed requiring juveniles under the age of 16 to have a learner’s permit to drive a golf cart.
In April, Key Bicayne’s Village Council approved new restrictions on powered scooters and e-bikes with a first offense remaining at $75, a second offense of $150 and – this is the big change – a third and subsequent offense of $500.
Village Manager Steve Williamson said at the August Council meeting that he was working with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Raquel Regalado on an agreement “that would give us the authority to create rules and enforcement for Crandon Boulevard.”