Electric bike and scooter regulation discussed by commissioners



As the popularity of electric bikes and motorized, skateboard-type scooters increases in Key West, so do the concerns about the potential for accidents.

City Commissioner Billy Wardlow, who said multiple new businesses want to begin renting the new electric-powered conveyances, asked local medical and emergency personnel to report on e-bike accidents in preparation for possible regulations on the electric vehicles. While the report presenters took pains not to criticize e-bikes and scooters directly, they agreed that the faster a means of transportation can go, the higher the likelihood of serious accidents. Dr. John Norris, chief of staff at the Lower Keys Medical center (LKMC), pointed out that while bicyclists are hard-pressed to go 20 miles per hour, e-bikes can go up to 30 mph. And Dr. Matthew Partrick, emergency department chief at the LKMC, said that he sees bicycle accidents on a daily basis.

“Velocity is key. The faster you’re going, the more likely you are to get injured,” he said. “Anything we can do to encourage helmet use is low-hanging fruit.”

Eddie Perez, EMS Division Chief for the Key West Fire Department, said there have been 70 reported bicycle accidents in the last 12 months, although the department does not separate out bicycle accidents from those involving e-bikes. Of those 70 incidents, 53 people were transported to a hospital, seven victims were in critical condition and two died. But not all accidents requiring medical care are reported to the police. And on a national level, an estimated $8 billion was spent in the United States treating bicycle accident victims. That increased to $22.4 billion in 2013, according to Dr. Christopher Bensen, an orthopedic doctor at the LKMC. 

“Cycling has been shown many, many times over to be the most dangerous sport when you look at the number of injuries versus the number of people participating,” he said. “Anytime you throw another vehicle into the mix, it substantially increases the risk and severity of the injury.”

Eliminating e-bikes and scooters, as the city of Ft. Lauderdale is considering, may not be the answer. Commissioner Sam Kaufman pointed out that residents with disabilities or with age-related physical limitations use e-bikes as their primary transportation. Others cannot afford a car so electric bikes and scooters serve a valid purpose, Kaufman said.

But Wardlow and Commissioner Mary Lou Hoover said electric vehicles need to be regulated. Wardlow said some residents who have lost their driving license are using e-bikes for transportation. Hoover said another problem is that e-bikes are quiet and people can’t hear them coming.

“In deference to our bicycles, who are normally pretty good about letting you know they’re coming up behind you or whatever, these people [e-bike drivers] don’t. And with some of the very narrow sidewalks we have, allowing them on any sidewalks at all doesn’t make any sense to me at all. Too many people are going to get hurt and very quickly,” she said.

“A lot of these e-bikes are going down Flagler and on these streets and sidewalks with no consideration for nobody,” Wardlow said. “We have to have some kind of regulations on them.”

But Commissioner Jimmy Weekley pointed out that Key West may be limited in putting the brakes on electric vehicles because state law has precedence. He, too, has heard from constituents worried about the impact, literally and figuratively, from e-bikes.

“We have so many blind spots in the city that we need to address,” he said, encouraging police officers to pull e-bike drivers over if they are on their cell phones or don’t obey traffic signals. Mayor Teri Johnston directed City Manager Greg Veliz to convey that request to Police Chief Sean Brandenburg.

In other news, city commissioners approved eliminating the free evening parking in the Jackson Square parking lot on Thomas Street behind the county courthouse. Parking has been free after 5:30 pm, with county staffers using the lot during working hours. If passed on second reading at the next commission meeting, both the lot and that block of Thomas Street will be metered for use by the public after 5:30 pm. 

However, city Parking Director John Wilkins also requested that Jackson Square and adjoining block of Thomas Street be eligible for free use by residents with the $25 monthly resident employee parking permit in the evening. The measure was approved by commissioners.

Wilkins added that the city engineering department is looking at changing the angle parking spaces on Thomas Street behind the courthouse to parallel parking and changing Thomas Street into a one-way street in that area as a way to make the congested block safer.

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