An ordinance permitting patrons' dogs at certain designated outdoor areas of food service establishments was unanimously approved April 2 by City Council. SC photo by Chuck Larsen
An ordinance permitting patrons' dogs at certain designated outdoor areas of food service establishments was unanimously approved April 2 by City Council. SC photo by Chuck Larsen

City Council and attendees engaged in vigorous debate over shared-use-path vehicles at its meeting, April 2 at City Hall. At particular issue were electrically enhanced bicycles and mopeds.

I am in favor of micro-mobility devices, but we have to consider the nature of our shared use path—and whether they would cause safety issues,” Vice Mayor Mick Denham said. “This ordinance does not ban electric vehicles. They can be used on the road. Electric scooters are not allowed anywhere on the Island,” he added.

Mayor Ruane defined the complexity of the problem. “We walk a fine line,” he said. “I have ridden on e-bikes. They have limitations. I am not open to allowing them on the shared use path, but I am also not looking to prohibit seniors [with disabilities]. We have some ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] challenges.”

Responding to Ruane’s point, City Attorney John Agnew noted that the currenet ordinance addresses exemptions for the disabled. “If a person had a disability and needed the electric-assist portion of a bike, because of mobility impairment, that would be a reasonable accommodation,” he said. “Under present law, electric bikes are not allowed, [because] they are, by definition, moved not exclusively by human power,” he added. “They are banned from sidewalks.”

Councilman Richard Johnson recommended considering distinctions among the different styles of electric bicycles. “A throttle bike is a thinly disguised motor scooter,” he said. “Another variety is the pedal assist, [in which] the rider must pedal for the electric to kick in.”

Councilwoman Smith registered a concern for “opening the door. We currently do not allow anything electric on our path,” she said. “Some pedal assists are not limited by speed. They can always go on the roadway. We are maintaining the laws that we have in place. We are not allowing anything electric on the shared use path.”

Lisa and Skip Badolato, proprietors of Pedego Electric Bikes Fort Myers made a strong case for electric bikes. “We understand that safety is a no. 1 concern. No one should be throttling on the shared use path,” Skip Badolato said. “Our bikes are class 2, pedal-assisted and throttle with a top speed of 20mph. We have no class 3 bikes, which have a top speed of 28mph. We can limit the top speed of pedal-assist bikes.”

Our customers are between the ages of 65 and 85,” Badolato added. “They do not come to Sanibel to tear up the bike path. They are here to enjoy.”

The Badolatos recommended a speed limit for the path. “There is no difference between an electric bike going 10mph and a regular bike going 10mph,” Skip Badolato said.

We want more people with bad backs and bad knees on the paths, not on the streets,” Lisa Badolato added. “Sanibel is where we encourage people to come and ride.”

Island resident Karen Storjohann remarked on the proliferation “of e-vehicles, scooters, skateboards, motorized bikes” on the Island. “The desire to still be mobile is wonderful, but there comes a point where reality has to set in, and you don’t belong on the vehicle any longer. Our laws should be about what makes sense for the largest amount of people, not slice out a demographic, other than for handicapped purpose,” she said.

A Cape Coral resident advocated for bike path speed limits. “I bought an e-bike, and in the last year, I put 2500 miles on the bike and lost 50 pounds. I rarely go over 12mph, I love it. It changed my life. The issue is speed, not e-bikes.”

On behalf of the Sanibel Bicycle club, Tom Sharbaugh spoke in support of the ordinance. “We agree with prohibiting motorized scooters. They would be a safety hazard. In addition, we support the language of the ordinance requiring restriction to human-powered vehicles.

But a lot of the conversation we have heard is also echoed by the Club,” he added. “We should treat the e-bike as a nuanced situation, based on the different types of bikes. The Club absolutely agrees that throttled bikes are dangerous. We see a need for pedal-assisted bikes. They should be kept as an option.”

An Island resident reported that, upon purchasing a pedal-assisted bike, “my husband and I had the freedoms to go to BIG ARTS, shop at Baileys, and volunteer at the Community House. We can only do that with electric-assist bikes. I was offended by this community that is supposed to take care of its elderly. Going on [age] 70, I should have use of this Island, I can do that with pedal-assist,” she said.

Council tabled the ordinance. “Let’s get this right once,” Ruane said. “From my interpretation, [the language] is too vague. We are hearing a lot of questions from the public that we haven’t addressed. There is no urgency. We can bring back for discussion.”

Dog Ordinance Approved

An ordinance permitting patrons’ dogs at certain designated outdoor areas of food service establishments was unanimously approved. In approving the motion, Councilwoman Smith explained that establishments wishing to allow dogs can do so, “but restaurants aren’t required to allow dogs. Both the owner of the establishment and the owner of the dog are responsible [for dog behavior]. Ultimately it is up to the proprietor to remove [problem] dogs.”

BIG ARTS

Council voted unanimously to discontinue its current insurance coverage for BIG ARTS buildings for flood, wind and property. As the City Manager’s memorandum reads, because demolition of BIG ARTS structures begins April 1, the City “will not renew flood insurance for the current structure and will eliminate BIG ARTS building and contents from the Florida League of Cities, Florida Municipal Insurance Trust, property schedule.” Liability insurance coverage remains unchanged.

Council expressed support for the City sharing costs for the BIG ARTS parking lot and lighting upgrade. “I do hear support across the dais for this,” Mayor Ruane said. “We are in the middle of a budget cycle, so we can’t address this budget item until July.

But I see no reason for concern, since the parking lot is shared among three community entities,” Ruane added. “It is consistent with what we have done for the community in the past.”

Gender Neutral Language

Council unanimously passed an ordinance amending the Sanibel Code for gender neutral language. The change is in keeping with a charter review committee recommendation.

Last time, the media got it wrong,” Mayor Ruane said. “We are not changing utilization of bathrooms or anything.”

Ruane cited an example, wherein the word “policeman” becomes “police officer.” “That’s all,” he said. “Nothing more, nothing less.”