by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes
An ordinance that would ban all classes of electric bicycles on the island’s Shared Use Path system stirred conversation at the Sept. 9 Sanibel City Council meeting, which resulted in a vote to continue the second reading until the next council meeting on Oct. 1.
Many island residents have objected to the ban including class one e-bikes, also known as pedal assist bikes, on which the electric drive system can only be activated through a pedaling action and are limited to relatively low speeds. It was contended that this type of e-bike, while classified as motorized, does require human power to move, is slower than the class two throttle bikes and allows those with health issues or who are older a way to be active.
“I think some consideration should be given to our citizens who rely on pedal assist bikes to stay active and mobile,” said Councilman Richard Johnson. “I’m looking for balance in this legislation and would look for a change in the ordinance to exclude pedal assist bikes.”
However, Councilwoman Holly Smith said she does not believe the path’s infrastructure, mainly its narrowness, can support the introduction of a new mode of transportation and registered a concern over the city’s liability should the e-bikes be rented by visitors who are unfamiliar with them and injured in an accident. “I cannot support anything more than exclusively human powered,” said Smith.
Others in favor of prohibiting motorized bikes on the paths also cited safety, especially during peak tourist season from January to Easter, as their main consideration. Island resident Karen Storjihann remarked that “the nature of tourism in this community is why this ordinance is necessary.” A survey conducted by the city earlier this year showed that half of the 2,500 respondents were “uncomfortable” with user behavior and 40 percent believed the paths were already congested during season without the addition of motorized bikes.
Resident John Henshaw, who was head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration under George W. Bush during his 40-year career, addressed the hazard of pushing the slower-moving pedal assist bikes onto the roadway under this ordinance. He recommended, in the interest of safety, enforcement of the helmet law, regulating speed on the paths or instituting simple training on accident avoidance techniques for new riders.
“We have to be really careful of the unintended consequences of pushing e-bikes, which a lot of people have and are becoming more popular, onto our unsafe roads,” said Henshaw.
Vice Mayor Mick Denham, who diligently worked on drafting the ordinance for several months and wanted to move forward with it, said he would be reluctantly willing to consider alternative language that would preclude pedal assist bikes operated by a person 18 years of age or older. “That is doing what everyone is suggesting,” he said.
Mayor Kevin Ruane ultimately reversed his motion to approve the ordinance following public comment and said he wanted “to do what’s right by the community.” He asked citizens to continue providing their input on the ordinance before the Oct. 1 council meeting. “I want to pass legislation that fits our community,” he concluded.
In other agenda items:
AMI Increase for Below Market Rate Housing Eligibility
An ordinance to raise the area median income from 120 percent to 160 percent for Below Market Rate Housing eligibility was unanimously passed by council. It will help broaden the pool of qualified applicants and Councilman Johnson called it “an important change for our housing authority.”
Coyote Informational Website
Council approved an $8,500 request by city staff to develop a coyote reporting website for Sanibel residents and visitors to report encounters, view encounter locations on the island and sign up for email alerts. Director of Natural Resources James Evans told council members it would streamline the reporting process and be interactive similar to the Sanibel Communities for Clean Water Program site.
Resolutions Passed Unanimously
Council unanimously passed resolutions to increase the residential, commercial and reclaimed water rates by 3 percent, as well as to increase the recreation center user fees by 1.6 percent, acquire police vehicles, amend the fee for USB drives for requested public records and establish regular council meeting dates for next year.