Proposed E-Bike Ordinance Stirs Conservation; Council Votes to Continue

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes

A pedal assist electric bike

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.

Comments (8)

  1. I think eBikes are cool. I’ve used them on travels. The big benefits are hilly terrain where you need to boost. Sanibel is flat. The bike paths are crowded during season. I think while they are great, eBikes do not belong on the shared paths. Of course they can be used on the streets.

  2. I have not seen where there has been any input to this issue as to any statistics or experience by either users, researchers, governmental entities, or even rental outlets as to seeing any increase in undesirable safety concerns. The pedal assist bikes allow for a significant enjoyment of the biking experience on Sanibel which attracts many residents and visitors to Sanibel. I find it strange to observe that there has been a rather hardline approach to this issue while at the same time moving towards greater use of the obviously more dangerous use of golf carts on public island roadways.

  3. Let’s be clear, we have a ‘shared use path’ on Sanibel. So many times there are just as many people walking than riding a bike. And to allow any motorized vehicle on a small path with families with walking around would be reckless. If someone is disabled and needs to access the shared use path, they may get a special permit to do so. Anyone requiring a motorized pedal assist bike could do the same thing.

    One other thing to consider; according to the Sanibel Bicycle Friendly Community Report Card dated Fall 2018, the average number of crashes per 10k bicycle commuters for a Platinum community was 100. Sanibel had 1087, over 10 times the number of crashes! It seems the shared use path isn’t as safe as we thought and adding motorized vehicles isn’t going to help.

  4. As a healthy 80 year old, I had to stop riding on the pathway because there were too many people not warning me to pass, people who rode fast, recklessly and furiously, families that did not keep their kids under some kind of order (using both sides of the path), etc.It was scary! I could have ridden for more years if riders were more attuned to others! No motorized bikes, please

  5. If eBikes are banned from the bike paths than segways should also be banned.

  6. I am one of those seniors who is considering a pedal assisted bike. Having been a long time snow bird resident, 42 years, I dread the day I would have to ride a bike in our streets during the winter season.

    How about a compromise. Limit the use to seniors.

    Glad Sanibel is having the discussion.

  7. I’m an active bike rider approaching 80. On Cape Cod in the summer biking was getting more difficult because of the hilly terrain so I have a pedal assisted e-bike and it’s allowed me to continue biking here. I do not think e-bikes are necessary on the very flat Sanibel bike paths and I’m afraid they would lead to unnecessary excessive speeds and resulting accident risks.

  8. Think of the danger of the E bike when the older person cannot put his foot on the brake and runs to another person on a bike and both get hurt. Do not allow any powered bike, including Segways, On our bike paths

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