Police chief proposes eBike ban, but Council divided on idea | Key Biscayne

A proposal to possibly ban some of the faster, “fat tire” electric bicycles on Key Biscayne appeared to lose momentum last Tuesday night, judging from the concerns of Village Council members.

“Just in my gut, I’d say banning would be a last resort … Banning is just such strong language,” said Councilman Oscar Sardinas. “I don’t want to take freedoms away from people.”

Police Chief Frank Sousa brought forth the first reading of an ordinance, not only to comprehensively define the three classifications of electric bicycles, but to also establish legislative language that would prohibit Class II electric bicycles on Village roadways and sidewalks, and ban all e-bikes within Village parks, subject to fines.

“It’s not a secret this has been a hot topic since my arrival, and an increasing problem,” Sousa said.

Council member Allison McCormick realizes the hazards of these bikes, some which are designed to top out at 28 mph.

“I know this is difficult,” she said. “Some of the technologies have gotten ahead of the state laws, but we’ve heard so much from seniors on the sidewalks. (The bikes) are so quiet, they sneak up on you.”

McCormick also was concerned that if e-bikes were moved off roads, “Are we pushing them back on the sidewalk?”

“Class 2 and up, we would ban,” Sousa said.

“I am really worried. We do have adults who use these responsibly, appropriately,” McCormick said, citing a teacher at MAST Academy who uses an e-bike for transportation. “I would ask Chad (Village attorney Friedman) in our lobbying (in Tallahassee), could we push for age restrictions?”

Friedman said the Village is trying to regulate what it can on a local level with civil citations.

Councilman Frank Caplan asked if the differences in the bikes were such that an officer could tell them apart immediately. A trained eye could be able to distinguish between the three classes, Sousa said.

The differences are, basically, with speed, and how that speed is manufactured:

Class I: Uses a battery and electric motor to provide assistance up to 20 mph when the rider is pedaling. These bikes cannot have a throttle to turn on the motor without the rider pedaling. Speeds can increase, of course, when going downhill.

Class II: They work in two ways. First, the electric motor provides assistance at up to 20 mph when the rider is pedaling, just like a Class I bike. But, these also include a throttle, which can go up to 20 mph (or faster downhill) without pedaling.

Class III: These bikes, with a powerful motor, provide pedal assist at up to 28 mph (or even faster downhill). Primarily intended for streets and roads, they are ideal for biking in headwinds and on steeper hills. These also are commonly disallowed on bicycle paths or trails.

Sousa said there was discussion with the previous Council last year regarding these e-bikes.

“After Christmas, we saw an explosion of these micro-mobility (bikes) ,” he said. “Here we are a year later still talking about it.”

Asked how many e-bike accidents have occurred on Key Biscayne, Sousa replied: “We have had two fat tire accidents, one the kid was very lucky, he actually got pinned down under the truck; he wasn’t hurt. But, we have had several close calls, like at Key Colony, where cars are turning right and there’s not enough time to react.”

Banning them from the Village Green likely would be a first step, at least, after some riders doing “donuts” the other day.

Sousa said a similar safety problem came up this year with electric scooters, but “we’ve gotten pretty good compliance” with new rules.

McCormick suggested legislators in Tallahassee should include scooters when discussing e-bikes, as well, when talks open concerning riding on sidewalks and how much authority a community has in regard to traffic citations.

Like the golf cart issue that crept up last year, Sousa said, “I need the parents to be involved.”

Like Sardinas, Councilman Brett Moss said he shares the same view on banning e-bikes.

“Banning, we have to be very careful,” Moss said. “Take kite-surfing; instead of banning, we looked for a solution. We banned fishing (on Mashta Bridge) but … this is tricky because it is a safety issue. I see kids going well over 25 mph, going around the (traffic) circle the opposite way. It is dangerous. It’s more of, when (and not if) is there going to be an accident?

“The real issue is children, they don’t know the (rules) of the road, and they’re going 28 mph — faster than my golf cart. … It’s too dangerous to allow young kids to drive at these speeds on the road.”

Councilman Fernando Vazquez also feels like banning something should be the “last solution.”

“I’d love to see state data that supports these (e-bikes) as dangerous,” he said, pointing out there hasn’t been a ban on automobiles because of accidents, or even a ban on roller blades.

Councilman Ed London didn’t feel the 8 mph difference (between a Class I and Class III bike) was “a big hardship,” and he doesn’t feel comfortable with an immediate ban.

“We never told everyone in the Village, ‘Don’t buy a Class III electric bike.’ I’d like to see a phase-out (as an alternative),” he said, also bringing up the idea of retrofitting the faster bikes to maximize lesser speeds.

Before the Village Council meets Jan. 17, Mayor Rasco asked Friedman, Sousa and Village Manager Steve Williamson to meet and “present us options.” The mayor also asked residents to air their views to Council members prior to the second reading of the ordinance.