Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
April 22, 2021
The debate over allowing e-bikes on Egans Creek Greenway trails continued at the April 20, 2021 Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC). Commissioners approved an amended Ordinance 2021-02 on a 3-2 vote at Fourth Reading. Because changes were made to the Ordinance, it will require at least a Fifth Reading before it can be enacted.
The Florida Legislature passed an updated bill in its 2020 session related to electric bicycle (e-bike) use. E-bikes are now defined as a “bicycle or tricycle equipped with fully operable pedals, a seat or saddle for the use of the rider, and an electric motor of less than 750 watts” which fit in to one of three classifications.
The new law essentially removed the distinction between traditional bikes and electric bikes. The newly defined e-bikes “shall be afforded all the rights and privileges, and be subject to all of the duties, of a bicycle or the operator of a bicycle,” and is a vehicle to the same extent as a bicycle. E-bikes can also be operated anywhere a bicycle can be operated, including bike lanes, streets, sidewalks, and other multi-use paths. E-bikes are no longer required to be registered with the state, and riders do not need to take out auto insurance or be licensed with the state in any way.
Following considerable debate and public input, the Ordinance has morphed from its original intent of prohibiting e-bikes on the Greenway to allowing pedal assist e-bikes and recommending a speed limit of 10 mph for all bikes traversing the Greenway.
The City Commission approved this Ordinance at First Reading on January 19, 2021, and requested changes at subsequent readings. The next reading is scheduled for May 18, 2021.
Commissioners and the public are divided in their opinions regarding the benefits of allowing e-bikes on the Greenway. Members of the public have spoken out on both sides of the argument, with some strongly advocating e-bikes as a means to open up enjoyment of the Greenway to less physically able visitors, while others believe that increased bicycle traffic of any sort is damaging to pedestrians, the wildlife and vegetation.
Commissioners have attempted to resolve the differences of opinion by setting a maximum speed limit of 10 mph for wheeled vehicles and limiting the type of e-bike permitted to those that are pedal assisted. To date, these amendments have not been sufficient to produce a unanimous vote among commissioners.
Notably, Vice Mayor Len Kreger and Commissioner Chip Ross have continued in opposition citing the unenforceability of a speed limit, the treacherousness of some of the paths, and the potential damage to the Greenway itself by increased bicycling.
Vice Mayor Kreger reminded Commissioners and audience members that the citizens of Fernandina Beach had voted to acquire lands for the Greenway to create a passive recreation area. Bicycles were allowed, and illegal mountain bike trails were cut into the Greenway, which the City allowed to stay. Kreger, who admits to visiting the Greenway at least five times a week for an hour each visit, noted that he doesn’t see birds any more during his visits. Kreger expressed his belief that e-bikes would be an environmental disaster to the Greenway and that safety of pedestrians would be compromised. “We can make the case either way,” he said. “We can ban e-bikes or un-ban them. We need to be careful or we will destroy [the Greenway] for those people who want to go out there to enjoy nature.”
Commissioner David Sturges noted that there has not been a single instance of anyone being hurt on the Greenway by an e-bike. “I think this is ridiculous,” he said. “I don’t think there is anyway e-bikes can damage the Greenway. I will not vote in support of anything eliminating e-bikes from the Greenway.”
Commissioner Bradley Bean said, “I don’t think the City should be in the business of giving up our freedoms. This is the United States of America. I don’t want to pick and choose which day of the week you should be allowed to use your e-bike on the Greenway. I don’t want to pick where you can or can’t ride your e-bike around town. I believe that the Greenway is one of the biggest treasures we have on Amelia Island. I need to make sure that our most vulnerable population who depend on e-bikes have the same opportunity to enjoy the Greenway as anybody else.”
Mayor Mike Lednovich said that e-bikes are not cheap and are used by people with physical limitations. “I cannot bring myself to deny the use of the Greenway to those people,” he said. He was willing to prohibit the non-pedal Class 3 e-bikes that can travel up to 30 mph, which he believed had no place on the Greenway. Lednovich went on to say that regular bicyclists can travel up to 20 mph. “So don’t tell me that bicyclists going 22 mph will not do any damage,” he said.
Lednovich continued. “We need speed limits, but no one is going to enforce them, because no [Police] are going to be out there. But we can put up signs.”
After some discussion Commissioners eliminated reference to classes of e-bikes to be allowed, instead authorizing only “pedal assisted” e-bikes and not allowing throttle only bikes.
The vote on the amended Ordinance passed on a 3-2 vote, with Commissioners Bean and Ross voting in opposition.
The Ordinance will return for a Fifth Reading on May 18, 2021.