Submitted by Suanne Z, Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
May 19, 2021
After five readings, the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC) at their May 18, 2021 Regular Meeting voted 3-2 to “table indefinitely” Ordinance 2021-02, which would have imposed a 10 mph speed limit for bicycles and electric bicycles (e-bikes) on City sidewalks, trails and paths and which would have prohibited throttle assisted e-bikes from the Egans Creek Greenway.
Commissioners were unable to agree on the City’s ability to enforce such an ordinance, opting instead to address the specific issues related to the Egans Creek Greenway in the Greenway Management Plan at a future time.
The e-bike debate began in January of this year when Vice Mayor Len Kreger introduced an ordinance to ban e-bikes from the Egans Creek Greenway on the grounds that increased vehicular use of the trails was harmful to ecology and wildlife and endangered pedestrians. This proposal was met with significant opposition from the local cycling community, members of which asserted that pedal-assisted e-bikes were essential to older or infirm cyclists to enjoyment of the Greenway.
The Florida Legislature passed an updated bill in its 2020 session related to electric bicycle (e-bike) use. The City is authorized to regulate electric bicycles within its boundaries. Originally, this ordinance prohibited electric bicycles, but after consideration and input from citizens, the Commission recommended a speed limit for all bicycles, electric and otherwise, on sidewalks, paths, and trails as the most effective way to move forward.
The City Commission approved this Ordinance at First Reading on January 19, 2021, and requested the changes seen here at Second Reading on February 16, 2021. At the April 20, 2021, Commission meeting, the ordinance was amended to allow Class 1 and 3 electric bicycles (those with pedal-assist only) on the Greenway. However, the motions made were not interpreted by staff correctly at the April 20th meeting. At the May 4, 2021 City Commission meeting during citizen comments, the City Commission stated their intention was to allow Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on the Greenway but not Class 3 e-bikes that have a maximum speed of 28 mph.
City Attorney Tammi Bach introduced the discussion, stating that it was the decision of the FBCC at the last discussion of this item to allow Class 1 and Class 2 pedal assisted e-bikes on the Greenway, but not Class 3, which can travel at speeds up to 28 mph. She said that after speaking with commissioners and citizens, she concluded that it would be almost impossible to enforce restrictions on Class 3 e-bikes. She recommended that the FBCC vote down the proposed ordinance. By taking this action, the City would have no ordinance regulating e-bikes, therefore allowing all classes on the Greenway. “But if anyone would get out of hand the Police would be called to deal with it,” she said.
Vice Mayor Len Kreger disregarded the attorney’s advice and moved that all e-bikes be prohibited from the Greenway. Commissioner Chip Ross seconded his motion.
Three speakers addressed the FBCC on this item.
Environmental activist Julie Ferreira spoke against motorized vehicles on the Greenway. She cited safety problems with exposed roots and muddy areas on the trails. “If you can’t pedal, you have no business on those trails,” she said. She expressed concern over the proliferation of e-bikes and hovercraft which she believed will worsen with time, creating many liability issues for the City in addition to damaging the Greenway.
Robert Wells, who has been involved with the Greenway for many years, admitted that he is an avid cyclist, owns an e-bike, and would not advocate for any measure that would harm the Greenway. He suggested scrapping the notion of class of e-bike and instead consider ways to protect the Greenway, such as speed limits and limitations on the use of some trails.
Christine Platel reminded commissioners that sales of e-bikes are increasing. “My beef is when people present inaccurate information,” she said, adding that by federal and state statute, e-bikes are not motorized vehicles. “All are pedal assisted, and there is no such thing as a throttle only e-bike,” she said. She advocated on behalf of those who have physical limitations which prevent their walking the trails or riding conventional bicycles.
After some confusion over the vote, the FBCC voted 3-2 to oppose Kreger’s motion, with only Kreger and Ross supporting the ban.
Following the vote, City Attorney Tammi Bach suggested another way to protect the Greenway was to use the Greenway Management Plan to specify how the trails should be used, what types of vehicles are permitted on which portions, etc. She allowed that the “e-bike class centric discussion” was confusing to the public and to the Police. She encouraged commissioners to vote down the Ordinance before them and handle concerns in the future via the Greenway Management Plan.
Bean moved to table the item indefinitely. Commissioner David Sturges seconded the motion. Kreger and Ross indicated they would not support the motion. Mayor Mike Lednovich once again raised the problems of enforcement with an e-bikes ordinance. “There are not Police out there,” he said. “It’s an open space for the public. I have no visual evidence of problems other than one video on a hoverboard user.”
When the vote was called, the motion to table indefinitely passed 3-2, with Kreger and Ross dissenting.