Electric bikes not welcome on sidewalks
2018 ordinance bans electric bikes from Fort Myers Beach sidewalks, Mayor Ray Murphy says they continue to pose threat to pedestrian safety on sidewalks
On Fort Myers Beach, riding a bike is a big part of life. In a town with constant vehicle traffic, bikes allow travelers to avoid being stuck sitting in their cars on Estero Boulevard.
They also provide a healthy exercise.
An increase in the use of electric bikes changed the dynamic in recent years leading to a 2018 ordinance adopted by the Town of Fort Myers Beach Council prohibiting electric bikes and scooters on sidewalks while allowing regular bicycles to continue riding on sidewalks.
Mayor Ray Murphy said electric bikes continue to be a problem as the faster bicycles can startle some pedestrians. “I’ve had several close calls with them walking my dogs,” Murphy said.
“Since our last meeting I’ve probably had three or four near-misses. It’s not going to be good when they mow down the mayor on the sidewalk,” Murphy said.
“We’re not to be riding electric bikes on the sidewalks,” he said. “It’s like riding a motorcycle on the sidewalks.”
One of the town’s bike rental shops doesn’t rent out the electric bikes while another shop does rent them out.
One worker at a bicycle rental shop said the electric bikes have become more popular among people in town looking to get around snarling traffic. On a number of weekends this season, vehicle traffic has been backed up for miles in either direction. This past President’s Day weekend was one of the busiest in town. Many on electric bikes will use them to get over the Matanzas Pass Bridge.
Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros said the town’s new bike lanes need to be followed. She said some bicyclists travel the wrong way on the road, creating more traffic issues. Bicyclists should be riding with traffic.
Some electric bikes can go up to 28 miles though the ones sold locally go up to 20 miles per hour, said one shop worker who declined to be identified. He said the electric bikes also help people with physical issues get around easier with the motor that kicks in. “It’s a little boost for people,” he said.
The town’s 2018 ordinance requires all bikes to have lights and bells on them so that pedestrians can know when they are approaching. The 2018 ordinance also puts bicycle shops in town on the hook for compliance with the town’s ordinance.
The 2018 ordinance calls for a warning on a first offense of the ordinance and fines of up to $50 on subsequent offenses. The ordinance also requires that bicyclists 16 or younger wear helmets.
“People are zooming up and down the sidewalks on these bikes and somebody is going to get hurt,” Murphy said.
Mike Fernan, who splits his time between Fort Myers Beach and Wisconsin, said bicyclists going up the pedestrian path of Matanzas Pass Bridge can be a problem sometimes.
“On the street, it’s pretty good,” Fernan said of bicyclists and pedestrians mixing together. “I think it works pretty good.”
Mary Ketelaar and Dennis like to take walks as as well as ride their bikes. Ketelaar said she was recently crossing the street from Publix and “almost got hit by a bicyclist” and got yelled at. She said the bicyclist should have paid closer attention to the vehicle traffic, which was stopped at the pedestrian crossing. Instead, the bicyclist zipped by the traffic, she said.
“The pedestrian always has the right of way. They don’t need to be dodging bicycles going down the sidewalks,” Murphy said. “It’s a matter of public safety.”
Overall, Dennis Ketelaar said things are working out.
“As a general rule, it goes pretty smoothly considering how many people are here,” Mr. Ketelaar said. “We love Fort Myers Beach,” Ms. Ketelaar said. “We tolerate the traffic.”