Though city commissioners said scooters and pedestrians aren’t an ideal mix on sidewalks, they agreed the potential clash doesn’t justify banning e-scooters outright. The e-scooters can stay, though the city vowed to reduce their speed soon.
“There’s not interest in banning the use of scooters,” Mayor Dean Trantalis concluded after the two and a half hour public input and discussion session Tuesday afternoon.
Commissioner Steve Glassman, who tested out an e-scooter before the meeting, said he doesn’t want Fort Lauderdale to dismiss a trend that’s part of the transportation future and lends the city a “cool vibe.”
Commissioners said they wish the scooters were allowed in bike lanes on roadways, and they hope the state Legislature will change state law to allow it. That change is in the works in early forms of legislation.
For now, they’re relegated to sidewalks.
The city is in the forefront of the emerging e-scooter technology, as one of the only cities in Florida allowing them.
South Florida consistently ranks among the worst in the nation in terms of dangers for pedestrians, and proponents said e-scooters could reduce car traffic.
The city’s pioneer status on this issue means it is confronting problems that haven’t been ironed out elsewhere. Coral Gables, Miami and Tampa are tiptoeing into e-scooter programs, but Fort Lauderdale has the most robust program in Florida, the only one that is fully launched. The city voted to allow the scooters, then realized recently that legally, the scooters could only be allowed on sidewalks.
Later this year, Fort Lauderdale commissioners said, they’ll vote to tighten up scooter regulations. Commissioners said they’ll lower the speed limit from the current 15 mph, which is too fast for sidewalk sharing.
“There’s not interest in banning the use of scooters. — Mayor Dean Trantalis”
They also said they might increase fees the city collects from scooter companies to pay for enforcement, designate parking corrals and off-limits zones, and harden the minimum age limit of 18. Currently, the four operators — Gotcha, Bird, Lime and Bolt — require riders to be 18. But it’s not in the city’s law, and many children ride using their parents’ accounts, commissioners complained.
Riders rent the dockless scooters using a smartphone app. They leave them upright on sidewalks when they’re done. Complaints have poured in about reckless driving, and scooter “litter,” as riders dump them in streets or across sidewalks when they’re done.
Tuesday night, commissioners also voted to add a temporary ban on e-scooters to a string of measures the city manager can take during high impact events like Spring Break at Fort Lauderdale beach.
Commissioner Robert McKinzie said the ridership facts since the November launch are amazing, and the companies are creating jobs, hiring people to recharge the scooter batteries. Riders have used scooters in Fort Lauderdale 322,541 times since November, the city reported. The average ride is nearly a half hour long.
Gail Choate, an adjunct professor at Florida Atlantic University and Broward College, said she resolved to use public transportation as much as possible for one year. The scooters “fill a gap in our transportation system,” carrying riders the final mile or two from mass transit to a destination, she said.
McKinzie said he saw “one of our senators” riding a scooter in a suit recently.
Business industry representatives said the scooters give the city a hip cachet that’s appealing to employers.
”They love our culture of collaboration and entrepreneurship here,” Gail Bulfin, of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance economic development entity, told commissioners.
Dan Lindblade, the president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, appeared in a helmet. Helmets on scooters are optional, but he said he wears one to “protect the cranium.”
He likened e-scooters to disruptive technologies like the app-based ride service Uber, which sparked regulatory mayhem when it first appeared in town.
“What I want to caution you about is to not overregulate something that’s dynamic and moving,” he said. “This is a work in progress.”
“If you were to ban scooters, you are implicitly making a decision in favor of automobiles,” Peter Partington, an engineer, told commissioners.
Many critics who spoke Tuesday mentioned injuries they’d witnessed — or feared. Fire-rescue officials logged 35 injuries they responded to — four of which were extremely serious.
Resident Katie O’Reilly said the scooters descended on the city “like hornets,” and she doesn’t walk to the beach anymore. She said older people and the disabled are “getting squeezed out” by the city.
“If something runs into me,” O’Reilly said, “I break.”
Commissioner Ben Sorensen, who had called for an immediate ban, said he’s still concerned about the safety of people walking on sidewalks. But his position softened, and he said he felt better knowing the speed limit could be lowered. Mayor Trantalis also was less strident than he had been when he told residents in his recent newsletter that the status quo was like “the Wild West.”
Broward Circuit Judge Susan Alspector was one of the latest e-scooter victims. A police report released Tuesday says Alspector was running Sunday morning along the State Road A1A sidewalk next to a 45-year-old woman on a scooter. She went to turn around and was struck, rupturing her Achilles tendon.
A police officer determined Alspector — not the scooter driver — “failed to yield the right of way.”
Alspector had surgery Sunday and was released the next day, her judicial assistant, Stacy McMenemy, said. She will return to work Wednesday.
Police Chief Rick Maglione said he thinks traffic congestion is down, but there’ve been some serious accidents. Nevertheless, he said police would carry out the commission’s wishes.
“I think we’re finding that scooters are a blessing and a curse,” he said.
In other action, Fort Lauderdale commissioners Tuesday:
NEW CAMPUS: Agreed that the site for a new city-county hall will be on Broward Boulevard at the county’s Central Bus Terminal, 101 NW 1st Ave. The next step is for the two governments to draw up an agreement and proceed with designing the building. A private developer would build the complex and lease it to the two governments, under what’s been proposed.
FEDERAL COURTHOUSE: Were advised by Mayor Trantalis that plans for a new federal courthouse cleared a U.S. Senate committee, the last step required by Congress before moving ahead with site selection and development.
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