By Rachel Brown Hackney, SarasotaNewsLeader.com
After a thorough investigation into the applicable laws, Sgt. Arik Smith, leader of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office substation on Siesta Key, has determined that electric bicycles are not permitted on the county’s beaches.
If someone is pedaling such a bicycle it is allowed, because then the bike is not considered a motor vehicle, he told members of the Siesta Key Association at its April 1 meeting.
Association president Catherine Luckner and others have reported during recent meetings that numerous people have complained about the danger of electric bicycles, as the vehicles are so quiet that individuals have nearly collided with them. The problem has been especially bad at sunset, she said, with members of the public moving around to get the best look at the sun.
During the March association meeting, Smith said he had begun looking into the issue. At that time, he explained that he was waiting on a definitive response from the general counsel in the Sheriff’s Office.
In his decision, Smith referred to Section 130-37 of the County Code, which has the heading “Motor vehicles prohibited on Beaches.”
In fact, Smith noted, two different county ordinances make it clear that electric bicycles operated by motor only are not allowed on any county beaches.
He also addressed the issue with representatives of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department.
A bicycle is defined as any device propelled by human power upon which any person may ride, having two tandem wheels, either of which is 20 inches or more in diameter, and including any device generally recognized as a bicycle though equipped for two front or two rear wheels, the code said, adding that a motor vehicle means a self-propelled vehicle not operated upon rails or guideway, but not including any bicycle or electric personal assistive mobility device.
“We’ve started to try to give that information out to people,” Smith told the SKA members, who were participating in the meeting via Zoom.
Before beginning enforcement of the ordinance, he said officers would work to educate the public.
In the meantime, the information has been added to the Frequently Asked Questions portion of the county webpages to emphasize what is legal and what is illegal on the beaches.
Smith acknowledged that groups of “20 or 30 people strong” riding electric bicycles together on the beach “can become a safety issue.”
Margaret Jean Cannon, the SKA director, told Smith she understood that signage had been placed on the lifeguard stands on the public beach to warn people about the fact that electric bicycles are not allowed.
However, Smith said the problem is that people often think the signs mean that bicycles are forbidden just on the stretch of beach where the lifeguard stands are located.
Cannon also told Smith that, the previous night, she filmed approximately 30 people on electric bicycles. When she called out to the riders that they were operating the vehicles illegally “they tried to fake pedaling … they can’t peddle that fast,” she said.
Smith replied he had spoken with representatives of several rental companies that provide electric bicycles on the Key, to let them know about the county ordinance.