MADEIRA BEACH — Saying they are “all over town,” are “dangerous” and “need to be regulated,” Mayor John Hendricks came down hard on electric bicycles and scooters at the city commission’s Jan. 27 workshop meeting.
Hendricks told of an incident where he nearly ran over a child riding an electric bicycle “who was coming out of John’s Pass Village and pulled right in front of me as I was coming down the bridge.” He also said a woman was run over and killed Jan. 14 on Gulf Boulevard in Madeira Beach.
Hendricks said he would like to see the e-bikes banned in the city.
Andrew Morris, a transportation planner working with Community Development Director Linda Portal, who did research on the “micro mobility” vehicles, said legislation at the state level has made them legal statewide but municipalities can regulate them. They can be restricted from certain areas, but they cannot be completely banned, he said.
Morris said St. Petersburg bans them from sidewalks, restricts them to roads where the speed limit is less than 30 mph, and requires the riders to be over 16 years old. That city also prohibits them in certain areas on the waterfront. Companies leasing e-bikes need to be licensed and have certain levels of insurance.
“I don’t think I would want to ban all electric bikes in our town,” said Commissioner Helen “Happy” Price, mentioning that she owns one. But she said she thinks the rentals need to be regulated and she does want the riders to have insurance.
Hendricks said he thinks the rentals seem to be the main problem, especially when you see a “swarm” of them on the road. He recommended that they not be allowed on Gulf Boulevard, and that they be limited to streets with speed limits under 30 mph only. Also, the city could license them and require riders to be a certain age, Hendricks said.
Electric bicycles and scooters “are crazy dangerous” and should not be on sidewalks or Gulf Boulevard, said Commissioner Doug Andrews. “Or we do it the Jersey way, and we just tax them and put an outrageous usage fee on these guys coming for licenses,” he jokingly added.
“Just ban them on Gulf Boulevard,” said Andrews.
City Manager Bob Daniels said the topic of motorized bicycles on the beach came up at the January meeting of the Barrier Island Governmental Council. “If our beach gets packed during the season and these motorized bikes start showing up, that could be a problem,” Daniels said. He said a prohibition of bike riding on the beach could be considered.
Portal said electric bicycles and scooters have become a problem in cities all over the country. But they have a strong lobby at the state level, and there are limitations on what can be restricted, she said.
“I know what you want to do,” Portal told the commission. She said she would draft an ordinance on the subject.
Hendricks said Madeira could join with other beach communities in addressing electric bicycles.
“In the beach communities where we have such high traffic, especially in the season, maybe we can save some lives,” Hendricks said.
City looks to allow backyard hens
The freshest eggs and a new pet choice may be an option for local residents, as Madeira Beach could soon become one of 20-plus Florida communities to allow backyard hens.
Commission members decided by consensus to, in Andrews’ words, “give (backyard hens) a try and see how it works.” Community Development Director Portal said she would work with the city attorney to prepare an ordinance allowing backyard hens — no roosters — to be presented at next month’s commission meeting.
Portal said she has had good input from people familiar with backyard chickens and she has dealt with the issue herself. She is confident most concerns “can be easily handled with good management.”
About 20 cities in Florida currently allow backyard chickens. Many do not, Portal said, because of the regulation and oversight required. Some of the issues and concerns to be resolved relate to the number of chickens allowed, whether the chickens are free-range or not, and how they are cooped in. Other concerns are potential diseases related to feces, which can carry salmonella, and the attraction of rats, snakes, foxes and coyotes.
Most of the concerns can be resolved “with a well-managed coop and dry food,” Portal said. “If the food is kept dry, rats don’t come and other animals don’t come.” Noise is not an issue unless roosters are allowed. The chickens must be kept on the premises, and not given free range, she said.
Runoff of fecal material into the bay is a big issue, Portal said, and a runoff plan is needed. The commission later decided the backyard hens will be allowed only on non-waterfront properties.
The commission members agreed backyard hens were worth trying with appropriate regulation.
Hendricks recommended the number be limited to five hens per household, and each one must be banded, registered and permitted, “so if it gets out, we know whose it is.”
Also, they should be allowed in single-family homes only, that are not on the water, to avoid the runoff issue.
Price said Pinellas County has an ordinance on backyard chickens, which she said is “a good starting point.”
The commission will have an ordinance to consider and vote on next month.
Larger 4th of July fireworks planned
The city’s July 4th fireworks celebration will feature a display launched from a barge at ROC Park. This is the more expensive of two options, Recreation Director Jay Hatch said, but he is recommending it because the city has sponsorships for the event.
Hatch said he contacted the company that did the fireworks every year until 2017. He was given two options: One cost $20,000 for fireworks shot off at Madeira Beach Fundamental School. The other was for a larger, more elaborate display shot from a barge, that costs $30,000.
Hatch said the city has sponsorships and enough money budgeted for the barge display.
“We’re moving forward with that,” Hatch said. “A lot of people are excited about it.”
This will be the first city fireworks display in several years shot from a barge in the bay. The event was canceled last year due to COVID-19 concerns.