Complaints from residents and businesses along with videos of reckless behavior by scooter operators during this year’s Spring Break have Miami Beach Commissioners scrambling to come up with a solution before the next high impact weekend – Memorial Day.
Commissioner John Alemán is sponsoring an ordinance to prohibit the rental or lease of motorized scooters and mopeds during the month of March and Memorial Day Weekend each year.
Alemán who played video clips sent to her by residents told her colleagues, “The ordinance is to address what is really a public safety issue in Miami Beach.” She cited numerous violations such as weaving in and out of traffic, operating motorized vehicles in bike lanes, riding on the wrong side of the road, and taking selfies while operating the scooters. “None of these are safe behaviors,” she said. “During high impact weekends, it becomes a problem.”
This was Alemán’s second attempt at the ordinance. Commissioner Michael Góngora called it “well-intended”, but raised the same concerns he did when Alemán brought the issue to Commission a couple of weeks ago, ultimately withdrawing it to return with a more narrowly defined piece of legislation.
Góngora said he was concerned that local businesses would be penalized while businesses in Miami could still rent the scooters to tourists who would simply drive them over the bridge to the Beach. “If it’s not going to solve the problem, I certainly don’t want to penalize our local businesses” but he said he would support the ordinance on first reading and hope to hear from impacted businesses at the next Commission meeting.
Commissioner Ricky Arriola said he was a “no”. Agreeing with Góngora he said, “It’ll penalize local businesses. We’re basically taking away their busiest weekends and month for business and I don’t think it solves the problems” citing Alemán’s videos which showed bicycles and motorcycles being operated unsafely, too, and what was “clearly a skilled rider” on a motorcycle who “probably had his own cycle” and was comfortable performing the tricks he was doing in traffic. “It’s a good sounding ordinance but I don’t think it’s going to solve the problem,” he said.
“We talk about trying to solve our traffic problems,” Arriola added, “and bicycles, motor scooters, these type of things, are part of that solution to get people out of cars and we have tourists coming here and we say you can’t rent a moped so just get in a car and clog traffic.”
Alemán asked Arriola to first hear testimony from Miami Beach Police Chief Dan Oates and members of the public before making up his mind.
Oates told Commissioners, “In terms of enforcement, this is a challenge for us.” During the month of March, he said police wrote 457 violations for improper driving of scooters during spring break and a total of 898 since the first of the year.
“During the height of spring break we couldn’t keep up with the volume of violations,” Oates said. In addition to the time it takes to write a ticket, he said the behavior of the riders – weaving in and out of traffic – makes it hard for police officers to stop a violator, “especially in crowded traffic”.
“So from our perspective, anything that can be done to limit the volume of scooters would increase safety,” Oates said. Public policy is up to the Commission, he noted, “But from a public safety standpoint, such an ordinance, if passed, I think would in fact limit this kind of activity because it limits the availability of scooters on the island and therefore would be helpful to us in terms of our overall effort to increase safety during high impact weekends and to engage in reasonable control of abhorrent behavior.”
Ocean Drive resident Henry Stoller, said he has witnessed a large number of scooters being operated unsafely while walking down Ocean Drive “in broad daylight”.
Calling it a “pressing public safety matter”, he said, “This kind of conduct contributes to the anything goes, free-for-all chaotic atmosphere which, in turn, engenders all kinds of other bad behaviors.” In addition to being a danger to pedestrians, it negatively impacts businesses, and “It is a nightmare of a problem for the police.”
Mike Palma, chairman the Ocean Drive Association, said his board “unanimously agreed this is the right move”.
“A lot of these businesses that come and do the rentals on these busy high impact periods bring extra bikes and mopeds in and … that inundates us with an excessive amount of scooters and bikes and two wheelers and three wheelers,” Palma said.
Agreeing with Stoller’s comments, Palma said, “The issue is lawlessness. It’s just a feeling of lawlessness. I think that sets a tone.”
“I think that we’re on a new agenda to try to go on a different path,” Palma said about recent efforts to clean up Ocean Drive. “And we want to get enforcement. We want to send a message that you can come to Miami Beach. You can have fun. You can have a great time, but we want to enforce the law.”
“We’re pro-business, but it’s the right thing to do,” Palma said of the proposed restrictions.
After lobbyists for Lime Bike and Spin urged caution on not impacting mobility solutions utilized by commuters, Alemán said that was not what the ordinance would do.
“This is to address a really critical public safety problem during high impact weekends which our own Police Department says [is needed],” Alemán explained. “We’re trying to narrowly define this on purpose” so that it doesn’t impact residents. “All we’re addressing is rental operation … not trying to take away a resident’s commuting solution.”
Góngora said he continues to worry about the impact on businesses. “We’re taking away from enforcing the wrongdoers on the street and we’re putting all of the blame on the business owner. We’re policing the businesses rather than the people that are doing wrong things on the street.”
When the ordinance comes back for second reading in May, Góngora said he wanted to better understand “what are we going to do to enforce the laws that we have right now?” Whenever there’s a problem, he said, “We pass ordinances and … we keep restricting what businesses can do rather than enforcing the laws against the wrongdoers that are on the streets.”
Commissioner Mark Samuelian said, “Whenever our Police Chief comes up and says to something that he believes it will help public safety, I think we have to listen. I think we need to send a message 'anything does not go here.' That type of lawlessness we’re going to get our hands around.”
“Given the speed, which I understand because of the schedule [of the approaching Memorial Day Weekend], we’ve not had time to deliberate,” Samuelian said. “We’ve not heard from the businesses.” He wanted to ensure the City informs affected business owners so the Commission can hear from them on second reading.
Finally, Samuelian asked for “some measurement that we can see how we’re doing … accidents, number of citations, so that we can gauge whether this was truly effective”.
Mayor Dan Gelber wrapped it up. “I’m going to support this … the truth of the matter is it has become a real problem because you can’t arrest 25 people or 30 people operating something illegally. There’s just no way to do it.”
“I don’t know that this is the answer,” Gelber said, “but I do know … there is an 'anything goes' sense in South Beach that really is harming, not simply our brand, but the safety of visitors and we have to address it directly. I’m going to support it and I hope it is something that is the beginning of a solution, but I’m sure that just as water seeks the path of least resistance, it’s gonna go somewhere else also, but we’re going to have to keep dealing with it because we can’t have scenarios where people get hurt. Everything else is meaningless if people are getting hurt and that, to me, is the issue that drives the day.”
The vote was 5-1 in favor with Commissioner Arriola voting no and Kristen Rosen Gonzalez absent.
Image: Still shot from resident video
To see the video of the discussion and scooter violations, click here.
Read the ordinance here.
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