Along the Pinellas Trail, the signs say it in all caps: “NO MOTOR VEHICLES.”
Still, electric bikes zip by. Those who need disability access can take their motorized wheelchairs or other devices, even golf carts, along the way.
And soon, electric scooters from one-word companies like Lime, Bird, Spin and Jump may be vying for space.
With developing technology and Florida law, a banned motor vehicle may not be what people think, said Lyle Fowler, operations manager for Pinellas County Parks and Conservation Management.
He said they have to look to state statutes for guidance, which defines electric bicycles the same as regular bikes. But that doesn’t mean people are happy about it.
“There are some folks who are very strict in their interpretation, their perception of how anything with a motor is beyond the conventional bicycle,” he said.
A new state law approved in June also gives micro-mobility devices, like scooters, the same allowances as a bicycle. The law gives local ordinances the chance to regulate differently, which inspired Clearwater officials to put a hold on any electric scooters for six months while they draft out their plan.
Brian Smith, chairman of the Pinellas County Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, said though they realize electric bikes have limited speed and power, scooters are entirely different because they aren’t powered by a person. He fears it’s a safety risk to the slower cyclists and pedestrians who are predominant users of the trail.
“A scooter is not prepared to stop or do evasive action to avoid an accident like a bike or a pedestrian can,” Smith said.
Janet Carroll, 60, likes to walk up and down the trail and meets at a gazebo along the way with friends. She said she’s shocked the scooters have been allowed elsewhere and finds them dangerous, pointing to the recent death of a man in Tampa killed after being hit while riding a scooter. She worries about them zipping all over the trail.
“We already have so many pedestrians, bicycles, I just worry they’re going to get hurt,” she said.
Along with safety issues, Smith said the Pinellas Trail and similar trails around the county weren’t made for scooters. They were intended to be a safe haven for people who wanted to walk their dogs or ride their bikes.
Mari Watkins, a Clearwater resident, said she likes to take her dog Kiki, a 2-year-old Bichon Frise, for walks along the beach. While on the trail, she said, the dog gets scared enough of regular bicycles, let alone a scooter speeding by. She said the trail is meant for people exercising, not cruising by.
“You're sitting in your motor scooter, you're not exercising,” she said.
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