ST. PETERSBURG — A drove of electric scooters could be whizzing around St. Petersburg this fall if the city meets its goal, just don’t expect to find them on sidewalks.
The city has been watching scooter rollouts in other jurisdictions — including Tampa — where scooters have been zipping along city sidewalks since May. That likely won’t be happening in St. Petersburg.
“They’re just too fast and don’t mix well in a downtown urban environment like we have in St. Pete with sidewalk cafes and how busy the sidewalks are,” Evan Mory, the city’s transportation and parking management director told the Tampa Bay Times.
After Governor Ron DeSantis approved a law in June that allows scooters to ride in streets and bike lanes across the state, the city is drafting an ordinance to regulate scooter use and is seeking bid from scooter companies, Mory said. During an upcoming meeting with council members, city officials will share resident feedback about scooters, as well as make recommendations about how the vehicles should be regulated.
From there, the city’s goal is to have scooters up and running at some point this fall. Mory framed their use as a “first mile, last mile solution” for trips that are too long for walking but too short for cars to be necessary.
“The scooter is a good way to get around without exerting a lot of effort,” Mory said. “You can get there faster and with less sweat factor than you would walking or on a bike.”
Scooters seem to be gaining support, including from the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, said Mory. Bill Kent, the chamber's board chair, said there is consensus among the chamber that scooters should be given a chance, but in a slow rollout as to make sure it doesn't negatively impact local businesses.
"You’ve got to get it right or it will lead to concerns. There is general consensus that is should be explored," Kent said. "They add one more fun thing to our funky town."
Some details are still up for discussion, but Mory indicated that at least a couple will probably stick: the city doesn’t want them on sidewalks and helmets likely won’t be required. The St. Petersburg City Council would give final approval.
New state legislation was good for the city because it allowed the scooters to ride on the street, Mory said. Due to the amount of pedestrians, the city probably wants the scooters to be limited to bike lanes and low-speed streets, he said.
Just like helmets aren’t required for bike-sharing, they likely won’t be mandated for scooters.
Helmets tend to be a "pretty major impediment," as it is hard to get helmets into everyone's hands, Mory said. Still, the city will likely strongly encourage helmet use.
Speed would probably be curbed to 15 miles per hour or less. New technology could allow the city to change maximum speeds based upon location. For example, on certain trails, perhaps scooter speed could be limited to 10 miles per hour to allow for safer mixing with bikers and walkers, Mory said.
Most scooters used on the Pinellas Trail would be under Pinellas' County's jurisdiction to regulate, not the city's, Mory said. Scooters would likely be allowed on the downtown trail extension, but “less likely” to be permitted on the waterfront trail.
Questions remain about hours of operation, the number of scooters to be allowed and whether scooters will have to always park in designated “docks” or merely follow general guidelines on where to park.
Mory said an undetermined number of scooters would be phased in while the hours of operation would likely not be 24 hours per day or stretch into the wee hours of the night.
Requiring scooters to be parked in docks won’t be ideal, Mory said, but that can be logistically difficult if there aren’t enough docks.
Parking rules might just generally describe where scooters could park as to not block sidewalks, among other things, he said. In Tampa, scooters must be parked in "corrals," but people have still complained about scooters parked in ways that blocked sidewalks.
The city has been examining injury and death rates from scooter use in a number of cities, including in Tampa, where a scooter rider died last month after being struck by a semi-trailer truck. The death was unfortunate, Mory said, but isn't likely to sway the project.
“With all transportation, there is some risk inherent in that,” Mory said. “One particular incident that happens in another city is not necessarily going to shape our policy decisions here.”
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