The city of Key West is in the process of regulating electric bikes, commonly known as e-bikes, that go faster than traditional bicycles. CONTRIBUTED

They’re green. They reduce the number of cars on the road and they’re a fitness option.

But they’re also fast, cumbersome on sidewalks and all but silent when approaching a pedestrian or fellow bicyclist.

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, have been gaining in popularity on the island for two to three years, with residents purchasing them and businesses renting them to visitors. And since the start of the pandemic, sales of e-bikes have increased by 70%, according to an August 2020 story in The New York Times.

City of Key West employees have been working for more than a year on an ordinance that regulates the use of such vehicles and addresses concerns about their speed on city sidewalks.

As it stands now, e-bikes will be prohibited on city sidewalks other than North and South Roosevelt boulevards and Atlantic Avenue. On North Roosevelt Boulevard, they must remain on the water side of the road, the ordinance states. In all other areas, they must ride on the street. The bikes must also be parked in designated bicycle parking areas, the ordinance states.

The new law, as currently written, also limits the speed of e-bikes to 15 mph everywhere in town, despite their ability to travel between 20 and 30 mph. 

The City Commission on Feb. 17 approved that ordinance for the first of two required public readings. 

“I think this is going to be a work in progress,” Mayor Teri Johnston said. “Because these e-bikes will only be allowed on certain sidewalks, we’re going to need a significant amount of signage telling people where they can and cannot ride. Education just won’t cut it, as we have new groups of people coming to town every three days.”

Johnston also said she’s concerned about speed enforcement.

“I don’t really see KWPD officers using a radar gun to check the speed of e-bikes,” she said.

Key West resident Sandra Boland spoke to the commission during the discussion and said she has owned a personal e-bike for three years.

“E-bikes are here to stay,” she said. “They’re a mode of green transportation and they’re our future. The issue of rental e-bikes is a separate issue, but when it comes to private residents owning and using them, I’d ask you to look at integrating e-bikes into the community rather than demonizing the new kid on the block, because that’s what they are, the new kid in town.”

The second reading is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, March 16 to give city staff time to answer commissioners’ questions.

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Mandy Miles drops stuff, breaks things and falls down more than any adult should. An award-winning writer, reporter and columnist, she's been stringing words together in Key West since 1998. "Local news is crucial," she says. "It informs and connects a community. It prompts conversation. It gets people involved, holds people accountable. The Keys Weekly takes its responsibility seriously. Our owners are raising families in Key West & Marathon. Our writers live in the communities we cover - Key West, Marathon & the Upper Keys. We respect our readers. We question our leaders. We believe in the Florida Keys community. And we like to have a good time." Mandy's married to a saintly — and handy — fishing captain, and can't imagine living anywhere else.