Electric bikes and scooters are here to stay, but at what cost?

Many people frequent Vinoy Park, which is located in St. Petersburg Florida to enjoy outside activities like scootering.

By Alexa McClure Community & Culture Beat Reporter

Electric scooters and bikes have become increasingly popular over the last few years in St. Petersburg. Because of this, rules surrounding their use downtown in Vinoy Park have been put in place. However, whether or not those rules are followed is up in the air.

While certain areas of downtown are restricted for electric scooters, there are also other areas with speed limits imposed. While this is done for safety reasons, many people do not follow them, and the rule enforcement is almost non-existent.

However, there is no doubt that these rules are important to follow.

In September 2023, a woman died in downtown St. Petersburg after being struck by an electric scooter on the sidewalk. Events such as this one beg the question of whether more laws should be put in place surrounding these vehicles, and if there should be stricter laws about who is allowed to use them.

One of the most popular places to go for electric scooters and bike users in downtown St. Petersburg is Vinoy Park. With its large sidewalk and beautiful views of Tampa Bay, it’s no wonder people enjoy riding there.

One of those riders is Alan Griswold, a 27-year-old contractor from St. Petersburg. Griswold spends time in Vinoy Park almost every day.

“I don’t ride a scooter anymore, but I rollerblade often. There’s definitely a lot of people who zip through the park, you have to be pretty aware of your surroundings,” he said.

Griswold has enjoyed spending time at the park over the last many years, as he can walk there from his house and relax while he’s not working. Rules concerning the use of electric scooters and bikes, as well as regular bikes or rollerblades, do exist, he said.

“I know they have a 10 mph speed limit on the majority of the trail, and that changes to five mph when you go out towards the end of the pier, but the enforcement is pretty much non-existent to be honest,” he said. “There’s no one really enforcing anything, it’s pretty much just the honors system.”

Some locals who frequent Vinoy Park think there needs to be more done to make sure people adhere to these speed limits.

Tony Witlin is a 73-year-old retired lawyer from Philadelphia. He has lived in St. Petersburg for over 15 years and has been at Vinoy Park almost every day of those 15 years to go on a walk and feed the squirrels in the park.

Witlin has watched the park change a lot during his time in St. Petersburg. One of the big changes he’s seen has been the introduction of electric vehicles to the park.

“Part of what’s wrong here is that this area is totally uncontrolled,” he said. “In the older days there used to be a policeman that would ride around on a bike here, and that made all the difference in the world.”

Witlin said a big part of the issue is that people are not as considerate of one another as they should be. A lot of people in this park are only thinking about their personal experiences.

“This should have a seven mph speed limit, you should have to have your hands on the steering wheel,” Witlin said. “Some people could care less if there’s anybody else here.”

People who listen to music and cruise through the park at high speeds can be hazardous to others.

“And now we have these headphones. People will ride around on electric bikes and scooters with their headphones on listening to music, so they can’t even hear what’s going on around them. It is dangerous,” Witlin said.

Witlin worries most about people who don’t have good mobility or aren’t in good health.

“There are plenty of older people and children who are in this park,” he said. “They are very vulnerable if anything goes wrong because of these vehicles.”

Not everyone feels the lack of enforcement in downtown St. Petersburg is an area of concern.

“I don’t think there needs to be more patrol to enforce the speed rules. . . sometimes I go faster than maybe I should, but I’m smart about it,” Griswold said. I know not everybody is and some can be a little reckless with their speed, but when the path is wide open and there’s nobody around, you should be able to go a little faster.”

Griswold said there’s never going to be a way to monitor the use of these vehicles completely and that we need to educate people to be safe and thoughtful of them as accidents do occur sometimes.

“I’ve had some close calls with people biking and what not, trying to pass people and stuff,” he said. “I have wiped out once because someone’s dog ran out in front of me and I tried to stop and swerve to get away from hitting them. I ended up on the ground.”

Although the use of e-bikes and scooters has changed the dynamic of downtown St. Petersburg, they have also added a valued sense of community, said 24-year-old Leia Von.

“I’ve only lived in St. Petersburg for about a year. I didn’t know anybody when I moved here,” she said. “I actually ended up meeting friends through online groups for people with e-bikes, scooters, and one-wheels.”

These groups will sometimes do organized meet-ups, and ride together as a big group through the downtown area.

“It’s a great way to meet people, and really get involved with the community which is super important,” Von said.

Most people probably agree that people could be a little more vigilant and considerate when riding through the downtown area.

It’s most important that it’s safe for everyone, and there’s always more that can be done to make sure it stays that way, but Griswold still encourages anyone interested in riding to give it a go.

“Definitely go for it. It’s a great time, it’s a beautiful trail,” he said. “If you’re going to be going fast, just be aware of your surroundings, be conscious of other people using the trail, just stay aware if you’re riding around on anything with wheels.”