Rehoboth scooter parking plan draws protest

Opponents plan protest Memorial Day weekend
March 15, 2013
Scooter riders in Rehoboth Beach have planned a May 25 protest over new regulations that would prevent scooter riders from parking at bike racks and on sidewalks. The city commissioners will vote on the new regulations Friday, March 15. BY RYAN MAVITY

Scooter riders say Rehoboth Beach's proposed scooter parking regulations need more study, and are calling for a park-in Memorial Day weekend.

Ken Hensey has been living in Rehoboth for more than a decade and has been riding a scooter for the last seven.

“There are a lot of people in the area who are upset about the new proposal. It’s going to deter people who come on scooters because it’s convenient. I don’t think the town has done enough planning. It doesn’t seem thought out,” he said.

Blair Cherico, owner of Dewey Beach Surf Shop, said people ride scooters for the convenience: scooters are cleaner, greener, cheaper to own and provide easier access to town without having to pay to park. He said the city's plan would take that convenience and make it inconvenient by making people pay for parking spaces where scooter riders don't want to park.

City officials have been wrestling with new regulations for several months. Mayor Sam Cooper said, “I think it’s overdue that we deal with this. I don’t think they should be on the sidewalks. They’re motorized, they belong in the street.”

Rehoboth’s new scooter parking plan, which will be voted on at 7 p.m., Friday, March 15, would eliminate scooter parking on sidewalks and at the bike racks. Scooters owners who wish to park at new scooter corrals will need to purchase seasonal parking permits for $40. Most of the corrals are at the beach end of east-west streets. Scooters can also be parked in metered spaces as long as riders pay the meters, and at the nonmetered permit spaces in the residential areas with a permit.  Scooter permits will be in effect from mid-May until after Labor Day.

By removing parking spaces on the beach blocks, and creating additional corrals behind the Rehoboth fire hall and near the Village Improvement Association clubhouse at Grenoble Place, the city would add 189 scooter parking spaces; most corrals will hold about seven scooters. There would be no scooter parking on Rehoboth Avenue.

As an act of protest against the new regulations, Hensey has organized a scooter park-in for between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m., Saturday, May 25.

Hensey said the day of the protest, scooter riders will not get a parking permit and will pay and park at metered spaces, to show how a mass of scooters parking at the meters on a busy weekend would be a problem for a city.

Hensey said while he does not have a problem with scooter corrals, he would prefer to city officials maintain the status quo and allow free scooter parking at the bike racks.

Hensey said the city has never studied how many scooters are in town on a busy weekend and has not considered why people have come in on scooters to begin with: the convenience of parking the scooter near a destination. He said the vast majority of the new scooter spaces are not on Rehoboth Avenue where scooter riders generally park to work at or frequent local businesses.

Rehoboth resident Linda Kauffman is the former executive director of the Allentown Parking Authority who also consulted with the city on a 2007 parking study. Kauffman said the city commissioners have yet to define exactly what problem they are solving. She said if she were doing a parking study, she would have to define, document and verify the problem and present solutions with the pros and cons of each solution.

Kauffman said the city has identified scooters riding on the sidewalk as a problem, and while that is a concern, she believes the city is overreaching in its solution.

Referring to existing ordinances preventing motorized vehicles on sidewalks, Kauffman said, “If they’re concerned about scooters on the sidewalks, enforce it."

Cherico and Hensey said the $40 fee the city would charge for a scooter parking permit is an attempt by the city to compete for revenue with the businesses.

“People come here for the beach and the businesses. They don’t come for parking tickets,” Hensey said. “People aren’t happy with the direction the city is taking.”

Cooper said the $40 fee is not an attempt to raise revenue. He said overall the fee will be revenue neutral or even negative, once the costs of implementing and enforcing the plan are factored in.

“I don’t think it’s exorbitant. We’re taking parking spaces with meters out of use by cars and turning them over to scooters. We ought to try to make that up by some small fee,” Cooper said.

Cars pay $175 for a seasonal nontransferable parking permit; $200 for a transferable permit.

Commissioner Pat Coluzzi said, “We’re taking away spaces for them (scooters) to park closer to the beach. We have to pay for it somehow. It’s not really fair for cars to pay and not them.”

Kauffman said the city has been unclear in what the purpose of the fee is; if it’s to make up for lost revenue, the commissioners should be up front about it, she said.

While the city has said it wants to get scooters off the sidewalks because of safety, Hensey said the city has not show any evidence that scooters parking on the sidewalks and at the bike racks presents any kind of safety hazard.

Coluzzi said the city wants the scooters off the sidewalks because it presents a safety hazard. She said Rehoboth has not had an accident, but with more scooters in town, accidents are more likely. While Cooper said the criticism he’s heard of the plan has been limited to a couple of emails, Coluzzi said she has heard the complaints mainly from people who work at restaurants who don’t like the idea they can no longer park on the sidewalk.

Coluzzi said the streets and transportation committee considered opening some scooter parking in the median areas along Rehoboth Avenue, but the Rehoboth Police Department objected based on safety concerns.

Kauffman said the city would be exacerbating a tight parking situation by taking car spaces and giving them to scooters. She said by preventing scooters from parking on the sidewalks, scooter riders will now start parking in car spaces. While scooters could park in metered spaces before, Kauffman said it wasn’t a big problem because they could also park on the sidewalk.

“I’m not sure they looked at the ramifications of this,” she said.

Cherico said the prime spaces along Wilmington and Baltimore avenues will get filled quickly, leading to the same problem the city has with cars, with motorists driving in circles looking for parking spaces.

Cooper said while the 189 spaces cannot accommodate everyone, he does not foresee any problems with the Rehoboth Avenue metered spaces. He said he had concerns about scooters parking in the nonmetered permit spaces in the residential neighborhoods, but he wants to see how the new regulations shake out this summer.

Coluzzi, a scooter rider herself, said she wants to encourage bicyclists and scooter riders in the city. It's a matter of doing what’s best for everyone, she said.

Hensey said he does not plan to attend the March 15 meeting where the scooter parking ordinance will be voted on.

“They don’t seem interested in input from us,” he said. “All they’re worried about is how they will get their $40.”

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