Rehoboth Beach officials have survived one battle over what to do about scooter riding in the city, but a new fight could be lingering.
The city commissioners have put in place a new parking permit system charging scooter riders $40 for a permit to park at new designated scooter-only spaces. But the majority of those spaces are in the beach block street ends. Many scooter riders in town are local employees who ride their scooters to avoid the hassle of a car.
During the fight over where to create scooter parking, employees raised concerns that many of the proposed spaces were long distances from their businesses, taking away the incentive to use scooters.
George Panarello, owner of All Wheels bike and scooter shop, said the answer lies in the medians along Rehoboth Avenue where the sidewalks widen out. He said scooter parking could be put on both sides of the walkway without impeding pedestrians.
To prove his point, Panarello took pictures of scooters at the median areas across from Catchers restaurant and Village By The Sea on Rehoboth Avenue and near JAM Bistro and Dinah Lingo’s Grocery on Baltimore Avenue.
“Why are we not trying to find ways to park the scooters as opposed to not?” Panarello said. “Are we trying to find a way to fix all this, or aren’t we?”
Commissioner Pat Coluzzi, chairwoman of the Streets and Transportation Committee, said the committee believes there is enough scooter parking in the commercial areas at this time, but will continue to look into the issue in the fall.
“Everybody wants to see how this is going to work,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we can’t look into places on the Avenue. The ones for the median and the sidewalk are off the table for right now.”
By Coluzzi’s count, there are more than 80 spaces in the eight scooter parking areas in the central commercial area.
“I think there is going to be a lot,” Coluzzi said. "I know that people still like the idea of being able to park their scooter at the business that they go to. But cars can’t do that, and scooter people need to get used to the idea that they can’t do that either.”
Panarello said the reason for a general explosion of scooters in town is the convenience and lower gas costs. He said he is OK with the city charging $40 for a scooter-parking permit, but most of the spaces are for beachgoers, not people who work in town.
“Why are you going to ask a kid to walk six blocks across town with money in their pocket? That’s dangerous. You have the median right there,” he said.
The committee looked into having scooter spaces in the medians along Rehoboth Avenue, but the idea was rejected on safety grounds and because it defeats the city's goal of getting scooters off the sidewalks. Panarello said his plan would keep scooters off the sidewalks without infringing on pedestrians walking along the median.
Upset the city seems to be ignoring his suggestions, Panarello likened the city’s stance to an overweight person that wants to get thin, but doesn’t want to give up bacon and ice cream.
“You can’t have it both ways. You say you want to fix the scooter problem? What’s wrong with this?” he said. “It’s a compromise without enemies being made.”
Meanwhile, the city is preparing for the summer, putting up signs saying scooters must have permits at the city’s main entrances on Rehoboth Avenue and State Road. The city has also released its scooter-parking map, available at City Hall.
Still on is the planned scooter park-in protest set for 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., Saturday, May 25. On that date, scooter riders will park their scooters in the metered spaces in protest of the city’s new scooter regulations and to demonstrate the chaos a mass of scooters in the metered spaces would cause.
“You know what’s going to happen,” Panarello said. “The city’s not going to suffer. The merchants are going to suffer. And the cars are going to be ticked off. So now you’ve created a new enemy with the people in automobiles. All this could be avoided. All the space is right there.”