Pedal tours a no-go, city says

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(This article was originally published in YourSarasota.com)

Citing safety concerns, the City Commission voted 3-2 against permitting commercial cycle tours to operate on downtown streets.

“Pedal pubs” might be a common sight in some commercial districts across the country, but don’t expect to spot one rolling down Main Street anytime soon.

On Monday, the City Commission voted 3-2 to reject a proposal seeking to allow commercial megacycles to operate downtown. The businesses — which feature groups of people pedaling to help power a vehicle steered by a professional driver — are allowed in Sarasota County, but commissioners and representatives for the Sarasota Police Department expressed concern about potential issues associated with the concept.

Those concerns were largely tied to the ability to consume alcohol aboard the vehicles and the logistics of letting people off and on at various stops along the tour routes. Prior to the vote, Brittany Orlando, the owner of Sip-N-Cycle Cruises and the person who proposed permitting the cycle tours, asked the commission if it would consider letting her operate for six months on a trial basis with no on-board alcohol consumption.

Still, the majority of the board was uninterested in exploring the concept further.

“Your model and our responsibility don’t mix, from what I’ve seen,” Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie said.

Orlando first appeared before the commission in June. She explained her business to the board, stating paid employees monitor customers aboard the 15-seat vehicles. Riders are allowed to bring their own alcoholic beverages and consume them while pedaling. Orlando said her company already operates pedal tours in Siesta Key and similar businesses are permitted in Florida cities including St. Petersburg and Naples.

On Monday, members of the police department presented a list of concerns they had regarding the proposal. The items on the list included fears a rider could fall off, potential confusion about the city’s open container laws, questions about how the vehicles would affect traffic and worries about the resources necessary to monitor the business for any issues.

“You’re mixing alcohol with a vehicle and people riding in a heavily traversed area,” Police Chief Bernadette DiPino said. “It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Commissioner Hagen Brody questioned the police department about their concerns. Brody said similar businesses successfully operate in other cities, and he was hopeful the city could craft regulations that would allow the pedal tours to operate while addressing some of the safety and logistical fears.

“I would like to see us take incremental steps or figure out a path forward in some way to at least experiment with it before deciding that the hypotheticals are too scary for us to take one step forward,” Brody said.

Orlando, too, questioned the rationale behind officials’ objections. In response to concerns about the city’s liability for any customers who might be drunk at the conclusion of a tour, Orlando asked how her business was any different than a brick-and-mortar bar or restaurant that served alcohol.

Although alcohol consumption is allowed and many of the potential stops the company initially identified are bars, Orlando said the business doesn’t necessarily revolve around drinking. She said her company planned to do a variety of tours, including some focused on things such as arts-related landmarks in the city. She said pedal tours are a popular group and corporate activity.

“It’s not just strictly, ‘Hey, we’re going on to drink,’” Orlando said.

Despite Orlando’s efforts to find some room for a compromise, the majority of the commission voted to reject the proposal to allow the pedal tours. Brody and Mayor Liz Alpert cast dissenting votes.

After the vote, Brody expressed displeasure with the outcome. Although Alpert was interested in giving the proposal additional consideration, she also thought the business would be the source of some controversy even if the city did allow it to operate.

“Truthfully, you would be dealing constantly with people complaining about you downtown,” Alpert said to Orlando.

Also at Monday’s City Commission meeting:

  • The board approved a three-year contract with Teamsters Local 173, the collective bargaining representative for many city employees. The contract authorizes a 3% general wage increase in the first year and a 2.5% raise in year two.
  • The commission voted unanimously to move toward hiring Deputy City Auditor and Clerk Shayla Griggs to permanently fill the position. The commission directed staff to prepare a contract for consideration at a future meeting.
  • The board finalized its approval of changes to regulations in the North Trail Overlay District.

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