Council hears concerns about mopeds
“The goal of this meeting is to listen,” said Second Warden Sven Risom at the beginning of a special meeting of the Town Council on August 17 on the subject of mopeds.
The meeting came at the request of members of the public that have been asking for moped reforms to be made for years and who had told the council at a previous meeting to “please listen to us.”
For their part though, the Town Council had been advised not to say anything on the
matter that could possibly jeopardize ongoing litigation surrounding reforms the town had previously attempted to make.
Risom had opened the meeting thanking the public for its input that had come by the “hundreds” in the form of emails, letters, and phone calls. “Based on the advice of our solicitors, we are not going to get into a discussion of, or debate, any of the facts,” he said. “No response or reply is not an agreement with the previous speaker. It’s just ‘no response.’”
Risom went on to say he recognized that this was a “very passionate subject” and although the Town Council was working hard on the matter as one of “public health and safety,” they must abide by both state and federal laws. “The town cannot just make changes,” he said.
The first person to speak was Sarah Bacon, founder of the group Respect B.I., whose primary issue has been moped reform. She wished to present the council with a petition signed by 1,500 people that encouraged the town to work with the state legislature for “true, lasting, moped reform.”
There were several themes that emerged over the evening: banning moped training from Weldon’s Way, a public road; better training and at an off-site location; the weariness and emotional toll on first responders; and the general degradation of the “culture” on Block Island.
None of these complaints are new. Moped renters have been beeping their horns and ignoring rules forbidding them on dirt roads for years – decades even. “You’ve heard this story from me now for almost 40 years,”
said long-time rescue squad member Lisa Sprague.
“Last summer’s brief but positive push for enforcement left on the boat with Chief Moynihan,” said Sprague. Her specific suggestion though, was to move all moped training to open space at the airport. “Let’s have drivers get
their bearings on roads less crowded than downtown.”
Current Rescue Squad Captain Tracy Fredericks likened the inexperience of moped renters to a “first-time skier going down a double black diamond course.” There was the added problem of false confidence on moped renters’ parts and lack of awareness of the dangerousness of the vehicle and the roads. “It’s always the same response: ‘I had no idea.’”
Moynihan instituted a numbering policy last summer whereby each moped was given a unique number in a series that corresponded with the rental agency, and he also started confiscating mopeds from drivers misbehaving, instead of giving out a warning or a ticket and sending the driver on his or her way. The rental agency had to pick up the moped and the renter usually forfeited the rental deposit. When Moynihan announced the number confiscated on a single day, in the 20s, to news stations on the mainland, which then reported it on the local evening news, behavior improved.
Earlier this year, Moynihan set up a text-a-tip line for people to report problems, but since his resignation and departure, people report they have not gotten a response from that.
Mary Anderson, owner of Glass Onion downtown said: “Customers don’t come to town as much as they used to.” She felt this was because of the behavior of moped riders that was, simply, scaring people away. “There’s just a level of disrespect from mopeds...they’re very belligerent. When there are kids around, it’s disturbing.”
“The issue must be viewed in a wider context,” said Tony Kronman, who purchased a home on Block Island eight years ago. “The large challenge that faces us all is protecting the culture of Block Island – its neighborliness, and sense of shared pleasure in a place that values family life, civility, and the enjoyment together of the island’s singular environment.” Referring to the incidents on Victory Day at Ballard’s and on the Block Island ferry he added: “That this challenge is large and urgent, and bigger than mopeds alone was made clear for all the world to see on August 8...Aggressive law breaking has become the norm.”
After the last speaker, Risom said he would like to respond to one thing, and that was the suggestion that in this and other matters, the Town Council was “risk averse.” “We’re not,” he said. “We are now in Rhode Island Supreme Court about this issue.”
Risom asked Town Solicitor Nick Solitro to give a “quick re-cap” of the case that arose a couple of years ago when the Town Council passed some ordinances regarding mopeds that the dealers didn’t like, including holding moped operators responsible for the actions of their renters.
“The operators filed an action that the town did not have the authority to act for the health, safety and welfare of its citizens. As shocking as that may seem to many,” said Solitro. He said the lawsuit was heard in Superior Court in 2021 and that Judge Taft Carter ruled on it – “ruling that under state law the town is very restricted from the ability to restrict the mopeds.”
Solitro said the town filed an appeal
that is currently in “full brief in Supreme
Court. In lay terms, the court was interested in hearing a lot more about that issue,” he said.
Solitro added that a decision is expected in later winter or early spring. “It will give us an insight into the exact authority the Town Council has. It might give a lot of clarity.”