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Split panel recommends allowing scooters on trail

Submitted photo An example of the motorized rental scooters. A business is planning to bring these rental vehicles to New Ulm. The city is considering where to allow operation.

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Park and Recreation Commission is tentatively recommending allowing motorized electric scooters on the recreational trail.

The Park and Recreation Commission held a special meeting Thursday to review a potential ordinance related to micromobility vehicles.

micromobility vehicles are bicycles, electric-assisted bicycles, motorized foot scooters and other transportation devices. Recently the New Ulm City council held the first reading of an ordinance that would regulate renting/sharing businesses and organizations that use micromobility vehicles.

The reason for the ordinance is, recently a private vendor has expressed a desire to bring a motorized scooter rental business to New Ulm. In response, the city is looking to establish a micromobility vehicle ordinance.

During the first reading of the ordinance, the council requested recommendations from the Park and Recreation on how the ordinance should be regulated. Specifically, the city was seeking a recommendation on where electric scooters should be allowed to operated and under what conditions.

Park and Recreation Director Tom Schmitz said to the Parks Commission had two questions to ask. The first was whether the city should adopt an ordinance regulating micromobility vehicle renting/sharing businesses. The second was to consider a recommendation for where these vehicles could be used.

The commission recommended the adoption of the new ordinance, with little discussion. Park and Recreation did not oppose a renting/sharing micromobility business. Schmitz said he thought it was a great idea of a business in New Ulm.

The more challenging question was where these vehicles should be allowed. In general, the commission needed to decide if electric scooter vehicles should be allowed on the sidewalk or on the recreation trail.

Schmitz said in general motorized vehicles are prohibited on the sidewalk and trails. Motorized wheelchairs are allowed on sidewalks and trails, but motorized scooters might impair pedestrians.

City Manager Chris Dalton said Minnesota Statute does not allow the operation of a motorized scooter on a sidewalk, except to park the scooter on public property. Currently, electric scooters are allowed to operate on city streets similarly to bicycles.

The commission unanimously voted to not allow the electric scooters on sidewalks.

On the question of whether to allow electric scooters on the bike path, the commissioners were conflicted.

Dalton said the state statute did allow the city to make a local decision to allow electric vehicles on the path.

Three letters from the public were read into the record opposing allowing motorized vehicles on the bike trail, including a letter from New Ulm Bike Group.

Commissioner David Christian said the people he spoke with were split 50/50 on whether to allow electric scooters on the bike path.

Commissioner Laura Evans said she has seen hover boards being used on the bike trail without incident. By current regulations, these hover boards are prohibited from use on the trails. Evans said she has had more experience with fast bicyclists speeding past than the hover boards.

Commissioner Leroy Flor said has not seen much trouble on the bike path, but thought things could get hectic if some motorized vehicles were allowed on the path.

Commissioner Bob Skillings said the rental company coming into town could create an increase of use.

Dalton said the city could try allowing the electric scooters on the path to see if it was viable. The city could restrict use on the trails later if there is a problem. The rental company was bringing roughly 50 scooters to New Ulm. Not all would be in use on the trail at the same.

Flor commented that if the trail was opened to electric scooters, it would apply to more than the rental scooters. All private motorized scooters would be allowed on the path.

Commissioner Carisa Buegler suggested placing a speed limit on the trail to reduce concerns.

Dalton said the maximum speed of the electric scooters was 15 mph. It was possible to further limit the speed of the rental scooters.

Commissioner Amy Johnson asked where the scooters would be used.

Dalton suspected they would mostly be used downtown or for simple transportation. For some, the motorized scooters rental could be more convenient than hiring a taxi. People without a car could also use the scooters for commuting. Others might use the scooters for scenic tours of the town. For scenic tours, the bike trail would be an ideal place for scooters.

Evans made the motion to allow motorized scooters on the bike trail with a speed limit of 12 mph on the paved sections. Buegler seconded the motion. The motion passed four to one with Flor voting against. Commissioners Bev Luneburg and Christian approved the recommendation but acknowledged they were hesitant to recommend approval.

This 12 mph speed limit would be limited to motorized scooters. Normal bicycles would not be restricted to 12 mph under this recommendation.

This recommendation will come before the New Ulm City Council. The second reading of the micromobility ordinance will come before the City Council, Tuesday, May 4.

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