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Minnesota couple propose e-scooters for downtown Lakeland

Posted at 3:52 PM, Jan 08, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-08 18:06:39-05

LAKELAND, Fla. — The idea of electric scooters is catching on nationwide.

A college couple from the University of Minnesota Duluth even came down to pitch the concept to Lakeland city leaders about delivering their already-established businesses to the area.

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However, planners are being ultra cautious when it comes to the new technology for Swan City.

“It seems like fun ya know,” said Rachel Biechlin, who works in Lakeland.

Biechlin, who commutes from Sarasota, says tourists closer to the coast use them everyday. She's seen e-scooters all around Hillsborough and Sarasota County and doesn’t complain.

“We see it on the island, we see it on Siesta Key we see it in St. Armands Circle because it’s a very touristy area,” she said.

And unlike other areas, Biechlin doesn’t see the problem with cities taking on the different ways to get around.

“People know to drive slow that it’s island time,” Biechlin added.

Lakeland Downtown Development Authority isn’t exactly on board with the idea, at least yet. Julie Townsend, the Executive Director of Lakeland Downtown Development Authority, says it’s just not time.

“I think scooters have already shown in other cities that they could be kind of a disaster,” said Townsend, specifically talking about Portland, Oregon.

A 2018 Pilot Findings Report stated the speed of e-scooters may be too fast for pedestrian sidewalks and that they are just too fast for use on sidewalks. Also, research found most scooters were parked appropriately but that improperly parked scooters negatively impacted accessibility and created a hazard for people with visual impairments.

Read the full report here.

The couple from Duluth, Minnesota, proposed bringing their businesses, Leaf, from the campus of the University of Minnesota Duluth down to the Polk County area, if given the green light. But when ABC Action News reached out the couple after the city tentatively denied their idea, Jeb and Latisha Irvine declined to comment saying they were traveling.

We spoke with other Lakeland residents who say they are not against the idea, but they do agree it needs more planning especially since the area is bound to keep growing.

“There’s going to be an increase in challenges, parking, transportation and maybe e-Scooters is something to explore,” said Chris Hinojosa, a Lakeland resident.

The City of Lakeland tried out a similar rental program, using bicycles where workers and those living in the area could rent and share the bikes. The bike share program launched in 2017, but didn’t last long.

Julie Townsend said it wasn’t that the need was not there, but due to Florida’s heat and the lack of versatility it was not a sustainable service for Lakeland.

Townsend tells ABC Action News a few of the largest concerns about the e-scooters is liability, pedestrian safety and the fact the the city doesn’t have a safe zone like bike lanes for riders to use.

Still, Townsend says it doesn’t mean Lakeland won’t use the e-scooters in the coming years.

“We want to wait and see if it could be a transportation solution in the future,” she said.