(June 27, 2014) Add “Trikkes” to the list of ideas that seem to be stuck indefinitely in the city’s information-gathering purgatory.
Although the Police Commission pledged this week to conduct further investigation into Boardwalk congestion as a whole, it appears that an actual opinion on local businessman Bryant Hungerford’s pitch to rent the three-wheeled vehicles on the boards won’t be coming in time for the current season.
“I’m not going to say no,” said Commission Chair Doug Cymek. “But I would like the opportunity to monitor the Boardwalk this summer and talk about this in September. We haven’t seen the peak summer population yet.”
Hungerford continued to press the commission, however, that his devices were actually safer and less congestion-inducing that surreys and the so-called reclining “banana bikes” that are popular on the Boardwalk. He requested a trial period in which he would rent only ten devices.
“These are an extremely small impact as far as congestion goes,” Hungerford said. “If you want to limit things on the Boardwalk, you have to look at the whole picture.”
Although the commission agreed that the issue needs to be taken up, the only official who voiced support for a trial period of Trikke rentals before the end of the summer was Mayor Rick Meehan.
“There’s nothing more difficult to maneuver than a banana bike,” Meehan said. “I differ a little from the rest of the commission. I think we should allow these on a trial basis.”
“You have to remember that there’s a finite number of people interested in getting up early and riding on the Boardwalk,” Meehan noted. “If you’re on one of these, you’re not riding something else.”
The Trikke is best described as a set of skis with three wheels and a steering handle. Two runners each have a wheel at the back, and are joined at the front with a third wheel, where a t-shaped grip is mounted.
On the manual version of the vehicle, the rider stands on the runners and arcs their body from side to side to build momentum. But there is also an electric-powered version that one can simply stand on and go.
The former was considered to be a bad idea by the commission, given the sweeping motion required and the cramped quarters of the Boardwalk during a summer morning. But Hungerford would only be renting out the electric version, which would have power limiters restricting the vehicles to no more than nine miles per hour.
Still, there has been considerable hesitancy to allow the devices, even temporarily.
“We’re going to open the door to everything…by allowing a motorized vehicle on the Boardwalk,” said Council President Lloyd Martin. “If you’re going to add something like this, you have to take something away.”
Currently, the only motorized devices allowed on the boards are Segways, since state traffic code defines EPAMDs (Electronic Personal Assisted Mobility Devices, the industry term for Segways) as pedestrians.
The Trikke, however, would be classified under state law as a “motorized minibike,” and would have to be written into city code as such. Alternatively, Hungerford suggested, the city could change its own definition of EPAMD to include three-wheeled electric vehicles, instead of just two-wheeled Segways.
“As I said before, I think the most important thing is the practicality, and less so the legal angle,” Hungerford said. “All you would need to do would be to change two wheels to three. I’m just asking for a trial period.”
Hungerford would start with a fleet of 10 vehicles, renting for $20 to $30 an hour, he said. This pales in comparison to some operators who have hundreds of bikes and surreys, and rent en masse for a fraction of the price.
“I never did like the banana bikes, personally, and I think that was the last thing we added [to the Boardwalk],” said Councilman Dennis Dare. “If the Segways have to be allowed, so be it, but I think we need to look at where we’ll be down the road before we add anything else.”
Lt. Scott Harner, the Ocean City Police Department’s head of traffic enforcement, had tested the devices and found them to not present any practical difficulties.
“I had no problems getting on the Trikke and operating it,” he said. “I’ve ridden a Segway and the Trikke and found neither particularly challenging.”