Public dialogue on moped reform on Thursday, Aug. 20

Wed, 08/19/2020 - 3:00pm

Island resident and activist Sarah Bacon, who recently founded the coalition #RespectBI for moped reform, spoke with The Block Island Times about an upcoming Zoom meeting she has organized regarding moped operations. The community discussion will commence on Thursday, Aug. 20 at 6 p.m.

Q: Hi Sarah! Thank you for reaching out to The Block Island Times. Can you provide me a brief introduction to yourself, your background in social campaigns, and your interests in advocating for the community?

SB: My grandparents Grace and Ira Wheeler came to Block Island in 1955 with their five children, including my mother Darcy Wheeler Bacon. Grace and Ira co-founded the Block Island Club, and their children worked on-island summers. One of my uncles, Mark Wheeler, died here at 16 in the old West Side house that blew up a few years ago, my family's first house on the island. My sister, Katie, and I have been coming here since birth and worked during the summers too; Katie at The Block Island Times for Peter Wood, and I for the Drapers. My parents built a home here in 1983, where my beloved father, Ken Bacon, chose to die in 2009. A few years ago, when I took our house here solar and realized there was no net metering, I co-founded Block Island Residents for Renewables. Our group got town focus on net metering. 

Professionally, I’ve made a living designing campaigns and doing advocacy around social. With the New York City firm Fenton, famous for addressing litter in Texas with the “Don’t mess with Texas” campaign and launching Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” movie in schools across America, I fought high-polluting Number 6 oil in NYC buildings and blood diamonds, and promoted congestion pricing, divestment for Darfur, among many other issues. I left there to study sustainable behavior change and Sustainability MGMT in graduate school at Columbia, co-founded a taxi sharing app and produced an environmental podcast with island resident Ben Pomeroy.  

Since being diagnosed with an ultra rare lung disease in 2013, I’ve largely channeled my activism around rare diseases, about which I’ve written in The Washington Post, Fast Company, The Atlantic and NY Magazine, and am currently writing a book on rare disease citizen scientists. Activism is in my blood. 

Q: What prompted you to create a public dialogue surrounding moped reform? 

SB: I’m very protective of the places I love. This summer, 100 percent of my conversations either started or ended with mopeds. Meanwhile, reading Jon Meacham’s “Soul of America” and learning that Martin Luther King started the civil rights movement after the huge community turnout at Ebenezer Baptist Church following Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat, made me think we should harness our frustration here. Together, the perfect storm of COVID-related island congestion and a new Town Manager, presented a window of opportunity. 

Q: Can you give me a run-down and insight into Thursday’s community talk? Who will be speaking? How will the discussion be formatted? 

SB: Thursday’s #RespectBI community discussion will kick off with short statements by community members representing a range of perspectives and data on mopeds on Block Island: Block Island Medical Director Dr. Thomas Warcup, Police Chief Vin Carlone, Councilor Sven Risom, moped operator John Leone, and island residents Lisa Sprague, Alan Davis, Thea Monje, Gail Hall and Michael Rock have all generously volunteered their time to inform our discussion, which will then be followed by moderated questions and comments from attendees. Since emotions run high around mopeds, it's imperative that all questions and comments be respectful of all points of view. We cannot make long-term change unless we're considerate of each other’s perspectives.

Q: What results or outcome do you hope to see from the community talk on mopeds? 

SB: This COVID-19 summer has resulted in a perfect storm fever pitch of reckless moped driving, maddening roadway congestion & widespread drunkenness. While these systemic problems are interrelated and must all be addressed, #RespectBI’s current focus is safer, less disruptive moped conduct for summer 2021, and the long term, for the safety and sustainability of our community and beloved island home.

After last week’s tragic moped fatality, we called on Town Council and Gov. Gina Raimondo for a temporary ban on mopeds until Labor Day, OR until the town has an effective moped enforcement and management plan in place. So far neither has happened and, frankly, Block Island citizens are losing faith in our elected town leadership. Surely this summer and all of its complexities has been brutal on the Town Council, but the community has been resoundingly clear in our demands for immediate moped reform. At the time of this interview, Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 1 p.m., yet ANOTHER accident between a moped and car occurred, near the site of last week’s fatality. How much bloodshed and widespread risk will it take? Concrete motions MUST be passed tonight at the 7 p.m. Town Council meeting. Here are several measures the town can take immediately:

  1. Raise minimum renter age to 25 (VFRS data on percentage of accidents with drivers under 25 support this motion).
  2. Pull operator licenses for violating the town’s agreement with moped operators by using two properties to rent. This will take 34 mopeds off the road immediately.
  3. When a moped driver is wearing a green bracelet (currently supplied by all operators) they CANNOT be served or sold alcohol by any town establishment. Establishments should be fined a large sum if found breaking this rule.
  4. Per John Leone's suggestions submitted to the Town Council: Immediately require helmets for all private moped owners. (Renters get confused and emboldened to remove helmets when they see private drivers without them.)
  5. Per John Leone's suggestions submitted to the Town Council: Cancel moped rate specials between 4 to 6 p.m. immediately.
  6. Enforce rule in the town and moped operator agreement that all rental mopeds prominently display stickers, on the left and right of handle bars, on 

1) Dirt road ban fine 2) Excessive beeping fine. (Right now only Island Moped is doing this. Stickers could be printed and applied before this weekend.)

What are #RespectBI's long term goals? For the sake of our heroic volunteer first responders, the Block Island Medical Center, law enforcement, visitors, residents, and the long term sustainability of our beautiful, singular island, #RespectBI wants meaningful, lasting reform to be implemented before summer 2021 in the form of a town ordinance. That said, baseline independent data is critical for all long term decisions; to inform any ordinance the town MUST commission an independent cost-benefit analysis of mopeds' impact on the island. Given budgetary constraints, should the town need financial support for such an independent analysis, #RespectBI would consider supporting such a study. As for our specific recommendations for the ordinance, some are mentioned above, but better renter training is essential, including a self-contained, dedicated training figure eight lane; mandatory video orientation for all renters; a new numbering system identifying each one to 34 mopeds per operator, and the eventual conversion of moped fleets to less carbon dioxide and noise-polluting e-bikes. 

Thursday’s #RespectBI Zoom meeting will further inform the recommendations we plan on making on moped reform to the new Town Manager Maryanne Crawford this fall.

Q: How can people tune into the virtual talk?

SB: The community discussion will be held through Zoom on Thursday, Aug. 20 at 6 p.m. NO PASSWORD REQUIRED

Webinar ID: 921 0943 9783

Or Telephone: Dial (for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):

US: +1 646 558 8656  or +1 301 715 8592  or +1 312 626 6799  or +1 669 900 9128  or +1 253 215 8782  or +1 346 248 7799

Q: If someone wants to join the effort, whom should they reach out to?

SB: Stay tuned for more refined priorities and calls to action by joining our list