Moynihan making a difference

Fri, 06/25/2021 - 7:45am

The New Shoreham Town Council met June 16 and began its agenda with public comment. The council had received and reviewed 14 different letters sent in as correspondence, prior to the meeting. These were listed on the agenda as item number 20, which is usually a safe enough spot for letters from the public. But with 14 letters sent in, it was apparent that the people of Block Island had a lot to say to their councilors.

Seven letters referred to the ongoing moped controversy, with calls for increased enforcement of moped rules.

The town had attempted to make several amendments on March 4 to Section 8 of the Town of New Shoreham Ordinances, regarding the rental of motorized bicycles, motor scooters, and motorized tricycles: the town sought to: reduce the daily hours of operation by three hours; require the moped operators to identify a vehicle proficiency area on their site plan to indicate where renters will practice prior to driving on state or town roads; prohibit renting mopeds to individuals who are visibly intoxicated; to instruct their renters that no passenger may ride in front of the driver; to require the moped operators to present a training video followed by a questionnaire, and administer a supervised test drive on the moped operators’ properties as opposed to the public roadway.

The moped operators successfully fought the implementation of most of these amendments, receiving word on June 23 that Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter of the Rhode Island Superior Court had granted in part their motion for preliminary injunction, finding that the town only had authority to require the moped operators to identify a vehicle proficiency area on their site plan where renters will practice.

There had already been a temporary restraining order in place preventing any of these adopted amendments from going into effect.
The public comment portion of the June 16 meeting, predictably, focused on mopeds with the usual cast of characters. Victor Hong called in to point out that if he operated his car the way moped drivers operate their mopeds, with the excessive honking, disregard for stop signs, and blatant drinking while driving, he would be treated more harshly than the moped drivers.

Sarah Bacon called in to ask for the moped update that was promised during the June 7 Town Council meeting.

Police Chief Matthew Moynihan complied, and gave a report to the council on downtown traffic flow and safety that emphasized the importance of high levels of visibility and presence of public safety personnel, calling them “instrumental to the program.” As such, he has brought over four two-person teams of Community Safety Officers to assist in “providing instructions or guidance for individuals to stay on the sidewalks and use the crosswalks.”
The CSOs are also writing parking tickets and directing traffic. Moynihan is still short staffed, however, after the recent departure of Officer Sarah Goodwin, and the ongoing injured status of another police officer.
Moynihan said he and his team have been concentrating on Weldon’s Way, Water Street, and the ferry traffic. He said his goal with the ferry is to get the vehicles off the boat and dispersed before the pedestrians disembark. In order to accomplish this, Moynihan or one of his officers stops traffic on Water Street to allow a steady flow of cars off the boat. Second Warden Sven Risom said this is the first time he has seen an officer stopping the traffic on Water Street to let cars off the ferry, and praised the efforts.

Focusing on maintaining a police presence on Weldon’s Way, Moynihan said he and his staff are working to ensure the moped operators are not using the roadway for instruction. He said there is a difference between “instruction” and “operation on a public way.”

The chief said that even with moped operator compliance Weldon’s Way remains a busy street, but “having CSOs and officers on the street is really going to alleviate backups and delays.”

Moynihan mentioned the “See something, say something” program, which encourages citizen reporting of bad behavior, but pointed out that not everything we see is illegal.
“Open toed footwear on mopeds are not illegal... It’s probably not the best idea, but it’s not illegal,” he said. The chief also reminded everyone that he cannot enforce any traffic related violations on private roads, whether they are paved roads or dirt roads, and he cautioned to make sure the calls to dispatch were actually enforceable violations.

Council Member Mark Emmanuelle expanded on this topic, admonishing the listeners to, “if you see something, say something, but don’t inundate the dispatch with frivolous calls.”
Moynihan also discussed the numbering system he is looking to implement for rental mopeds. Under the system, the town would provide each moped business with numbered stickers, unique to that operator. Each shop is allowed thirty-four mopeds, so the town stickers are numbered in series, 101-
134, 201-234, 301-334, and so forth. Each moped operator has a unique series, and in this way one can easily distinguish who owns any particular moped. Besides ensuring that each dealer only has thirty-four mopeds on the road, the numbers will aid in identifying a dangerous moped driver based
on the moped’s identification number.
The chief informed the council that he has already issued and utilized the sticker system, and has been able to identify and apprehend several dangerous moped drivers. Moynihan removed the drivers from the road and had the mopeds picked up by the moped owners, all based on the numbered sticker on the mopeds.

He said that when officers have “encountered a driver operating erratically, we’re able to call the moped company, they’re coming out and taking the moped off the road,” which “eliminates the bad behavior all together.” Moynihan said he wanted to send the message that bad behavior will be stopped, and “will not be tolerated.” He further characterized the cooperation with the moped operators in this regard as “phenomenal.”

The chief was being generous in his comments, however. Only three of the five moped companies have agreed to use the stickers: Aldo’s Mopeds, The Moped Man, and Ocean State Bikes. Island Moped and Miles-Un-Ltd chose not to use the stickers after initially agreeing to them, according to Moynihan.
John Leone, Jr. of the Moped Man told The Times he actually appreciates the numbering system, as it keeps things more orderly and aids in their internal record keeping. He also stated that the Moped Man was using its small parking lot for instruction before sending the moped driver on a test run down Weldon’s Way.
Sarah Bacon called in to ask the chief if the wrist band system instituted last summer was still in place. Under this plan, the moped dealers issue a wrist band to the moped renter identifying him or her to bars, restaurants, and the liquor store as a rental moped driver.

Town Manager Maryanne Crawford said that three moped shops are using the wrist bands voluntarily. It’s the same three that are participating in the sticker program: Aldo’s, Moped Man, and Ocean State Bikes.

When reached by The Times, Island Moped owner Mike Finnimore said he had no comment on the sticker program, but did say that he did not think any of the shops were using the wristbands. Finnimore said that cooperation was key to making any sort of changes to the town’s moped ordinances. He pointed to the work done over the winter by Crawford, Town Councilor Martha Ball and others, along with the moped owners, to come up with solutions that were reasonable and acceptable to all. The moped owners, at one point, had agreed to require closed toe shoes, require all riders to wear helmets,
and utilize the wrist band system.
But when the town council amended the ordinance, “they didn’t do any of those things,” Finnimore said. He discussed the reduction in hours, stating that historically very few accidents happened during the hours in question, 9 to 10 a.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. He said the decisions of the council should be data driven, something that could be accomplished by re-instituting the town’s Safety Committee, a measure Crawford also supported in her memorandum to the town council dated January 12.

Across the street, Leo Leone, Sr. of Aldo’s Mopeds says his business is operating on the up and up, despite what other moped owners do.
“My brother Johnny says we gotta play by the rules, so that’s what we’re gonna do,” he said. But eyeing the number of mopeds parked across the street at Island Moped, which are not numbered with Moynihan’s stickers, Leone looked frustrated.
“We’re doing what we’re supposed to over here,” he reiterated. “But what’s good for the goose....” he said, nodding toward Island Moped, before throwing up his hands and cheerfully calling out a greeting to a potential customer, signaling the interview was over.

Back at the meeting, Council Member Keith Stover praised the chief’s efforts, saying the public profile “makes a huge difference.” He also mentioned the importance of “establishing a baseline when people come off the ferry for what behavior is acceptable.”

Council Member Martha Ball said she was glad the moped operators were picking up mopeds caught in violations, adding she thought visibility was key. She said the chief’s efforts were “very much appreciated.”

Emmanuelle concurred, saying that “anybody who thinks there hasn’t been a significant improvement already is just living on a whole different island.” He went on to caution the other town councilors and the general public, when considering moped operators’ commitment to safety: “Don’t really drink the Kool-aid with them.”
As summer begins, the chief has a new tool in the works for the public to use to assist in reporting dangerous or erratic moped behavior. The text-a-tip program, which Moynihan is hoping to implement by July, is an app for mobile devices that allows for easy reporting of non-emergency issues to the police. It can be used anonymously and also provides the public safety department with a means of communicating messages back to the public. The goal is to provide an easy and convenient way for people to “see something, say something.”
Finnimore says he has now agreed to comply with Chief’s sticker request.