Savannah’s elected leaders should put the brakes on city staff’s plans to ban alcohol on the Slow Ride

Let me begin by saying that I’d be writing about all this in my column, but I just read today that Savannah city staff is proposing to ban alcohol on the Savannah Slow Ride. So I wanted to put a few thoughts out there in advance of Thursday’s City Council meeting.

Click here to read Lesley Conn’s coverage in the Savannah Morning News.

It’s clear from that piece that at least a couple of members of City Council aren’t sure how the Slow Ride works and are curious to be among the passengers before taking action:

“If they’re the horsepower, that’s one thing,” said Mayor Pro Tem Van Johnson. “If they have any control of steering and braking, that’s another. I think council needs to go for a ride. We have to understand what we’re regulating.”

Alderman Tony Thomas was willing to second that idea.

If you don’t know how the Slow Ride works, click here. Up to 16 people pedal the quadricycle, which is driven by a licensed tour operator. Since Savannah has legal to-go cups in much of the Historic District, the pedalers — who have no control over steering, braking, or other operational decisions — are allowed to have open containers.

At least right now.

Savannah is not the only city with these fun tour vehicles, by the way. You can find them in Minneapolis, in Lawrence, KS, in St. Petersburg, in Chicago, in Houston. The contraption was invented in The Netherlands, apparently, as a “Fietscafe” — which translates to something like “bicycle cafe” but seems in most cases to reference bars. Here’s 10 seconds of the Pedal Tavern in Nashville:

Here’s the BierBike in Berlin:

I’ve passed the Slow Ride several times on my bicycle on downtown Savannah streets, and everyone on it seems to be having a super time.

Do some of those rolling parties get loud? I’ve never seen it, but I’m sure they do.

Is there ever any litter that falls behind them? Well I’m sure there could be.

But aren’t those issues that could be sensibly addressed by talking to the company about its operations — its noise policies, routes, and times?

Even if there’s a piece of trash that falls off from time to time, I’m sure it’s not as annoying as horse urine.

Savannah’s city government has a serious image problem right now. It is seen as overbearing, over-regulating, and outright unfriendly and unwelcoming to business. Much of the reputation came not from actions of the elected leadership, but from staff actions over a period of years — remember the crackdown on jaywalking in response to a case when a pedestrian with the legal right of way in a cross walk was killed by a driver?

Savannah city council should put a stop to this ordinance change aimed at a single business.

If there are legitimate concerns about noise or other issues, then there should obviously be an attempt to work those out directly with the company. If those legitimate concerns cannot be reasonably resolved, then some sort of ordinance change down the road could be examined in a thoughtful way.

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