January 18, 2022

The Debate over E-Bikes: Where do they belong?

From Wired:

… ebikes are having a moment. Market research company NPD says ebike sales grew 240 percent in the 12 months ended July 2021, surpassing sales of traditional road bikes. …  Experts attribute the surge to the pandemic, which left locked-down Americans hungering for new and Covid-safe ways to get out of the house and exercise. Ebike models geared toward families and new riders have seen special success, though there’s also a burgeoning community of e-mountain bikers.

… all-electric sparked debate about what sorts of vehicles should be able to travel where. … “Motorized vehicles” have long been banned from the greenways—though ebike riders say enforcement has been scant. …  ebikes’ new popularity … has pitted conventional cyclists against commuters against dog walkers against recreational exercisers for space on the limited smooth pathways where cars are banned. “ …

The debate has divided traditional allies in the fight for car-free spaces. The nonprofit Greenways for Nashville has urged caution and argued that greenways aren’t solely for cycling. “It’s like you’re mushing a sidewalk and a bike lane together,” Amy Crownover, the group’s executive director, says of the plan to allow ebikes on the greenways. But Walk Bike Nashville, an advocacy group pushing for alternative modes of transportation, wants to let ebikes ride. …

A similar debate is playing out in New York, which legalized ebikes in 2020. The city’s Parks Department, however, says it can set its own rules and views ebikes as “motorized” vehicles that aren’t allowed on its popular paths and trails.  …

One hurdle for officials in Nashville, New York, and elsewhere: a paucity of data about ebike-related injuries. Among other things, there’s no agreed-upon way to denote such injuries in medical records, which hampers researchers. … The limited research available tends to conflict: Some shows that introducing ebikes in an area leads to more crashes, and some shows it doesn’t. Cherry says his research has found that “ebike riders don’t actually ride much faster than other cyclists—it just allows them to maintain speed.” …

What would help is more space—especially if Americans keep snapping up ebikes. “What we really need, in my opinion, is more recreational infrastructure and more commuting infrastructure so that this incredible boom of outdoor activity can be sustained,” says Ash Lovell, the electric bicycle policy and campaign director for PeopleForBikes.


Here’s another emerging issue, especially in Vancouver, the city that has led the way in providing a network of separated cycling routes.  (Flash: the Richards Street Bikeway is now open!)

Are these two-way bikeways able to handle the differentials in speed of e-mobility vehicles in all their (emerging) forms, especially as they become more popular and more powerful.  Without a centre passing lane, similar to the one on Beach, would e-bikes be less constrained and even safer on the roadway where they could travel at the same speeds as cars?  Let the debate begin!

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  1. A legally configured ebike in BC cannot keep up with car speeds except in short bursts – just like a regular cyclist (ebike assistance cuts off at 32km/h).

    Is the ebike legally configured? That’s something for enforcement. Much like a any cyclist going too fast for conditions, not using lights at night and not following traffic laws.

    1. The difference is that e-bikes are required by law to be sold with limiters, they’re not required to be sold with lights.

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