Electric bikes are here, the question is where should they be?
The Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition has worked on this issue for two legislative sessions, and in our conversations around the state, we also share concerns about real and perceived conflicts on our paths, trails and roads. However, before allowing jurisdictions to change design guides, regulate the use of e-bikes, and limit speeds in certain areas, we need to know what these devices are – and what they are not.
Those who have ridden know that e-bikes behave and maneuver in the same way as standard “analog” bicycles, not mopeds, for which the state’s definition of “motorized bicycle” was designed. Massachusetts lawmakers have worked for decades to codify the rights and responsibilities of cyclists on our public roads. It is high time to clearly align cyclists to these same standards.
Massachusetts Cycling Coalition
Concerns about sharing existing paths are real
My store, Ferris Wheels Bike Shop, has been selling and servicing electric bikes for years. We’ve helped many people like the ones featured in the front page article “Riding in a Legal Gray Zone” to stay on horseback and stay active. It is clear that e-bikes have a place in our transportation system and the laws need to change.
Concerns about high-speed e-bikes, electric scooters and skateboards getting mixed up on the paths are real, especially in urban areas where there are a large number of cyclists. New paths can be built wider to accommodate high volumes, motorized bikes and other devices, but existing paths such as the Southwest Corridor, Jamaicaway Road, Minuteman Bikeway and Paul Dudley White – commuter routes and busy recreation areas – are more difficult to expand. These paths are often overcrowded with cyclists, pedestrians, runners and scooters and adding e-bikes at 20 miles per hour could be problematic.
One obvious option – providing street space for high-speed devices – is being phased out by Boston and other municipalities as they narrow streets, eliminate shoulders, and create dedicated bus lanes that reduce 12 foot single lane streets.
If we are to encourage cycling of all kinds, we must keep our streets flexible and our paths wide and safe.
Easy to imagine the dangers of increased access
Allowing e-bikes to use cycle lanes, as some suggest, raises the question of whether they should be allowed to use “shared paths”. These trails are currently used by traditional cyclists, runners, walkers, families with strollers, and skaters. If the plan is to add an ever-increasing number of e-bikes to this mix, the dangers to others are easy to imagine; access should be restricted.
And why not treat electric bicycles like motor vehicles? At a minimum, consider installing reflectors, lights and sound devices at the point of sale. How about insurance for e-bikers?
Meanwhile, God forbid, is anyone considering cutting down car lanes to create space for e-bikes without encroaching and endangering traditional cyclists?
Franklyn P. Salimbene
The writer is a lecturer at Bentley University. His recent article on bicycle safety equipment was published in the Transportation Law Journal in 2019.