Issue 07, Volume 85
July 25, 2012
Living outside of the law may be over for e-bikers
E-bikes are a phenomenon sweeping North America by storm, and causing controversy along the route, culminating in a proposed city-wide ban regarding their use on trails.
Heralded by many as an affordable, efficient and environmentally friendly way to travel throughout urban centres, e-bikes have gained popularity due to their low-price tag and the level of accessibility they provide.
Many, however, are annoyed by the use of e-bikes. Opponents claim that drivers don’t follow the rules of the road; often travel on sidewalks; that they’re dangerously silently and pose a serious threat to the safety of other drivers, cyclists
E-bikes have been at the forefront of the local media as of late due to a fatal accident between an e-bike and an SUV on July 8. Charges were laid Monday against motorist Michael Platsko, who failed to stop at a red light at Ottawa Street and Parent Avenue. Although the e-biker was wearing a helmet and appeared to be following the rules of the I road, he eventually succumbed to his Injuries.
Windsor isn’t the only city contending with the use of e-bikes. Cities around the world have been on their own to determine legislation for the relatively new method of transportation. The City of Beijing banned e-bikes outright in 2002. By 2006, they were reclassified as legal and back on the streets. New York banned e-bikes throughout the entire state in 2004, while Boulder, Col. banned bikes over 400W from bike lanes.
In Maryland, Alabama and Arkansas, a licence is required to operate an e-bike. In Maryland, there is no age limitation, but in Alabama you must be 14-years-old, and just 10-years-old in Arkansas. In Ontario, e-bike riders must be 16 years of age.
Kari Gignac, chair of the Windsor Bicycling Committee, admits that while e-bikes provide a “good alternative mode of transportation for those looking to save money and lessen their ecological footprint,” they are only safe if “the user is responsibly following the rules of the road and is smart about riding it.”
“E-bikes are definitely gaining in popularity, especially in Windsor where we have a higher unemployment rate,” explained Gignac, adding, “It’s unfortunate timing, because Windsor’s on-road routes for bikes is lacking, and that’s ultimately where e-bikes should be … on the road, in bike lanes.”
What bothers many residents is that many e-bike riders reportedly often fail to follow the rules of the road; they can be seen riding against traffic, on sidewalks, even ignoring traffic lights.
“I look at an e-bike and all I see is a slow Vespa … They can be a cool way to get around, and I love that they are silent,” said Clinton Hammond, a Windsor cyclist, adding, “Do they have a place on a sidewalk? Of course not. Legally, neither do bicycles for anyone older than 16.”
Windsor driver Layne Miller commented that she “really didn’t like driving behind e-bikes.
Kate D’Asti echoed the sentiment, saying she also found it to be a nuisance to drive behind e-bikes on municipal roads. “Who knows how they’ll act since they aren’t licensed?”
For D’Asti, a bigger issue is their use on sidewalks or multi-path trails as she claims at night they “ride side-by-side and dominate the path…not to mention the fact that their lights are either blindly too bright, or disabled so they can travel longer or faster.”
Gignac explained that while “there’s absolutely no reason for an e-bike to be on the sidewalk,” that multi-use paths in Windsor aren’t consistently wide enough to accommodate e-bikes.
“That being said, since Windsor’s on-road bike lanes aren’t sufficient to accommodate the number of e-bikes, I think it’ll be risky to ban them completely from the city’s multi-use trails.”
Gignac will address Windsor City Council to request that if a proposed ban regarding e-bikes on multiuse trails goes through, that it be a six- to 12-month trial
basis. During the trial, police and city administration would assess the ban’s effect on the safety of e-bike riders and other trail users.
One of the major problems with e-bikes is that they exist in a legal grey area; they
aren’t quite a motor assisted bicycle (moped), nor are they classified as a limited-speed motorcycle (motor scooter).
According to Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation, the safety differences between a scooter-style e-bike and a limited-speed motorcycle is the fact that a scooter style e-bike doesn’t have to meet any federal safety standards and can reach a maximum speed of 32 km/h. Limited-speed motorcycles must meet several federal safety standards and can attain a maximum speed of 70 km/h; the maximum for a moped is 50 km/h.
Unlike LSM and moped riders, operators of scooter style e-bikes don’t require licensing, Insurance and registration. It is this fact which causes many residents concern.
Under the Highway Traffic Act, an e-bike is not classified as a motor vehicle,
thus removing the ability to impose penalties for impaired driving.
Brian Tucker, the owner of Scoot-A-Long, a Windsor e-bike dealership, said e-bikes are supposed to mirror a bicyclist.” He said the bikes have a weight restriction of about 250lbs, must have pedals on them, and drives must be over the age of 16 and wear a helmet. “
The low price point, at roughly $1 ,000 — $3,000, is what attracts people to e-bikes, said Tucker.
“Economically, they are very inexpensive, you don’t have the cost involved with a car— gas, oil changes, etcetera— they’re much cheaper to repair, they’re fun to ride it’s a nice community of people who ride e-bikes and it’s not going to cost you an arm and a leg.”
Sales have been going well for Tucker. He revealed that they are on par with
last year’s sales, and that he is “expecting to have a pretty good year this year.”
Tucker doesn’t understand the logic of banning e-bikes from trails, as the city actively promotes itself as a bike friendly city. “There is a path along the riverfront, from the bridge to Ouellette, which is clearly marked for bicycles, but everyone walks, or use strollers, and they complain about e-bikes being there. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
Tucker concedes that in many cases e-bikes should not be on sidewalks. Though he countered that “in many places in the city, [there is a] need to be on the sidewalks, for our safety.”
As a whole, there is little to no consensus regarding the issue amongst Windsorites. While some claim they are revolutionary devices geared towards transporting people at a relatively cheap price quickly, others want them banned outright from the entire city.
For the time being, e-bikes are a hot button issue, and pending city council, they might be banned from multi-use trails.
Jon Liedtke was the Features and Opinions Editor, Advertising Manager and Deficit Consultant at the UWindsor Lance.