dandyARCHIVE: Point/Counterpoint e-bikes
~ This article first appeared in issue 3 (summer 2009) ~
e-bikes are causing a buzz. But do they belong in bike lanes? dandyhorse does not endorse the use of “scooter-style” e-bikes (those heavier models with the rarely-used pedals tacked on the side) on designated and off-road bike paths. Although we are happy to see more smaller less-polluting vehicles downtown, we’re still waiting for the province to clearly define what an e-bike is. In the meantime, the pedestrian committee put forward a motion to the Public Works and Infrastructure committee asking that a bylaw be amended so that anything electrically powered or motorized can’t travel on the sidewalks, which dandyhorse supports.
Read our point/counterpoint below.
By Neluka Leanage
There are a lot of opinions these days about whether e-bikes belong in bike lanes or not. First, let’s be clear about what we mean by “e-bike.”
In Bill 126, the Ontario government amended the definition of “bicycle” to include a tricycle, a unicycle and a power-assisted bicycle. A powerassisted bicycle “must still be capable of being propelled solely by muscular power.” The definition of “motor vehicle” has also been changed to refer to an automobile, a motorcycle, a motor-assisted bicycle and any other vehicle “propelled or driven otherwise than by muscular power.”
With these differences in mind, I advocate that only bicycles (including power-assisted bicycles) be permitted to use bike lanes. Motor-assisted bicycles like e-scooters and other limited-speed electric- or gas-powered vehicles should be prevented from using bike lanes. I also promote a reduction of speeds on our roads so that all vulnerable users have less exposure to risk and can safely make healthy transportation choices.
From a public policy perspective, active transportation delivers individual and collective health, environmental, economic and social benefits. It quadruples the return on your investment. Pedalling is critical to the investment equation: no pedalling = no health returns, no cost savings and fewer environmental gains. Bike lanes are needed to yield these returns. Research confirms that perceptions of danger are a major factor preventing adults and children from cycling. It feels safer to be in a bike lane with other cyclists compared to travelling amongst motor vehicles operating at higher speeds. And this is not just perception.
According to a World Health Organization report, if struck by a vehicle at 30 km/h a cyclist or pedestrian is 90% likely to live. At 45 km/h or above they have less than 50% chance of survival. This is why cycling-friendly jurisdictions are trying to increase the number of cyclists through safety improvements. Reducing vehicular speeds is one of the most effective means of reducing fatalities and fears.
Bike lanes are more than physical infrastructure — they represent and reflect the direction of public policy. All levels of government in Canada, like most other developed nations, are incrementally shifting our economies, land-use transportation structure and culture to be more sustainable. Bicycle facilities such as lanes and priority signals are interventions that seek to rebalance historical policy and regulatory approaches that favour the car.
Indeed, bike lanes give space and comfort (well, sometimes) and are vital incentives for existing and future cyclists. It is counterproductive to the objective of promoting active modes of travel if motorized vehicles like e-bikes are given the same incentives.
It could only be seen as a positive move if more people got out of their higher-polluting socially-isolating cars and became transit or bike riders. But motorized vehicles should remain on road space dedicated for motorized use.
By Roger Cullman
During a leisurely ride through the ravine area by Edwards Gardens, I approach a group of children playing near the path. “Nice Vespa!” one of the boys shouts as I pass. Indeed, it must look like a Vespa, but it’s silent, it’s permitted on bike paths and can’t go nearly as fast. Later, I come upon a couple of cyclists and one of them calls out, “Pedal power!” I think of yelling back, “Electricity!” But I opt instead to keep quiet. I’m an avid cyclist and still enjoy riding my bicycle, but recently acquired a scooter-style e-bike which I ride on longer commutes, or when I don’t wish to arrive at a destination sweaty, or when I’ve got heavy photo equipment with me.
Some choose e-bikes because they may have mobility issues that preclude them from riding a bicycle, while others want to reduce their reliance on automobiles. The way I figure, one less car on the road is a good thing.
In most European Union countries e-bikes are classified as bicycles. Other provinces in Canada have recognized that e-bikes are not bicycles, but are similar enough in all the important respects: speed, handling,
affordability and safety.
British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Quebec have all included e-bikes in their classifications of "bicycle.” Meanwhile, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation is reviewing its three-year pilot project — which expires October 3 — and considering how to regulate the use of e-bikes here.
E-bikes are a bridge between the traditional bicycle and hybrid gas/electric vehicles: they are affordable and don’t require registration, licensing or insurance like gas-powered mopeds, scooters or motorcycles.
Charging a 500-watt e-bike for a few hours costs about seven cents of electricity — less than a single use of the average hairdryer. The greatest cost of maintaining an e-bike is replacing the battery, which is about $300, roughly once every two years. E-bikes have a top speed of just 32 km/h on a flat road. It makes sense to ride an e-bike in bicycle lanes and on park paths since the two types of bike travel about the same pace. And while some e-bikes are much heavier than bicycles, they are of similar dimensions and an e-bike is actually narrower than most trailers for children. Most e-bikes also come equipped with flashing indicator lights, making them more visible to other vehicles. I find that, when riding my e-bike, I get more respect from motorists. The e-bike’s wider tires are also much safer when negotiating streetcar tracks, though I still feel vulnerable when taking the full lane.
I don’t understand the animosity that other cyclists have toward e-bike riders. E-bikes represent another non-polluting two-wheel means of transportation. They reduce the number of larger vehicles on our roads and decrease traffic congestion in urban areas.
~ This article first appeared in issue 3 (summer 2009). ~
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