Where do E-Bikes Belong?

Over the last several months, I have seen scooter style e-bikes everywhere in down town Toronto; parked on side walks and travelling on roads, bike lanes, and the shoulders of roads.  I have become rather enamoured with them.  They are quiet, sleek and colourful.  I have seen them in pink, powder blue, red, grey, turquoise and white.  They are smaller than motorcycles; they appear to be light-weight and easy to maneuver; and they release no air pollutants along traffic corridors.

However, over the last few months, I have had five different cyclists tell me that they hate sharing bike lanes and road shoulders with e-bikes.  I have been told that: they are too bulky for cyclists to pass safely; they are too fast and quiet and can surprise cyclists from behind; and they can block the shoulder lanes for cyclists who are trying to get a jump on vehicles at traffic lights.  Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that separated bike lanes may not be wide enough to allow a cyclist to pass a scooter style e-bike.  So that raises the question: “Where do e-bikes belong?”

The Province permits e-bikes to be operated like bicycles without a licence or insurance as long as they are equipped with pedals.  The cyclists I spoke to had little concern about e-bikes that look like, and operate, mostly like bicycles.  These e-bikes are bicycles with batteries installed on them.  But these cyclists did have a concern about the scooter style e-bikes that look like, and operate, more like a motorized scooter than a bicycle.

According to Michael Vaughan of the Globe & Mail, these scooter style e-bikes can travel up to 32 km/hour and weigh up to 160 pounds.  While this speed may be perfect for roads in the inner core of large urban centres, it is too slow for most roads in southern Ontario.  From the few anecdotes that I have heard, it is not clear to me that all e-bikes belong on bike lanes, but given the health concerns associated with air pollution along traffic corridors, the greenhouse gases associated with most cars and trucks, and traffic congestion in many urban centres, it makes a lot of sense to encourage these scooter style e-bikes as an alternative to other motorized vehicles.  The question is: “How do we accomplish that?”

One comment

  1. Great question Kim, perhaps the 30 Km hour speed limit (as recently recommended by Toronto Public Health) would open up more options for the scooters to operate safely on the road. And on most urban roads isn’t an e-bike similar to an e-car (technology and speed)? The distinction between battery assisted bikes (which can be pedaled like a bicycle) and heavier e-bikes (with clumsy pedals stuck on (to, I presume get around licensing requirements) should be made – likely in the highway traffic act. I look forward to more discussions as this phenomenon develops.

Comments are closed.