To Combat e-Scooter ‘Threat,’ Should There Be Speed Limits in Bike Lanes?

DOT won't comment, but you'll soon be hearing more on this topic.

A Bird e-scooter. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
A Bird e-scooter. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Life in the bike lane is not supposed to be life in the fast lane.

But with pedal-assist electric bikes already legal in the city and a wave of electric scooters likely to be legalized by the end of the year, cycling advocates are discussing ways to ensure that pedalers aren’t overwhelmed by the battery-powered muscle bikes or what one advocate calls “moto-scooters.”

Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg is already looking ahead to the legalization of e-scooters, telling the New York Cycle Club earlier this week that her agency is already analyzing how e-scooters will operate in the city’s ever-growing bike infrastructure network.

Which could mean that e-scooters, some of which can hit 20 mph, will be flying past regular bicyclists, who putter along at 10-13 miles per hour.

That prompted lawyer Steve Vaccaro, whose practice often represents cyclists who have been injured, to demand that the maximum speed of an e-scooter should be 15 miles per hour.

Vaccaro presented his plan in an epic Twitter stream on Wednesday morning, but later told Streetsblog that the “moto-scooters” (he calls them that so that they won’t be confused with a kid’s toy) should be certified by local bike shops or a city inspection service as not being able to exceed 15 miles per hour, a speed limit that he says currently works in Los Angeles.

“If there’s an inspection, there wouldn’t be a need for enforcement of the speed limit,” Vaccaro said. “We have a motor vehicle infrastructure that’s capped at 65 mph, but drivers are often speeding, which creates an enforcement problem. But if the moto-scooters simply can’t go more than 15 miles per hour, we don’t have an enforcement problem.”

The issue arises as Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez and Rafael Espinal are drafting a bill to legalize e-scooters, which are too fast for sidewalks and too slow for the car lanes of roadways. Their presence in bike lanes could make them natural allies of cyclists — indeed, an exec with the scooter company Lime told me earlier this summer that scooters will help create a larger constituency for protected bike lanes — but conflicts are inevitable, Vaccaro said.

“Scooters and bikes can be allies [if] the circumstances and the experiences they have are similar,” Vaccaro said. “If a scooter operator [rides] like cyclists, and they properly negotiate the traffic environment, that makes them natural allies. But if they are generally faster than everyone else, they will view those people as a nuisance and less-worthy users. They’ll see them as people they just have to get around or not defer to, which, ironically, is the same complaint people have about bicycles. That’s why a maximum speed of 15 will work — it approximates the modal speed of the cyclist traffic.”

Beatrice Jackson once told Streetsblog that she'd be happy to ride an e-scooter...but only in a protected bike lane.  Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Beatrice Jackson once told Streetsblog that she’d be happy to ride an e-scooter…but only in a protected bike lane. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Makers of both Bird and Lime scooters said their devices don’t exceed 15 miles per hour, so a speed limit would not be a tough sell with an industry that’s lobbying like crazy to get into the New York market.

But many scooters do go faster than 15 mph, and Vaccaro anticipates frenzied competition on the mean streets.

“Moto-scooters are less stable while turning and braking than bikes, plus they require both hands on the steering device, precluding hand-signaling of turns,” Vaccaro had tweeted. “[At] 20 mph or even 17 mph…moto-people [will] feel like they are part of a different traffic flow than the pedal cyclists around them. When preparing to turn, they’ll assume no one’s coming up from behind at faster rate of speed.”

Plus, he said, the scooter rider’s speed “is exacerbated by their device’s inability to brake and turn smoothly, and to signal turns in advance. Given how cramped much of the bike infrastructure can be … there is ubiquitous potential for very serious turning and passing conflicts between cyclists and moto-scooter operators.”

I asked Trottenberg to discuss e-scooters with me, but her press office issued an anodyne statement instead:

The city is not outright opposed to motorized shared-mobility options. DOT is aware of the regulatory options and challenges around scooters, but for now, we need clarity from the state. Any changes must balance technical and transportation issues, and especially address the safety concerns we have about these scooters and their impacts on the city streets we work to improve each day through Vision Zero. This is an exciting and challenging time in urban transportation with many innovative technologies hitting our streets, but that also brings regulatory and safety concerns we must address.

Exciting…and challenging. Vaccaro says he still worries about “allowing moto-scooters (and ebikes) into our hard-won, world-class and generally safe and comfortable [bike] infrastructure.”

 

  • E-bikes can very quickly discourage people from riding bicycles. This has become a problem in The Netherlands and elsewhere. When you are riding along and get buzzed by someone on a e-bike going much faster than you it is quite uncomfortable and unsafe feeling.

    Another issue that has been observed is that the less effort people put in themselves the less considerate they become of others. I don’t think anyone has figured out why this is but it is a known issue.

    ALL PEOPLE on bikeways need to be at approximate parity going approx the same speeds – on flats, downhills and uphills. With the exception of people with disabilities there is zero need of more than 100w as that is still more than average bicycle riders put out. Tapering allows people to utilize motor assist when they need it but also says that if they want to go faster then they’ll need to put in more effort themselves.

    I’m a huge fan of e-bikes. If people want powerful e-bikes to ride on the roads with cars that is fine. But powerful e-bikes on bikeways and in bike lanes will do far more harm than good.

  • Elizabeth F

    E-bikes are only marginally heavier than manual bikes; who is riding and what they are carrying makes a much bigger difference. And the 20mph top speed of e-bikes is WELL BELOW whatever Freds were achieving on your big downhill. My e-bike really isn’t very fast downhill, I’m regularly passed by Freds. And why should I risk my life downhill anyway, with an average speed already around 15mph?

  • However, riding at 25 mph with 80% assist means you’re still getting a good workout.

    How many calories per hour will this burn vs riding with your own power at 13 MPH?

  • “An ebike with a throttle solves that problem.”

    A throttle is fine for riding on the roads with motor traffic. People with throttles become a menace on bikeways and in bike lanes.

    There are bikeways in Groningen NL that I and others will not use due to the menace of people with mopeds and more powerful e-bikes on them. In some cases this has caused people to drive their cars places rather than ride their bicycles. That’s not good.

  • Two studies have now shown e-bikes to provide only slightly more activity benefit than riding a car, less than riding a motorcycle and considerably less than walking or riding a regular bicycle.

    Here is a post on one: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2018/09/pushing-e-bikes-does-not-lead-to-health.html

    The reality is that very few people who ride e-bikes get any measurable activity from doing so. I’m a huge proponent of e-bikes but we are fooling ourselves if we believe that they will provide any health benefits unless we significantly limit the assist power provided.

  • Joe R.

    Actually, about the same, maybe even a little more. 100 watts on a heavy, upright bike gets you about 13 or 14 mph.

  • Joe R.

    The speed on bikeways depends on lots of factors—how many bikes there are, how much room there is for passing, what type of bikes are being ridden, the average fitness level of the people riding, and so forth. I’ve seen lots of videos of bikeways in the Netherlands. I have two main observations. One, the bike infrastructure there is really great, so one can see why even people with fast e-bikes would prefer it over sharing the road with cars. Two, at least during peak times there is way more bike traffic than I could personally tolerate. This is a good thing and a bad one. It’s good in that it means many people are getting around under their own power instead of using a car. It’s bad in that people can’t do whatever speed they’re comfortable at because there just isn’t the room for safe passing. The speed of the crowd will tend to push the slowest cyclists to go faster and slow down the faster ones.

    However, crowded bikeways in cities aren’t typical conditions. Most of the bikeways in the Netherlands are between towns and most have plenty of room to accommodate all cyclists. Indeed, I’ve read that velomobiles are starting to become popular also. At the average cycling power of 100 watts you can go as fast as 25 mph in the best velomobiles. At 200 watts you can approach 40 mph. So velomobiles present some of the same issues as e-bikes, and yet based on my observations it seems they have no trouble mixing with bike traffic. I’m assuming they slow to the pace of everyone else when the bikeways are crowded. When they’re not, then they go fast and have room to safely pass.

    The bottom line here is it seems the conditions under which you would need e-bikes to go as slow as you suggest are fairly limited. It’s not all that different from the discussion here. Yes, there are some not so great bikeways here in NYC where it’s unsafe to go more than about 15 mph at the most crowded times. However, 99% of the time a cyclist in the city isn’t operating under conditions like that. When those conditions exist, all users, including e-bike riders, need to just match the pace of the crowd instead of trying to pass just to save a few seconds.

    Another issue that has been observed is that the less effort people put in themselves the less considerate they become of others. I don’t think anyone has figured out why this is but it is a known issue.

    I could be wrong but I think acceleration rates, as opposed to top speeds, have a lot to do with this. I’ve noted that as cars have become more powerful motorists use that power for dangerous things like accelerating into any gap which exists just to save a second or two. E-bike users might be doing exactly the same thing, whereas regular bike riders won’t because lots of quick accelerations quickly tire you legs. So maybe the solution here isn’t to limit motor power or top speed, but rather acceleration rates. E-bikes just won’t have the ability to quickly accelerate into these small gaps, nor could they reach high speeds when they only have a limited amount of space to acceleration. So perhaps cap acceleration rates at what a normal cyclist might do. From my observations that would be something in the range of 1 mph/sec. Obviously regular cyclists can accelerate much faster than that (I can do 0 to 20 mph in about 5 seconds) but they can’t use those heavy accelerations often on account of the physical limits of the human body.

  • Joe R.

    Not only does excessive speed reduce reaction time, but it also creates a strong incentive to blow lights and stop signs.

    Huh? Yes, I go through red lights when it’s safe but one reason I go fast is precisely so I hit fewer red lights. I’d much prefer to ride legally whenever possible. I even choose routes which are either relatively free of traffic signals, or have light timing which more or less matches my riding speeds.

    Every cyclist hits 25 or even 30 on a downhill now and then.

    Try every day if your ride includes any kind of downhill, or you’re in any semblance of decent shape. Back in my prime I could briefly hit 35 mph on level roads. I didn’t do it that often because it really saps your energy but my normal cruising speed was around 25 mph. Most of the people I knew who rode bikes were not that much slower than I was. These were average recreational cyclists, not pros. I was once on 73rd Avenue and had a female cyclist matching my pace for over 4 miles. We approached 35 mph a couple of times. Most of the ride was well over 20 mph.

    But doing more than 15 as a regular speed is reckless.

    The whole world isn’t the Manhattan protected bike lanes at peak times when indeed going over about 15 mph might be reckless. When I take the lane, I have to keep up with car traffic or risk getting someone’s bumper up my ass. And in general, keeping speed differentials between myself and motor traffic is safer.

  • Not only does excessive speed reduce reaction time, but it also creates a strong incentive to blow lights and stop signs.

    Huh? Yes, I go through red lights when it’s safe but one reason I go fast is precisely so I hit fewer red lights.

    Someone who is bombing along at 20 or 25 miles per hour will be a lot less likely to want to break his/her flow for a red light than will someone who is going 15 miles per hour or less.

    Every cyclist hits 25 or even 30 on a downhill now and then.

    Try every day if your ride includes any kind of downhill, or you’re in any semblance of decent shape. Back in my prime I could briefly hit 35 mph on level roads.

    I approach 25 miles per hour on most of my descents on the bridges (mainly the Williamsburg) when conditions allow, meaning when there are not many other cyclists around. I have exceeded 30 miles per hour only a handful of times. Once was on upper Broadway; once was on Kingsbridge Road in the Bronx; and once, the most recent time, was on Palisade Avenue in Englewood. This is, generally speaking, too fast for a bicycle; and only the last of these was safe because I was on a street that had no parking, so there was almost no risk of anyone suddenly appearing in front of me. (Your tales of speeds far in excess of this I regard with extreme skepticism. That’s the politest way I can put it.)

    But doing more than 15 as a regular speed is reckless.

    The whole world isn’t the Manhattan protected bike lanes at peak times when indeed going over about 15 mph might be reckless. When I take the lane, I have to keep up with car traffic or risk getting someone’s bumper up my ass.

    Even though Manhattan is by far my favourite place to ride, I live on the Brooklyn/Queens border, and so wind up doing the majority of my riding in those boroughs.

    I can get close to 20 miles per hour on a level road. And of course when taking the lane, that’s the time to do this. (Note that you can frequently take the lane on Manhattan cross-streets at about 15 miles per hour; but you usually need to go faster in Queens and Brooklyn.) However, the need to take the lane is going to come up only occasionally, as it is a strategy, not an ideology. For sensible cyclists (as opposed to these VC goofballs of whom we need a lot fewer in the world), taking the lane is employed provisionally when conditions are right; it should not be anyone’s default riding style.

  • Joe R.

    Someone who is bombing along at 20 or 25 miles per hour will be a lot less likely to want to break his/her flow for a red light than will be someone who is going 15 miles per hour or less.

    So you’re basically saying they’ll go through the red light without bothering to slow down? That’s suicidal in NYC. I almost never see people riding like that. Even if I’m going 25+ mph, I’m coming to a near stop if there’s a red light ahead unless the visibility is so great that I can see approaching traffic from a block away. In NYC that’s almost never. Intersections have limited visibility. This dictates that I go no faster than 10 to 12 mph when passing red lights, often a lot slower, regardless of how fast I was going before.

    (Your tales of speeds far in excess of this I regard with extreme skepticism. That’s the politest way I can put it.)

    Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten much over 35 mph since I’ve had a GPS to record my speeds, but I wish I had one back in my younger years. Sure, I rarely broke 40 mph, even on long descents, but a number of times conditions were perfect and I could break 50 mph or more. I only broke 60 mph twice, possibly 3 times. There was the 65 mph in a descent in NJ (country road, speed limit 50 mph, so it was safe). Then there was 61 mph descending the Queensboro Bridge with a strong tailwind (again safe as I was in the car lanes, keeping pace with motor traffic). The third time may have been when I accidentally got on a highway. I had a large van in front of me to pace. I saw 58 mph on the speedometer the one time I was able to quickly glance down. It felt as if I may have picked up a little speed after that but I was preoccupied keeping myself alive to glance at the speedo again. I was so happy when the next exit came. I’m sure you can relate to that given that you had your own experience accidentally being on a highway. You’re glad to just come out of it in one piece.

  • Joe R.

    Regarding my speeds, at least I can show you this:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/39c13e406e738dc83efd3de774ca89de72d6a047107a19f06abe7488d49418aa.gif

    I touched 35 mph, did quite a few miles in excess of 20 mph, and averaged 15.3 mph overall for the entire ride. As you can see, lots of times my speed dropped to a few mph when I slowed for red lights. I generally avoid stopping altogether. My preference if I can’t pass a red light is to slow to a few mph before the intersection, then just creep up slowly so the light goes green when I hit the intersection.

  • Someone who is bombing along at 20 or 25 miles per hour will be a lot less likely to want to break his/her flow for a red light than will be someone who is going 15 miles per hour or less.

    So you’re basically saying they’ll go through the red light without bothering to slow down? That’s suicidal in NYC. I almost never see people riding like that.

    Come to First Avenue or Second Avenue some time. You’ll see multiple examples of hotshots riding with excessive speed outside of the bike lane, and just zooming through red lights while relying on their ability to slalom away from cross-street traffic.

    It is an insane way to ride; but these idiots get a thrill from the challenge. I wouldn’t care one bit about how some arrogant goon chooses to risk his life, except of course that this type of riding reinforces every antisocial stereotype about cyclists and makes us all look bad.

  • Joe R.

    You’ll get no argument from me that this type of riding hurts our image. It should be dealt with very severely by the police. Cycling dragnets which bag mainly safe cyclists slow rolling red lights accomplish nothing. The NYPD has my full support (and I assume yours) to go after idiots like you describe instead.

  • Regulating speed on bikeways is expensive, difficult and largely ineffective. Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Germany have all tried at various times with poor success.

    It is not just a speed issue but an issue of people with a lot of power also tending to be less considerate of others. The more people are having to propel themselves the more considerate they are of others.

    100w is a lot of power and more than most average riders can produce for any length of time. And keep in mind that this is extra power on top of the riders own effort. You are more than doubling an average riders ability with 100w.

    BTW, I’m 60 and regularly haul heavy loads up hills in my bakfiets – with no motor. A 100w motor would be of immense help but more would not be in any way necessary.

  • Getting people to use bicycles is good but not at all costs. We do not want our bikeways to have the same unnerving threats from inconsiderate and speeding e-bikes that we have today from cars on the road. In some ways inconsiderate speeding e-bikes are worse than cars because they pass much closer, usually within inches, and weave in and out of other riders.

    Higher power e-bikes on the roads with motor vehicles is fine but we do not need them on bikeways discouraging people from riding bicycles.

  • I average about 285w for 25 MPH (but can’t keep that speed on flat for very long anymore). 20% of that would be 57w. Pretty close. Less than propelling myself on my opafiets but still something.

    Two thoughts:

    – Reality is that the vast majority of people riding e-bikes are burning much less than 57w. I believe one study indicated around 9w average. If we want to see any health benefits from people riding bicycles then today’s e-bikes will not do it. Even limited to 100w and tapered an e-bike will still leave many riders producing little effort than laying on a couch. Americans are likely to rely on the motor far more than Europeans who generally want the minimum assist needed.

    – We don’t want people riding 25 MPH on bikeways.

  • Reality is that bicycles are so small and take up so little room and are so maneuverable that congestion rarely happens – in the Netherlands or elsewhere. Photos of it are popular, and I’ve posted some, but are really just anecdotal of what occasionally happens. I often can’t ride through the heart of Amsterdam at the 13 MPH average I’ll go on less congested bikeways but whatever speed I’m going is quite fine.

    I don’t know that the popularity of velomobiles is increasing or decreasing. Many people don’t like them because they require more effort to get in/out of, are difficult to park, and are not very maneuverable in town. They are most popular for long distance city to city use and in my experience the people in them are extremely considerate of others.

    I don’t think the issue with high power e-bikes (and mopeds) is acceleration as the problems that many of us experience are frequently some distance from junctions. There are very few people who will ride a regular bicycle greater than 15 MPH and they are generally quite considerate. There are hoards of mopeds and increasing numbers of e-bikes going much greater than 15 MPH and they will frequently pass very close, cut people off, and generally just be a menace.

  • Please… let people manage their own health.

    That’s worked out well for us so far hasn’t it. We have the highest healthcare costs in the world by a considerable margin along with the highest levels of obesity, overweight, low activity, etc. etc. etc.

    If people pay for the costs themselves then that might be OK. But since we are all increasingly sharing more and more of our healthcare costs I’m not so sure. Should people who put forth effort to maintain a healthy lifestyle pay for all of the additional healthcare costs of those who live an unhealthy lifestyle and cost a lot more in healthcare?

  • it’s unrealistic to think that everyone is going switch to human powered modes for all or even most trips.

    Why? Good infrastructure has encouraged people to walk or ride bicycles for just about all trips below 2 miles in The Netherlands – before e-bikes existed. Denmark, Sweden and other countries aren’t far behind. Worldwide there is a very direct correlation between how well infrastructure is designed and how many people walk or ride bicycles (and a similar high correlation to how healthy the population is).

  • kevd

    no reason to generalize about people who ride motorcycles!
    Some have lots of hair and that’s OK, Joe.

    I don’t have a problem with “biker”. Cyclist feels very competitive or recreational. “Biking” feels like what I do when I bike to work. So, either or – both are fine by me.

  • Joe R.

    My one hour FTL approaches 200 watts when I’m riding 3,000 to 4,000 miles annually. Here was some data from my Schwinn recumbent exercise bike:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/dfb54f73a8985ba725ef99b259b9e39dada9e4d68ed97250658dfde2ecc60ff0.png

    I can manage more than this on the road due to better cooling from the air flow. As it was, I was just wearing underpants, had to have a fan blowing on me, yet still sweated far more while riding the exercise bike than on my regular bike. So with proper cooling, I’d say my FTL is ~200 watts. Not now of course because last few years I haven’t ridden much due to caring for my mother. I can do 300 watts long enough to get up most of the hills in my area.

    We don’t want people riding 25 MPH on bikeways.

    No, on urban bikeways you don’t but here people who want to go 25 mph can just mix with cars. In most European cities cars are limited to 20 to 25 mph.

    The problem exists once you get outside of cities. 25 mph is too slow to mix with car traffic. However, my observations suggest that the bikeways outside cities have room for safe passing, along with much lower levels of bike traffic. Mixing 25 mph vehicles with slower ones is safe but the faster traffic must exercise courtesy when passing. That means no buzzing people a few inches away.

    So maybe a good compromise rule is no fast e-bikes on urban bikeways but we allow them on bikeways outside of cities?

    And absolutely NO gas-powered vehicles of any kind should be allowed on bikeways, ever. The noise/pollution of these things certainly discourages people from cycling.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t have issues with it, either, other than pointing out that strictly speaking, it’s incorrect terminology. “Bicycle rider” works if you don’t like “cyclist”, while have fewer competitive or recreational connotations.

  • kevd

    You and Joe R. might be competing for the needlessly long-winded award!
    You should be think about becoming a lawyer or something….

    If I were being contemptuous I would have spelt it “feewings” or “widdle feewings” I just wanted to differentiate between opinions based on data and other verifiable evidence and opinions based on subjective perceptions and assumptions. “E-bikes and E-scooter will be dangerous” seems to be an opinion based on subjective perception and personal assumptions – not one based on data.

    The bike-lash and “community opposition” to bike lanes and bikers (that’s for Joe) tends to come from a subjective perceptions and it is a type of thinking and that’s i’d like to avoid when discussing sustainable transportation.
    We’re bikers, we like science and reason, not unreliable personal perception of risk.

  • Joe R.

    Regarding “long-winded”—I’m the one who would write 10-page reports in school when the teacher said to keep it “brief”. Left to my own devices 20 or 25 pages wasn’t uncommon. And that was single-spaced, typewritten pages. I like to cover all the nuances of a subject. I hope at least a handful of people here bother to read my entire posts.

  • I think as a trial it would be good to try letting some higher powered e-bikes on bikeways outside of built-up areas. The Netherlands has done something like this (snorfiets are allowed on some bikeways and not others) and it has worked somewhat OK. Not sure how it will work with the proliferation of e-bikes though.

    We’d need multiple classes of e-bikes with people being told that, for instance, Class D (100w assist tapered to 0% at 12 MPH) will likely always be allowed on all bikeways, Class C (250w assist tapered to 0% at 18 MPH) allowed on some rural bikeways but perhaps not forever, Class B & A (higher wattage, throttle, etc.) never allowed on bikeways.

  • kevd

    It is not incorrect, at least not according to Webster’s

  • Rex Rocket

    Can we set it up to check that drivers have valid licenses and insurance, and car inspections are up to date?

  • Joe R.

    And also whether or not they’re drunk or high.

  • AnoNYC

    Who has broken their necks and cracked their skulls? Is the prevalence of injury notable when compared to similar modes of transportation?

  • AnoNYC

    Two bikes of the same wattage may not reach the same speeds. If you are concerned about top speed, limiting it via software is the way to go. I would not limit wattage to 100w because more wattage is needed for heavier riders/cargo, and for those who live in areas with lots of hills.

    For example, a 100w bicycle would provide negligible assistance up a steep hill, the weight would not even be worth it. And if you want to get people out of cars, having them struggle up hills while general traffic is moving substantially faster is not the way.

  • AnoNYC

    I would have to disagree that ebikes are a comparable threat to automobiles. I ride bicycles here in NYC multiple times a week, and have never felt as though I would be seriously injured or killed in an ebike collision. Some riders do obnoxious things, but it’s not comparable to colliding with an object several times larger and heavier.

    But at this time, high power ebikes on bicycle infrastructure is not an issue. The overwhelming vast majority of eBikes today only travel at or around 20 MPH. Any faster than that and you are better off in general traffic because you are less likely to crash into a pedestrian or random junk sprawled along the bike path. That’s why I never pull into the bicycle lane on my motorcycle, I’m better off in the general traffic lanes.

  • AnoNYC

    Most people in those still countries drive though, they just happen to have higher bicycle utilization rates than the USA for various reasons (particularly in certain areas).

    Electric bicycles/scooters can increase bicycle usage for many of those trips currently conducted by automobile, in certain areas. We want to see increased utilization, perhaps most trips under 5 miles. The ebike is the disruptive technology that could increase road capacity for far more people, in many more locations.

  • AnoNYC

    Not everyone who uses a throttle as a control method for manipulating speed is a menace. You can equally be a menace on a pedal bicycle, or even on foot.

    In those cases, as you state, some people are perhaps traveling too fast for the bicycle infrastructure. It has nothing to do with the type of control.

    As I mentioned early, in that case you need to limit the max speed via software. This is already the case for many bicycles sold in the EU now. Limiting the wattage to 100w is not the proper response (because wattage does not equate speed, only the power/electricity being delivered, which includes things like torque for heavy loads), and nor is banning throttle control.

  • AnoNYC

    Unfortunately we can’t have it all. I consider mobility more important when it comes to electric bicycle regulation than personal fitness.

  • AnoNYC

    One of the biggest reasons for limited everyday active transportation (walking/bicycling) is our land use. A larger portion of the population lives in sprawled out/autocentric places than in Europe. Most people aren’t about to start bicycling in most of the United States, but more are considering ebicycles for trips where bicycling just does not seem feasible for them. If we can get just 5% of Americans bike commuting, even if the vast majority of new riders are on ebikes, well that would be a good thing.

  • Joe R.

    I could write volumes on the general lifestyle and healthcare in the US. To put it briefly, I don’t think we can force people to live a healthy lifestyle. We can help by integrating physical activity into people’s daily routines. Things like banning cars from large sections of cities certainly force people to use other modes whether they like it or not. It also increases the health of people in cities by reducing air pollution. However, some percentage of those former auto users will probably opt for e-bikes over walking or cycling. Their choice. At least that choice doesn’t negatively impact the health of those around them like driving a car would.

    While I feel we can’t force a healthy lifestyle on people, I strongly feel healthy people shouldn’t pay for the healthcare costs of unhealthy people. You can have variable insurances rates based on your medical exam. Those with good exams get very low rates as they represent a very low risk. The rates increase if issues are found which were caused by lifestyle. Smokers should get very high rates, as should very obese people. I don’t care if it’s discriminatory. A person is free to kill themselves by smoking or overeating, but not to have others pay for the illnesses they will eventually develop.

    At the extreme end we can even outright refuse expensive treatments when smokers get cancers, or morbidly obese people start having cardiovascular problems. They’re probably going to die soon anyway at that point, so why spend a lot of money prolonging the inevitable? In fact, rationing treatment for those for whom treatment adds only weeks or months of life, often a poor quality life, is something we’ll ultimately need to do anyway to contain costs. I’ve read in the US 5% of people account for 50% of health care costs:

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelbell/2013/01/10/why-5-of-patients-create-50-of-health-care-costs/#54f04efa28d7

    Granted, not all of these people got sick due to poor lifestyle choices. However, the fact is treatment for most of these people doesn’t give them any additional life worth living. This treatment uses health care dollars better spent on preventative care for everyone else.

  • The issue is not top speed at all. There are two issues:

    1) Appropriate or approximately equal speed. E.G., everyone traveling in approximately the same speed range. So this means EVERYONE going a bit slower up hill.

    2) People with higher power bicycles are often a menace. This is becoming a quite significant problem in The Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere. It is beginning to reduce the number of people bicycling, not help it. It is creating the same problem on bikeways as the roads were before.

    As to 100w being negligible. Froome averaged 414w climbing Mount Ventoux during the tour. 100w would be 25% of that so wouldn’t even be negligible for Froome. For an average person it would be very significant. 100w will propel me @ about 15 MPH on my upright bike on a flat path. 100w from the rider plus 100w from a motor is 200w which is a considerable amount of power for climbing a hill.

  • What kind of bicycle are you riding in NYC and what speed do you average? What is your top speed when unimpeded?

  • The differences are really not so great. 28% of trips in the US are less than 1 mile, 40% are less than 2 miles and 50% are less than 3 miles. In The Netherlands about 70% of trips of about 2 miles or less are by walking or bicycle, 26% by public transit or a combination of transit + bicycle and only about 3% by car.

    Even longer commutes are by bicycle. Half of 7 mile trips (ea way) are by bicycle. 30 mile ea way bicycle trips are not uncommon.

    Our (U.S.) primary problem is infrastructure. Huge numbers of people ride bicycles in The Netherlands because they have safe, comfortable and efficient bikeways. Over 60% of children ride bicycles to school. In our local school districts over 60% of children live within 3 miles (by road) of their school building but only less than 1% ever ride bicycles. The exceptions are all schools with nearby protected bikeways and one of these has about 15% of children riding to school and not a single one of these is an e-bike.

  • What we can do though is make living a healthy lifestyle much easier for those who want to do so and encourage others to do so.

    There is a direct correlation between provision for safe active transportation and how many people do so. #1 obviously The Netherlands, #2 Denmark, etc. There is a similar correlation to the health of a population – higher levels of active transportation = better health.

    Even many people who want to live a healthy active-transportation lifestyle cannot do so because our road system is too dangerous. People do not want to ride on our roads and they do not want their children to ride on our roads. Our road designs make living a healthy lifestyle much more difficult than it is in Europe.

    It’s difficult to blame people for not getting enough daily activity when we make it so difficult to do so.

  • At least that choice doesn’t negatively impact the health of those around them like driving a car would.

    Perhaps. But if lots of people with higher power e-bikes make what few safe bikeways we have begin to feel dangerous then the only people using them will be e-bike folks who are gaining little to no health benefit from them.

    What good will it do if instead of a high speed motor network + moderate speed bicycle network + walking network we instead end up with a high speed motor network + a semi high speed motor network + a walking network?

    E-bikes are becoming a problem in The Netherlands. If Americans are more likely to ride them than Dutch are then how do we prevent them from becoming a menace in the U.S.?

  • Joe R.

    Equalizing speeds generally happens anyway when bike paths start to get very crowded, regardless of the capabilities of individual cyclists. Where there are no crowds, if the path is well-designed there’s room for safe passing. Hence speed differentials don’t present a problem. From your description of the problems the e-bikes are creating in the Netherlands it sounds more like a behavior problem than a speed problem. We have something similar here with delivery people on e-bikes. The bikes themselves aren’t the issue. It’s the way they ride them. They do things like ride on sidewalks or against traffic at full speed. Non-delivery people on e-bikes so far don’t seem any worse than regular cyclists.

    Maybe we should have a mandatory “Don’t Be An Asshole” video which everyone buying an e-bike is required to watch.

  • Joe R.

    I see several facets to this problem:

    1) E-bikes may force regular cyclists off bike paths if present in large numbers.

    2) E-bike riders don’t get the same health benefits as regular bike riders.

    3) Trips formerly done on regular bikes might end up being replaced by e-bike trips.

    #1 is by far the biggest problem. I’ve long been a big fan of e-bikes, but not if their use will come at the expense of forcing cyclists off bike infrastructure. Here the best solution is to only allow slower classes of e-bikes to share urban bike paths. In the suburbs or rural areas you can allow all classes on the bike path. At the same time you should prohibit use of anything gas-powered on bike paths, regardless of speed. Small gas-powered vehicles are dinosaurs anyway. It’s time they gave way to electrics.

    #2 can be addressed to some extent by regulation. Doing so might even partially help #1. Here I think we should do the exact opposite of your suggestions regarding taper. Below 10 mph there should be no assist whatsover. 10 mph is very easy for anyone on a bike to maintain. On crowded bike paths e-bike users will be the same as regular bike users. Above 10 mph the assist starts kicking in. Maybe you have 20% assist by the time you hit 15 mph. This means if you want to go a bit faster than regular cyclists, you’ll have to put in a good amount of effort.

    Above 15 mph the amount of assist increases. My thoughts here aren’t to use a percentage, but rather above 15 mph you require the rider to put out at least 100 watts regardless of speed. The motor does the rest. To encourage use of this class of e-bike, there will be no governed top speed, only the 750 watt limit on motor power which exists in the US for e-bikes. In practice this will probably mean a top speed in excess of 30 mph. That in turn means those wishing to go well above speeds in bike lanes will be able to keep up with cars in a general traffic lane instead. Right now the 20 mph top speed of most e-bikes is too slow for that.

    To encourage use of the type of e-bike described, e-bikes where you don’t have to put in any pedaling effort will be limited to the current 20 mph. Both classes won’t require a license, helmet, or insurance. It’s not a perfect solution, but people like to go fast. Those who want to go fast will be required to give some power. And they will have little or no assist in the normal speed range of regular bikes, equalizing things in crowded bike lanes.

    I’m not sure how to address #3. The sad fact is people are lazy. They choose the path of least resistance. One thing we can do with regulation is not allow children to ride e-bikes (except when riding on one as a passenger with an adult driving).

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  • SteveVaccaro

    Simon, I’ve been biking regularly in New York City since high school, I’m 53 years old, for years I’ve been biking 20 miles a day in NYC for commuting, 50-200 miles most weekends depending upon the season. I also make my living representing cyclists and pedestrians hurt in traffic. That doesn’t mean I’m an “expert” and everyone has to agree with me. I’m here in this space to hear your and other people’s opinions. But I do have a frame of reference, just like you.

  • SteveVaccaro

    I guess I tapped out your attention span! 🙂
    Apologies for the length of some of my comments (honestly).
    If you had used baby talk to comment I would not have responded.
    I am not going to hunt for data to show you that higher speed traffic means less time to react, a smaller cone of peripheral vision and less visual input than at slower speeds, and greater velocity, and therefore greater force of impact. We all know it’s true.

    Why don’t you address the safety effect of homogeneous grouping by speed? Do you think it is not true?

  • AnoNYC

    I used to have a 250w/36v bike and I weigh about 175 lbs without anything (so fully loaded I am probably hovering around 190 lbs). Was a slug up some of hills here in the Bronx and upper Manhattan. I had cars driving past me doing ~25-30+. I am an experienced bicyclists so I’m used to it. Most people would not deal with that, they won’t.

    If my bike had more low end power I would have been able to travel up the hill at a much more reasonable speed.

    100w, count me out. I’ll use my ICE motorcycle. And I’m sure most will keep driving.

  • AnoNYC

    I ride a gravel grinder. Not sure of my average speed while moving but I am usually the fastest rider on the path/street.

  • AnoNYC

    The Netherlands is not nearly as sprawling as the USA. The average population density per square mile in the USA is 86. It’s 1,076 in the Netherlands, which is comparable to the most dense state in the USA, New Jersey.

    Around half of all trips in the Netherlands are made by car, 25% by bicycle, 20% walking, and 5% by public transport. More than 40 percent of people in the Netherlands live in the Randstad area, a megalopolis in the central-western part of the country mostly consisting of the four largest cities of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht. And remember, half of trips are still driven.

    It’s a very different situation because everything is substantially closer for a huge portion of the population. And although most Americans live in suburbs surrounding cities, most of these cities are de-facto suburbs with significant separation of uses and landscapes not conductive to bicycling and walking. And the suburbs where they live are worse. Roads without sidewalks, average automotive speeds well in excess of what is safe to be shared with bicyclists, lack of or low frequency public transportation, long distances.

    Infrastructure is a big issue, I do agree, but land use is an even bigger one. You won’t need a bicycle super highway if everything is located close by. It’s not in most of the USA. Things are far away for most, often too far to reasonably bicycle when automobiles are an option.

    eBicycles are disruptive because they may be appealing for a much wider audience than pedal bicycles. Limiting their capabilities so significantly only further handicaps them against the dominance of the automobile.

    We need to improve infrastructure, correct land use patterns when possible, stop the preferential subsidization/policy making of/for driving, and also embrace new mobility technologies.

  • Joe R.

    There’s already volumes of research on exactly that subject. The end result is the Solomon Curve:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solomon_curve

    The collision rate is at a minimum if you’re going about 2 to 3 mph above the average speed of all vehicles BUT it’s nearly the same in the range of about 2 mph under the average to 6 or 7 mph over the average. If we take 12 mph as an average cycling speed, then the collision rate is virtually the same for cyclists riding between about 10 mph up to about 18 or 19 mph. The latter also happens to be around the top speed of e-bikes. Things start getting appreciably more dangerous if you’re 15 mph above the average speed or 10 mph under it. The latter number is inapplicable to bike lanes, at least as far as bikes are concerned. 10 mph under the average cycling speed is close to zero. However, that is pedestrian speed. The Solomon curve nicely illustrates why pedestrians in bike lanes are dangerous (not that anyone here would really disagree).

    E-thingys may tend to bump up the average speed in bike lanes, so let’s look at things again assuming widespread use of such vehicles increases the average speed in bike lanes to about 15 mph. OK, according to the Solomon curve, faster cyclists are now even safer. You’re as safe at 22 mph now as you were at 19 mph before. Very slow 10 mph cyclists might be in slightly increased danger relative to before, but at 5 mph slower than average traffic they still lie on the flattest portion of the Solomon Curve. Of course, now pedestrians in bike lanes are even more dangerous than before but pedestrian intrusion is a problem even now.

    When I look at all this, I’m tempted to say if we can’t widen the bike lanes, which is really the best answer, then fencing them off from the sidewalk, except at intersections, will be even more imperative if e-bikes/e-scooters see wide adoption. The real danger isn’t from the speed disparity between people on wheels, it’s from people on foot intruding into bike lanes in between intersections.

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