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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ebikes, sidewalks and cyclists...

Community Soapbox: Ebikes

         ebikes


   With the cool, wet weather returning, I’m noting the absence of a certain nifty little machine, out in the rainy traffic in front of my house today.  The first time I saw one, it was hurtling toward me, going the wrong way up a one-way street. The second time, it was wobbling along in the bike lane, looking like it would fall over at any moment, possibly struggling under the weight of its driver’s 2-4.  I’ve seen them on sidewalks, and on busy streets, their helmet-less drivers trying to keep up with traffic, at times in the middle of the lane.   I have even seen them carry passengers.   I speak of course of this summer’s hottest green item, the ebike.
What’s an Ebike?  An ebike is an electric bike, or as known to MTO, a power-assisted bicycle.  What this means exactly is defined in the Highway Traffic Act.  They can look like bikes, or like small scooters; however they must be equipped with pedals.

   Also appearing in greater numbers on the road are limited-speed motorcycles.  While they can look a lot like scooter-style ebikes, they are motorcycles. They cannot have an engine greater than 50cc, but they require a plate and a motorcycle license.

   Ebikes are legally defined as bikes rather than motorcycles under the Highway Traffic Act.  As such are subject to the same rules as bikes, except that they cannot be operated by someone under the age of 16:  you need to wear a helmet and have proper lighting, just like a bike; and like a bike, you cannot ride on the sidewalk and must observe the rules of the road. However you do not require a permit, insurance or even a written test to ride one.  You can be charged for failing to follow the rules as spelled out under the Highway Traffic Act; driving one while impaired will earn you a Criminal Code charge.  I was shocked by the hefty fines for particular offenses; riding in the crosswalk, $110; failure to wear a helmet, $85; careless driving, $325.  You can even be fined for not having a bell or horn.  And did you know that a cyclist or ebiker MUST yield the right of way to pedestrians, and MUST pull to the right to allow overtaking traffic to pass?
Is there a problem?  I don’t think I’m telling you anything you don’t already know when I say that, here in Kingston, we have a lot of cyclists who just do not know the rules. Or perhaps they do know, but find the condition of our streets so deplorable they choose to ride on the sidewalk for reasons of self-preservation.  I can’t pretend to know their motivations.  Now we have a fleet of ebikers, who may or may not have driving experience or permits, who may or may not in fact even be eligible for a driving permit, on machines that can weigh up to 120kg, who can reach a top speed of 32km/h.  In the spirit of full disclosure I will admit that, yes, I am someone’s mother.  The current situation scares me.

   It is very obvious to me that there is a whack of people out there riding these things who do not have a clue.  That said, I really don’t want to discourage people from riding ebikes.  They are clean and easy to park, two things we need badly here where per capita personal vehicle emissions are the highest of any Canadian city.  From a safety perspective, though, something that weighs 120kg and can travel at speeds of 30km/h is nothing like a human powered bike.  I would at least like to see those planning to purchase one pass a written test demonstrating that they understand the rules of the road; the Ministry could then issue a permit to purchase.  And I would like to see some mechanism put in place to prevent drivers who have lost their licenses for DWI from driving these vehicles; let’s not kid ourselves – they’re out there.  Your thoughts?
Deanna MacDonald



I have a problem when my tax dollars go towards treating injuries that could have been prevented. Not wearing a seat belt, stunt driving, jumping into the lion pit at the zoo etc... would all fall into that category. I too have noticed the e-bikes, usually as they're whizzing by and pushing me off of the sidewalk. There are a few folks in my neighbourhood who have them, and needless to say, they aren't the most respectful when it comes to giving way to pedestrians. They are fearless, and as you've pointed out, these bikes can do some pretty decent speeds, but fret not as the sturdy 1990's styrofoam bike helmet has riders covered. I have yet to see an accident involving an e-biker, but then again I would rather not have to deal with that mental image after the fact. Should they have licenses? Absolutely.
There are different classes of sidewalks. You can't generalize.

Downtown sidewalks are crowded. Everyone "gets" that.

But suburban sidewalks, especially along busy roads, are mostly deserted. You can drive for miles and not encounter anyone at all.

I can list many people I know who have either died or been seriously injured while cycling on Ontario streets and roads. I bet anyone over 40, or over 20 for that matter, can list victims they know.

So knock-it-off with the condescending and over-generalized pedestrians-exclusively-own-sidewalks talk. A free-and-clear sidewalk is exactly that.

Also: I'm certainly not about to recommend to any parent that their kids or teenagers should ride their bikes on the road instead of a free-and-clear sidewalk. That would be dumb. Ain't gonna happen. Get used to it. There's no fine big enough to ever change that.
1 reply · active 5 days ago
It's not condescending, and last time I checked sidewalks were meant for pedestrians. All of my negative encounters with ebikes have been on downtown sidewalks, not in the burbs. Regardless of location, it would be one thing if there was a bit of give on the part of ebike operators, but my experience has been with folks who think they own the sidewalk. They're coming through one way or another and pedestrians must get over onto the lawn or road in order to give way. I "get" that some of our streets/shoulders are in not so great shape for cycling, and that some drivers out there make it dangerous for cyclists (and vice versa), but that doesn't justify reckless e-biking on the sidewalk.

As for your comment about caring parents, I would be equally as concerned for a child's safety if they were walking on a sidewalk and having to deal with an ebiker who thinks they're the King of Kensington. I don't think I implied it, so you must have misunderstood, but to clarify I've no beef with kids riding their bikes on the sidewalk so long as they are respectful. In the end, I'd probably not have any issues with e-bikes on sidewalks if they were smart about it.
polyorchnid's avatar
polyorchnid · 5 days ago
I don't know about licenses... but I do think that this town really needs to have some attention paid to traffic law enforcement, to pretty much everyone on vehicles; the amount of crazy things I see every day downtown by people in cars, on bikes, or on ebikes, just makes me shiver. I really want to see bicyclists riding on sidewalks getting fined; you're talking about an ebike being something that can kill, but a bicycle can do it just as easily. While they're at it, we need to start seeing some tickets handed out to people in cars who pull crazy stunts all the time too.

Had out a few of those big fines to people and word will get around and people will smarten up.

While I'm at it, I'm curious... when I was a kid, they taught us about the rules of the road and how it applied to bicycles in public school. Does this still happen? I only ask because judging from the behaviour I see on the streets, I can't see how it can be happening....
Cameron Schaefer's avatar
Cameron Schaefer · 5 days ago
I frequently ask cyclists to please walk their bicycles, e-bikes, etc. if they are using the sidewalk when pedestrians are present. The request is ignored 99.9% of the time. They know that the law governing traffic on sidewalks is not enforced in Kingston, and apparently they are in too much of a hurry to consider the needs of others.

I have seen two serious cycling accidents on the sidewalk that slopes down from Barriefield towards the causeway bridge. In both cases they were trying to coast around me (a pedestrian) down the hill. In accident #1, I accompanied the guy to hospital by taxi. In case #2, I was told to "Get off the f***ing sidewalk".

Question: What's the second word within the compound word "sidewalk"?

Another question: What exactly is the big hurry?
I am all for sustainable transport. If I had to go out on a limb, I'd say the rest of the gang is as well. The ebike concept is great, but we need to rethink the rules governing these vehicles. Since I was the first to offer my thoughts on the post, I inadvertently steered the conversation up onto the sidewalk. That said, I echo the other safety concerns mentioned above. It comes down to poorly crafted rules, and folks fail to use common sense.
Any vehicle that is not 100% human powered should be subject to a moderately-priced test and licensing system.
Licensing for cyclists as well?
Maybe.
On the one hand, I don't want to discourage anyone from cycling, nor do I want the nanny-state echoing in the comments above, but on the other hand, it would be useful for bikes to have licenses when they cause accidents, injuries, etc. and just keep going.
I've seen it, been hit, etc., and it further proves this: http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/15...
Responsible biking - how to achieve it without being onerous?
We should be doing anything we can to promote alternative transportation and adding licensing and/or testing to these types of products will do nothing but drive people away from them.

I considered getting an ebike until I realized that I could ride my normal bicycle at the same speed, it wouldn't cost me $1000 to buy plus the electricity to charge it, and it provided me with physical exercise to stay fit.

The problems the author stated about ebikes on sidewalks and downtown are the exact same we see with bicycles and skateboards. Unless the author proposes that we include mandatory training/testing/licensing on bicycles and skateboards there is no reason we should require it for ebikes. Any move to increase the work involved in owning one of these products will simply lead to people going elsewhere for transportation and as most people already have cars (or a driver's licesnse) they will likely just keep driving their own car as they already have the means.
Cameron Schaefer's avatar
Cameron Schaefer · 4 days ago
Mandatory training/testing/licensing sounds onerous and counter-productive, as others have noted.

A $50 fine for riding anything but a wheelchair on sidewalks would fix the illegal sidewalk traffic problem quickly.
I like the idea of e-bikes, but I agree that sidewalks are no place for them. I too share in people's sighting of unsafe e-bike use, but I also see a whole variety of unsafe cyclists as well.

This problem is multifaceted though. For starters, e-bikes and bicycles are a fantastic way to move people in a city provided that the city has planned for their usage. Currently I would say that it can be quite dangerous riding on Kingston's streets lawfully (ie: on the road).

Secondly, there is a problem with a lack of education and enforcement of the Highway Traffic Act as it pertains to cyclists and the interaction of cyclists and vehicles. I see cyclists ride up to intersections then go through red lights, or see them suddenly become "pedestrians" and ride their bike through a crosswalk. I'm always concerned about what "hat" a cyclist may be wearing when I approach them in my car or on my bike: are they wearing the bicycle hat or a pedestrian hat now? and when is it going to suddenly switch? am I responsible if I hit a unpredictable cyclist? Also, vehicle drivers seem to be ignorant as to their responsibilities to share the road and understand cyclist signals.

The solution is for the city to plan street improvements to encourage safe bike (e-bike or otherwise) use and once that has been achieved to start an education and enforcement program. Sustainability aside, people's lives are at stake.

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