E-bike legislation moves forward

The Senate version of the e-bikes bill has emerged from the Transportation Committee. Please see this previous post for a full discussion of e-bikes and the original e-bike legislation. That previous post includes polling results and extensive comments on the e-bike issue.

The feelings and thoughts that constituents expressed in response to that previous post contributed to the following provisions in the revised senate bill. These provisions are designed to better protect pedestrian safety.

  • All e-bikes would be expressly prohibited from riding on sidewalks.
  • Only Class 1 and 2 e-bikes would be generally permitted on bike lanes and bike paths. Class 3 e-bikes (20 to 28 mph) would be prohibited from bike paths and lanes unless an agency or municipality decided otherwise.
  • Municipalities and agencies would be given express authority to set speed limits for e-bikes.
  • As in the original legislation, municipalities and agencies with authority over bike facilities can define access rules for e-bikes that differ from the statewide rule.

I am grateful to Senator DiDomenico for proposing this legislation and Senator Crighton for moving it forward from the Transportation Committee.

I hope that the Senate will take the bill up soon.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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37 Comments

  1. I would prefer if ebikes in some form were permitted on sidewalks. Much of our state lacks safe cycling infrastructure that is inclusive of all ages and all abilities. I am imagining some scenario where a prohibition like this just gets used by cops to harass vulnerable populations working delivery jobs as our state continues to drag it’s feet in providing appropriate bike infrastructure.

  2. Accident waiting to happen- i predict a major incident inside of a month once they start getting used more often.

    1. “All e-bikes would be expressly prohibited from riding on sidewalks.” What are the penalties and/or fines when e-bikes are ridden on sidewalks?(as for sure they will be). Who will enforce and monitor e-bikes where they ride? How will pedestrians walking on sidewalks be protected from e-bikes?(for sure there will be accidents between pedestrians and e-bikes).

      1. As a cyclist, I can assure you that even cyclists riding unpowered bikes do not want to be on the sidewalk (it is often more hazardous than the road in terms of bumpy surfaces, trash cans and other obstacles, etc.). E-bike riders will most certainly choose to ride with cars on the road rather than on sidewalks as it would actually be safer for them and everyone else, drivers and pedestrians alike. I think your concern is definitely warranted – I as a pedestrian wouldn’t want to share space with e-bikes either. But as a cyclist I can tell you that it will not be an issue.

  3. These are excellent amendments to the original, particularly prohibiting Class 3 e-bikes from using bike paths.

  4. More importantly than banning class 3 from bike paths, it should include any e-bike with a throttle…

  5. I am in Manhattan at the moment where there are more than a few commercial eBikes careening around at speeds well in excess of 20 mph, some of them pulling huge trailers which appear to weigh hundreds of pounds. Are these unregulated behomeths anticipated (and banned) under the revised regulations? Does any sensible person imagine that an eBike pulling a trailer should be exempt from requirements for operator registration and liability insurance?

    On several occasions here I have encountered eBikes operating at moderate speed on sidewalks as well. In New York City, where foot police are far more common than they are back home in Massachusetts, any hint of enforcement of the (presumed) rules prohibiting such operation is non-existent. Why should anyone believe that the proposed rules will be followed in greater Boston if there isn’t dedicated enforcement?

    It is exceedingly common here in New York for eBikes to operate without regard to directional traffic flow (one way signs) or motorist instructions (stop signs and lights). Because they are almost impossible to hear, it is amazingly easy to step out in front of one. When a pedestrian is struck by an eBike going 20 to 30 miles an hour, it’s not hard to figure out who comes out ahead.

    eBikes properly used have the potential to improve our community. But I have a great deal of trouble imagining that the trade groups promoting the legislation intended to increase the use of eBikes are interested in much beyond selling more eBikes.

  6. A class 3 bike ridden at less than 20 mph should certainly be permitted. A speed limit of 20 mph should be maintained for all bikes on bike paths. It is possible to drive a class 3 bike responsibly, and to drive a class 1 or 2 bike responsibly. Many folks think that class 3 bikes have a throttle: they do NOT have a throttle. They just provide some electric motor assistance while pedaling, same as class 1 and 2 bikes. A speed limit of 20 mph would do more to enhance safety than to push class 3 bikes onto roadways with cars.

  7. Very sensible amendments. The discretion that municipalities and agencies will have is critical given the very different physical space realities between say downtown Boston, suburbs and rural locations. Nevertheless given the selfish behavior of some cyclists, drivers, e-scooter riders and others I fear that any sharing of paths between diverse mobility vehicles with different characteristics in terms of weight, size and maximum speed entails risk for the most vulnerable pedestrians. How can we achieve changes in attitudes away from “I have my rights so I do what I want regardless” to minimize these risks?

  8. I agree with Mr Roetter. Sensible amendments, these; all good. I think setting a universal speed limit of 20mph (which a municipality could further limit) would be a good policy as well.
    Of course, there are always a few “bad apples” to spoil things for others.

  9. I recall Sophocles (paraphrase): “Do not command what you cannot enforce”. How well will this be done? Probably as well as the no-texting while driving is. Worthless; bikers will do whatever they want as they fear no consequences. Look at them today.

  10. I am mortified that pedestrian and bike paths are being sold out to become roads for motorized vehicles.

    1. I begrudge even allowing Class I electric motorbikes on bike paths as they change the nature of the paths. Walkers and peddlers have a different mindset from people motoring on e-bikes.

      Is this the beginning of the end of walking and pedaling paths?

  11. ebikes are heavy and fast. They belong on the roads and bike lanes, perhaps on bikepaths on weekdays. Riders should be licensed and insured; the bikes registered so that people injured by them have recourse and can be compensated for any injuries.

  12. I’m confused. Will motorized bikes be allowed on shared (with pedestrian) paths? Or just bike paths (on the streets)? Don’t like that speed and access can change town by town. That will be confusing and add to noncompliance. And the whole thing will be unenforced. Boats are supposed to slow to 5 mph near non-motorized boats on the river, but I didn’t see anyone enforcing a speed limit when a party boat nearly caused my canoe to sink. Nor have I ever seen anyone enforcing anything on a bike path. At least most boaters do slow down, whereas most bicyclists don’t. Thanks for letting us know the changes anyway.

  13. I wish the focus would be on safe operation rather than type of bike – a class 3 bike is no more dangerous than any other bike if operated safely. I also don’t like seeing a prohibition on e-bikes specifically on sidewalks. If it’s legal for a manual bike, don’t discriminate against an e-bike. There are places in MA (think Fresh Pond parkway) where the roadway is narrow and dangerous for bicyclists but a lightly used sidewalk is available. That’s where I’d ride – it would be the safer choice for all concerned. Why make that sane choice illegal?

  14. Bikers should be expected to inform pedestrians they are going to pass. They can ring a bell or verbally announce their presence on approaching the pedestrian.

  15. I would prohibit all e-bikes from DCR paths and trails.
    for example, there is a facility in Watertown that provides day support for elderly, many of who use walkers. The facility is off california between the watertown dam and bridge street on the left side of the charles. the is a place with picnic tables where the elderly “hang out”. they can not move very fast. this is a prescription for disaster in my opinion.

  16. I can understand class 1&2 in bike lanes, But class 3 prohibited in bike lanes? Sometimes the bike lane is on the right side of as street as just painted markings, with nothing stopping a car from straying into it. I think we need to redefine “bike lane” as a barrier-ed dedicated lane with bollards preventing normal continuous travel by cars into them before we prohibit class 3 e bikes from using them. Glad we are keep int class 1,2 OK on bike paths and lanes.
    Though more restrictive I can live with that. (I would not personally use a class 3 on a bike path), but a class 1&2 I view as essential transportation and must be minimalist regulated.

  17. This is a mistake. Any motorized vehicle should require a license and not be allowed on bicycle paths. Who is going to do the enforcement, certainly not the BTD. They don’t even enforce the parking regulations

  18. As an Class 2 ebiker, who has ridden such bikes all over MA, other states and in the Alps, I think the updated language is appropriate and can prevent misuse and injury. Many of the formal bike paths, generally converted from rail tracks, easily accommodate walkers and riders as long as all pay attention to the path and each other stay on the right unless passing. The terrific bike lanes in Boston create a very safe separation. Hopefully e-bikers, will do as I try to do saying thanks to walkers/ other bikers when they pass them on the right

  19. I am glad that a bill is moving forward, bringing MA closer in line with many other states. A speed limit and just not being a jerk is more important than the class of the e-bike in regards to bike paths.

  20. Seriously, the e-“bikes,” will hit a critical mass and then -bam- no more pedestrians and good luck to the real bikes.

    1. And, well before it reaches a critical mass it will suck proportionately to the number of motorized bikes.

    2. Fred, I’ve looked at your replies here, and I’m not sure whether you understand how these e-bikes work. A class I e-bike doesn’t move unless the rider is pedaling, and even then all it does is provide an assist, up to a top speed of 20 mph (which is not all that fast for a cyclist). To an outside observer, it’d be hard to tell that someone is riding such an e-bike except if you happen to notice that he’s having a bit of an easier time going uphill. Class 2 isn’t going to go any faster, but the cyclist doesn’t need to pedal to keep it moving.

      1. Hi JonT,

        I’m on the fence about class I only as class-I as it can/will be a stalking horse for: II, III and custom. It’s a mistake for this legislation to allow class II. This legislation should expressly ban all ebikes other than class I. Maybe class-II is more of a stalking horse.

        We can all use a boost uphill. I’d always have to walk my bike up Spruce St. in Watertown. Will a class-1 have any amps left after that?

        Will a motorized bike make you fitter? Probably. A bit. Fit enough to avoid/evade pedestrians?

        The Senator provided evidence that this legislation will lead to increased injuries to pedestrians over a ban on e-bikes.

        https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/26/6/524

        I’d love to know the impetus for this legislation. What’s the, “Inside Baseball,” on this?

  21. Soldier’s Field Road diet?!?!

    Why????? Is that still happening?

    Isn’t that unused bike lane on Greenough galling enough? And the reduction to 25 mph? You need real chutzpah to drive that slow when the history and the physics of the road demands 35! How bad does that lane drop suck at BB&N?

    Driving a Tesla and other things are a bit like the medieval indulgences.

    We think we’re saving our souls and standing and saving the planet by not directly pumping gas into our cars, but the sin is not facing the larger problem of pathological consumerism.

    As righteous as we feel about bike lanes they may be the sharp edge of that form of ethnic cleansing known as gentrification.

    1. Road diet? Soldier’s Field Road is too wide??? That’s shaming. That’s fatist.

  22. I don’t see how there can be effective enforcement on bike paths and bike lanes if two classes of e-bikes are allowed but one class is not. Can a police officer tell the difference without close inspection? (not that you’d ever see a police officer on a bike path) I doubt that the typical walker could tell whether the thing whizzing by him was an allowed class or not. In places like the Minuteman Bikeway it can be intimidating enough for a pedestrian with ordinary bicycles flying by at high speed.

  23. E-bikes are here to stay and are gaining in popularity. They benefit society as an alternative to noise-polluting, air-polluting, more-carbon-intensive automobiles that inflict billions of dollars of costs on society annually due to death, injury, and destruction. People are only going to use bikes for transport if it is at least as convenient as an automobile. I suspect E-bikes will tilt the car vs. bike choice in a significant number of cases more towards the bike. I salute the effort to clarify their status under the law.

  24. So, I have a recollection, maybe I’m wrong, that in the (up to the) early ‘90s vehicular traffic would have a red light while pedestrians had a walk signal unlike how it is now where vehicles can legally turn through a crosswalk while pedestrians (and sidewalk bike lanes) have the right of way. Does anyone have historical info?

    At Forest Hills I saw one bike rider with the right of way not able to proceed across because she was being cautious and not aggressive and another nearly got hit because he forced the issue.

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