E-Bikes on Paths

The senate version of the e-bike bill has been modified to better protect pedestrians. Please see this update.

A measure to regulate the use of electric bicycles (“e-bikes”) is pending before the legislature. I support moving this legislation forward to give more people access to cycling, but the legislation may need some refinement. I have been seeking input and I am very grateful for the respondents to my recent poll (reported below) and those who have commented on this post (I have read all the comments through March 30). I hope to finalize positions on the wrinkles of this legislation soon.

What are E-Bikes?

E-Bikes are bicycles that have both pedals and electric motors. Some e-bikes assist the rider when pedaling. Other e-bikes can propel themselves even when the rider is not pedaling.

Why is wider use of E-Bikes desirable?

E-bikes have the following advantages:

  • They allow more people to enjoy cycling and to get some of the health benefits of cycling.
  • They allow more people to commute by bicycle by extending feasible range.
  • They allow people who bike to handle heavier loads, especially on hills — carrying children or groceries, for example.
  • They are quieter than motorized bikes and scooters.
  • They are better for local air quality than motorized bikes and scooters — small combustion motors typically lack good emissions controls.
  • To the extent they reduce automobile use for commuting or errands, they help reduce carbon emissions.

Are there any risks associated with e-bike use?

In general, e-bikes often allow cyclists to go somewhat faster than they could otherwise go. Speed always carries risks. There is some data from injury surveillance systems suggesting that e-bikes are more likely to be involved in collisions with pedestrians than pedal bikes.

Who are the national advocates for E-Bike legislation?

Nationally, e-bike advocacy has been led by the trade association for U.S. manufacturers, suppliers and distributors of bicycle products which calls itself the “the People for Bikes Coalition“.

When e-bikes emerged in the 1990s, the first major regulatory goal for e-bike manufacturers was to establish that e-bikes should be treated as bicycles, not motor vehicles, for purposes of federal manufacturing regulation. A 2002 federal law created a class of vehicles, the “low speed electric bicycle” defined as

a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.

107th Congress — H.R.727

The 2002 law exempted “low speed electric bicycles” from the motor vehicle safety standards statute and subjected them to the consumer product safety commission’s regulations for bicycles. The CPSC’s bicycle regulations govern manufacturing quality, speaking to structural integrity, braking, steering systems, chain strength, reflectors, tires, etc. They do not speak to how or where bicycles may be used.

The second major regulatory goal for e-bike manufacturers was to assure that e-bikes could be used just as bicycles are used. In general, state law governs the use of vehicles. The trade association has developed a model law and has successfully advocated for its adoption in 36 states. The bill now before the legislature is essentially the trade association’s model law with appropriate Massachusetts terminology.

While many new electric powered mobility devices are emerging — electric skateboards, electric scooters, electric balance boards, Segways, etc. — the trade association has made clear that its sole priority is the advancement of its model electric bike legislation, urging manufacturers of other mobility products to advocate for their own product-appropriate legislation.

The trade association provides a valuable collection of resources to state level advocates. For more resources, see also the National Conference of State Legislatures.

What does the E-Bike legislation do?

Mirroring but adjusting the federal definition, the e-bike legislation — the trade association’s national model legislation as contextualized for Massachusetts — defines “electric bicycle” as follows:

“Electric bicycle” shall mean a bicycle or tricycle equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts that meets the requirements of one of the following three classes:
(a) “Class 1 electric bicycle” shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
(b) “Class 2 electric bicycle” shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
(c) “Class 3 electric bicycle” shall mean an electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.

Pending e-bike bill, Section 1.

See this Wired post for discussion of this classification with illustrations and examples.

Absent the passage of the proposed law many electric bikes could be defined as motor vehicles in Massachusetts, subject to licensing, to registration, and to exclusions from off-road paths. (The Registry of Motor Vehicles has by regulation exempted some electric bicycles from licensing and registration, paralleling the federal definition — see 504 CMR 2.05.)

Using the electric bike definitions, the pending e-bike bill in Massachusetts . . .

  • exempts e-bike riders from drivers’ licensing requirements (by carving electric bikes out of the definitions of motor vehicle, motorized bicycle, and motorized scooter);
  • exempts e-bike owners from registration requirements (by carving e-bikes out of the definition of motor vehicle);
  • gives e-bikes access to all roads and bike paths that are open to regular bikes — it does allow that a municipality or agency may opt to prohibit e-bikes (or some classes of e-bikes) on a path;
  • leaves unresolved the question of e-bike access on natural paths without a surface, but does make clear that municipalities and agencies may regulate access;
  • requires that e-bikes carry a permanently affixed label stating their power, class, and top assisted speed;
  • prohibits tampering with or altering e-bikes to increase their power without changing the label;
  • creates special rules for the faster Class 3 e-bikes:
    • no one under 16 can operate Class 3 e-bikes;
    • riders of Class 3 e-bikes shall wear helmets (but specifies that failure to wear a helmet shall not be used as evidence of contributory negligence in a civil action);
    • Class 3 e-bikes shall be equipped with speedometers.
  • allows the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to promulgate additional regulations;

This proposed treatment of electric bikes contrasts with the existing treatment of motorized bicycles (bicycles with gas motor assistance) and motorized scooters (a two or three wheeled vehicle which is propelled by a gas or electric motor but is not a motorized bicycle or a motorcycle). Under existing law, both of these similar vehicle types are limited to speeds below that of Class 3 electric bicycles, yet they require drivers licenses. (Motorized bicycles are limited to 25mph, but in their statutory definition they may be capable of up to 30mph.)

Additionally, under existing law, motorized bicycles are excluded from “off-street recreational paths” while all e-bikes would be permitted on paths under the proposed law (unless an agency or municipality decides otherwise). Many states that have passed e-bike legislation exclude some e-bikes (most commonly Class 3) from some types of paths, according to a survey by the trade association that is linked from its policy page. The Department of Conservation and Recreation proposed but has not adopted a set of regulations that would appear to exclude Class 2 and Class 3 electric bikes from paths.

Poll Results

You can still share your thoughts in your comments section further below. Thank you!

People should be able to ride e-bikes without a driver’s license.

Responses (N=824)Response %
Disagree18%
Agree for Class 1 Only17%
Agree for Class 1 and 2 Only25%
Agree for all e-bikes36%
Not Sure5%
Total100%

People should be able to ride e-bikes on shared use paths along with pedestrians and regular bicycles.

Responses (N=824)Response %
Disagree22%
Agree for Class 1 Only23%
Agree for Class 1 and 2 Only27%
Agree for all e-bikes23%
Not Sure5%
Total100%

Technical Observations about the Poll

In summary, the poll was representative of people on Will Brownsberger’s Office Mailing List — people who have chosen to follow news from Will Brownsberger. Within that list, the respondent group probably skews towards bike owners and e-bike owners. Overall, this survey universe is likely more permissive towards e-bikes than the general public.

  • The poll was open 49 hours — from 5PM on Monday, March 28 to 6PM on Wednesday, March 30.
  • Almost all respondents to the poll came from two similar mailings to Will Brownsberger’s office email list of 4000 people. It appears that most of those responding were original recipients of the emailing as opposed to secondary recipients of a forwarded email.
    • While the survey itself was anonymous, we do have Mailchimp data about the mail response and the source URL for people responding to the survey.
    • Of the 824 respondents, 79.2% came in with a URL including a code identifying the mailing. An additional 17.7% came in without the code in the mailing, but at hours consistent with the timing of the mailing. The balance of 3.0% came in through mailings to local google groups, a facebook ad, or from comment links.
    • It does not appear that the mailing was resent to any large number of other people — Mailchimp click tracking did not suggest any originally sent e-mail yielded more than 12 clicks (most 1 or 2) and a person could, of course, click the mailing’s link more than once to come back to the post.
    • There was no pattern of repetitive entries from a single IP address.
  • There were some survey logic problems during the first hour and twenty minutes in the question about bike ownership and use. Limiting the sample to only those respondents after that glitch was fixed (N=649), 10.5% owned e-bikes and 64.6% owned bikes. 10.5% seems high, although we have not located good data on e-bike ownership rates. Nationally, there are probably under 2 million e-bikes in the hands of consumers in the United States (reasoning from sales over the past few years). Even if Massachusetts had a disproportionate share, that would suggest that there are less than 100,000 e-bikes in the state and that the statewide ownership rate is under 3% — just a guess.
  • E-bike owners had more permissive attitudes than others. None of the 67 e-bike owning respondents (among the 649 after the fix) felt e-bikes should be prohibited from shared-use paths, while 22% of regular bike owners felt that and 41% of non-bike owners felt that.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

Join the Conversation

153 Comments

  1. There is too much abuse to cars and pedestrians with the current bike situation, it would compound the situation to allow E bikes. I’m in favor of ALL bikes being licensed, there’s no accountability for the accidents they cause unless they’re licensed.

    1. How many accidents do they cause? What kind of accidents and who is hurt in these accidents?

      1. Several years ago as I pulled out of my street onto a ONE WAY street, a bike riding the wrong direction hit the front side of my car. He was invisible to me due to the parked cars on the left side of the street. My car was damaged – he picked up his bike and just left.
        Also, I was on a back street and a bike was ahead of me riding slowly. I carefully passed him and went on. When I stopped at a stop sign, he pulled up on the driver’s side, kicked in my door, then took off riding against traffic so I couldn’t follow him.
        About 3 years ago, I was stopped on Sparhawk St waiting for the light at Market St in Brighton. A bike (who was too self-entitled to wait for traffic) rode alongside the stopped cars until he came to a parked car. He then turned and rode between stopped cars and swung into the oncoming traffic lane, where a woman had just turned the corner from Market St onto Sparhawk (on her GREEN light). He demolished the side of her car – fender, driver’s door, and side mirror. I stopped and offered to vouch for her to her insurance company – the bicyclist then viciously swore at me and at her, picked up his bike and walked off, leaving her with several thousand dollars of repairs.
        These are just my limited experiences. Numerous times I’ve slammed on my brakes when a bike rode through a stop sign, traffic light, or the wrong way on a one-way street. IMHO, bikes need to be identifiable, they need to be accountable with traffic laws enforced if they’re on the roads, and they need to take financial responsibility when they cause accidents and damage – you can bet that they’re not reluctant to sue drivers if the car driver is at fault.

      2. I’ve been hit twice by bikes at the corner of Galen and Watertown St in Watertown Sq. There’s a lot of traffic there and a long light for pedestrians. Both accidents occurred when the pedestrian light was on and I was crossing. Both times these were bikes coming down the bike path along the Charles River at a great speed. Both times it was the bike that was in error. Basic stupidity- not slowing down, and not even looking for pedestrians. One of them was a very heavy set woman who was afraid her bike would fall over after she hit me and so with flailing arms she latched on to me. Dam fool nearly killed us both, as I used every ounce of strength to keep the two of us from falling over backwards.

      3. My brother was seriously injured after being hit by a class 1 bike as he was walking on the sidewalk.

    2. Yes, bikes should be registered, insured (for liability) and bikers should be licensed. Public funds are expended for the benefit of the bike riding public and those that benefit should contribute to the cost.

      1. Totally agree. All bicycles should be licensed, as in most of the EU by the way. Also helps, somewhat, against theft.

    3. I am hightly opposed to unlicensed vehicles in our public spaces and this includes non-motorized bicycles. They are supposed to be subject to the same rules as automobiles. They ignore stop lights and stop signs as if they aren’t there. They ride on pathways clearly marked NO BICYCLES. If they are blind, they should not be on a wheeled vehicle. They ride the wrong way on one-way streets. I can’t count the number of times I have nearly been hit by a bicycle while crossing with a walk light in a cross walk.
      License all of them. Even if we can’t stop them, we would then have a means of reporting the violator. BTW, this tends to include the bicycle cops whom I never see except in a group, often riding down the middle of the Commonwealth Mall, which is clearly signed NO BIKES.

      1. Back when the Globe practiced journalism, many years ago, reporters set up cameras recording cyclists scofflaw behavior over the course of several weeks. Then the reporter interviewed a number of officials and lawmakers, who breezily dismissed any concerns about bike riding. Then he showed the video. All were shocked. Of course nothing was done because there is no pedestrian lobby or driver lobby. Automotive lobbies represent only business interests.

      2. Glenda, you hit the bullseye in your response; thank you for your keen observations, that matched mine.

    4. I strongly believe that all E-bikes should be licensed. The current speed limit for cars in Cambridge is 20-25mph, so why should an E-bike be unlicensed and possibly moving at such speeds? I also hope there is real enforcement to stop e-bikes from driving along sidewalks, endangering pedestrians. The registration number of the E-bike should also be clearly visible in case of an accident.

  2. I look at this as a question of what impact e-bikes will have on paths. It is entirely reasonable for a person to be able to carry a consistent speed of around 20 mph, so an almost noiseless, emmissionless system that does the same would be virtually indistinguishable. Beyond that, the presence of e-bikes could begin to seriously impact safety and traffic flow for pedestrians and cyclists.

    1. That noiseless emmission-less system will be the causality of unexpected collisions with pedestrians. Angus, you hit the nail on the head.

  3. Will
    It is very important that Class 3 motor bikes, electric or not, not be designated electric bikes. They are vehicles, should be treated as such, NO access to bike paths or bike lanes. they are dangerous and i have seen serious accidents caused be them , have been significantly impacted – scared, and more when they pass at high speed. almost rode over one of my grandkids on a bike path. Just wrong.

  4. Those of us who live in congested areas are increasingly at risk on the sidewalks. We have motorized skateboards, motorized unicycles, bicycles and now E bikes coming at us from all directions. For elderly persons like myself who have bones density problems this is an increasingly dangerous situation. And one problem is that if our lives are destroyed by somebody behaving irresponsibly on the sidewalk with one of these conveniences there is no legal recourse. E bikes absolutely should not be on the sidewalk. The sidewalks are already too dangerous. No motorized conveyance of ANY KIND should be allowed on the sidewalk. Consideration of that public health matter should be part of this bill.

      1. I support Brian’s position too, as someone who does not bike but walks outside and would be greatly injured by any bike/person collision. I believe that bikes of any kind (other than obvious safe situations like maybe a child using training wheels and supervised) should be on the road and follow traffic rules, not on the sidewalk where pedestrians are.

    1. Brian, you are absolutely correct in all that you posted. I would add that ANY bicycle, powered or not, should be only operated by an individual that has passed a state dictated safety course and LICENSED. Back in the old days, rounded green and white rectangular license plates were fastened to the rear fenders of bicycles. In today’s world it would probable be a sticker in lieu of a metal plate. (I still have my plate.)

  5. the poll does not provide all the reasonable possibilities.
    no ebikes of any kind on side walks?
    and for the last question, there is no explicit – i don’t ride bikes of any kind.
    i would keep ebikes of any kind off DCR paths.

    1. I think they should be allowed on paths that explicitly permit regular bicycles, but not on pedestrian paths or sidewalks. On any path that is shared with people walking, pushing strollers, on wheelchairs, etc., there should be strict speed limits and class 3 e-bikes should not be allowed (nor dirt bikes, ATVs or cars or regular motorcycles or motor scooters.)

      Some hiking trails allow mountain bikes or ATVs. Most don’t (or allow ATVs only for search and rescue.) I think class 1 e-bikes should be permitted where mountain bikes are permitted and class 2 (and maybe class 3) should be permitted where ATVs are allowed, but not elsewhere. I don’t know if any Mass DCR paths or trails permit mountain bikes or ATVs.

      Except for very limited local situations, regular bicycles are never allowed on sidewalks. The same rules should apply to e-bikes. (In many cases, “walk your bike” rules are in effect; the same should apply to e-bikes.)

      Since there are thousands or individual situations across the state, I think, except for DCR and other state land, municipalities should be allowed to designate where different classes of e-bikes are allowed or not, speed limits and other restrictions.

      Do Federal regulations supersede state regulations on Federal land (e.g. Cape Cod National Seashore, Minuteman Historical Park, and so forth?) I would like to be sure there isn’t a loop-hole.

  6. I can’t see the sense in speed limits such as 28 MPH for an e-bke
    given that my ordinary strictly human-powered bike often
    goes much faster than that.

    1. I would rate it as occasionally / sometimes strictly human-powered bikes go 20+ mph

    2. My comment (below yours) is really directed at keeping the bikes off bike paths like the Minuteman and the Charles River path. My guess is that you would not be going 28 mph on these paths. Agree with you re street riding.

    3. The difference for me is that, if you’re regularly riding in excess of 28 mph you’re most likely an experienced cyclist (as opposed to an inexperienced/drunk/yahoo, etc).

      1. Nobody should be riding at high speed on a path such as the Minuteman Rail Trail unless nobody else is around. People who do in my experience are most often a small subset of avid recreational (“experienced”) cyclists who ride for exercise at road speed, but who haven’t learned how to be safe on roads. I have yet to encounter an e-bike rider who poses this hazard, not to say that it will never happen.

    4. Riding in a motor vehicle going 25 mph can result in a fatality when hitting a stationary, well anchored obstruction. A pedestrian can easily be fatally injured by a bicycle travelling 20 MPH. License to operate is urgently required.

  7. what happened to “other” on the last question, (since some answer is required and I don’t use a bicycle)

  8. As a bike rider on the Minuteman and Charles River path, I am pretty sure that the vast majority of riders (80%) are going between 10 and 14 mph. In addition, there are many walkers, children, skaters, etc on the path. It is not safe to have e-bike riders going 20 mph with so many much slower riders, walkers, children etc.

    1. Marc has nailed the accurate current speed movement of cyclists using these paths. E-bikes going 20mph will endanger other cyclists as much as pedestrians.

  9. There’s related issue that doesn’t seem to be addressed here. I would like to see some regulations limiting where shared ebikes can be parked between users. Some companies have designated stations, which seems to work well. I have no problem with that. However, other companies leave them scattered around randomly on street corners, public sidewalks, etc. The bikes look abandoned, clutter the right-of-way and sometimes impede pedestrian traffic. I’m concerned about safety and with private companies leveraging public space for their own gain.

  10. Ideally I’d get all cars and trucks, and other fast-moving conveyances, off the surface roads and put them underground in a new parallel system, leaving the surface free for walkers. Naturally that will never happen until the War Department (Its original name…but using the deceptive alias “Defense” for many decades) is brought under control and its budget largely re-directed to civilian use. Anyhow, until that time we’re stuck with the surface transportation infrastructure. So I urge giving the ebikes a try and see how the experiment works out. Runners and regular cyclists already put seniors at risk. We’ll have to wait and see if ebikes add to that problem, or if…miraculously…they end up fitting in smoothly and safely with slow-moving pedestrians.

    1. One dream I had was a network of “bike arteries,” roads closed to cars and trucks, but open for bicycles, that connected with each other to make several safe “bike routes” throughout the city. It would be great to bike from Watertown to Burlington without having the road with motor vehicles or pedestrians. The roads would be wide enough and pedestrian-free enough for Class-3 e-bikes to safely travel.

  11. Do you only want to hear from bile riders and not pedestrians using the shared paths? There is no option to say you don’t ride a bike.

  12. As a matter of principle one should consider the bias inherent in any legislation promulgated by a trade association.

  13. I cycle frequently and plan to try an ebike on a tour this summer (class 1). A class 1 ebike behaves like a regular bicycle and in fact goes no faster than many cyclists do any way (not me; I’m slow). Class 1 ebikes make longer distances and climbing hills more accessible, which is a hige help to a lot of people.

    I believe all bikes should be licensed and require a helmet, but I do NOT believe class 1 ebikes should be regulated differently than regular bikes. Classes 2 and 3 which move without pedaling and/or much faster are a horse of a different color and should be treated accordingly.

    1. I agree, possibly excepting license requirement for non-eBikes.
      For me, propulsion without pedaling is equivalent mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles — less attentive control (pedaling is attentive control), which for humans means less paying attention generally. This is my concern — we can see what “less paying attention” is and causes across all other motored-vehicles…

  14. I have owned an e-bike for a few years.
    E-bikes with a throttle should be licensed. E-bikes that you have to peddle ( motor assist) should not.

  15. I am in favor of allowing e-bikes on paths and for researching communities that have successfully done so. A good standard practice for e-bikers is to pedal on flat terrain and use assistance when moving up hills or as one gets tired on long distances. As long as e-bikes are respectful of pedestrians and other bikers, with plenty of warning when passing, I don’t see an issue. The same would be true for speed bikers going fast on pedal bikes.
    Limitations placed on e-bikes can also be an issue of equity. My plan as I age is to get an e-bike to be able to continue to bike to work for my health, and I have used e-bikes overseas to help me bike up hilly terrain on bike paths to experience exercise in a natural environment that I would’ve otherwise been excluded from experiencing (and let me say, what a wonderful experience it was!). I would not want to restrict e-bikes to roads only because roads are often not very safe and thus would limit some of the exercise and eco-friendly transportation options especially for those that are older, physically limited in some way (in terms of pedaling long distances or up hills), or cannot afford a car and have chosen an e-bike as transportation. Please do not limit our safe, healthy, eco-friendly options, especially for those that are more vulnerable to obtaining exercise (older populations, those with physical limitations, low SES populations). I am a psychologist who studies risks to obesity and other health issues and have found that exercise options are already limited, especially for vulnerable groups.

  16. I am really conflicted on this topic. Generally, I favor e-bikes and other similar vehicles (e-scooters, OneWheels, etc). I do not currently own one but can easily imagine myself doing so. If I did, I would want to be able to use it on bike paths to commute into Cambridge. Of course, I know that I would be a safe and responsible rider/driver (I say that with the intentional irony of “everyone thinks this of themselves even though we all know it isn’t true of everyone who thinks it”).

    However, the thought of 75 pound e-bikes going 20 or 28 mph on the bike path is terrifying even to me as an adult, not to mention when I think about my young kids on the path. A collision with such a vehicle could easily be fatal, and we all know that not all riders of such vehicles will be safe and responsible. Indeed they will likely develop a sense of “owning the path” and get annoyed at the other bikers, skaters, walkers, strollers, etc. who are “in their way” and “slowing them down.” Especially if they are commuting, they will often be in a hurry. This will turn the bike paths into de-facto roads.

    Another commentor wrote that their “human-powered bike often goes much faster than [28 mph].” Well, perhaps they are an elite athlete with tremendous skill, but 28 mph is *really* fast for most people on a human-powered vehicle. Very few would be comfortable pedaling at that speed on normal bike because it feels so fast, and that means that very few do actually go that fast on bike paths (and when they do, it is on a ~20 lb bike). However, with an e-bike that is really an e-motorcycle, with a frame, tires, and brakes designed for that speed, it will feel much safer and thus be much more common.

    I am not a policy maker, and I haven’t thought carefully about the question, but if I were making the policy, it would probably be: E-bikes or other e-vehicles on bike paths are limited to X lbs (perhaps 25-30) and Y mph (perhaps 15), because that is in the range of human-powered vehicles which is what those paths are really for. If you want to use a heavier or faster vehicle, you can ride it on the regular roads (which many bicyclists already do regularly, including me).

  17. If no license is required, perhaps a mandatory safety program should be required for those who do not have a license?

  18. I have been nearly mowed down by bike riders on Commonwealth Avenue, where I live, both on the mall and on the sidewalk. Also, I have had near misses with people on bikes in the Public Garden and the Common. I do not think pedestrians and bikes should be allowed on the same surfaces. The bike riders seem not to care about people on foot. Electric bikes seem even more dangerous than non-electric bikes.

  19. I have been cycling for 25+ years for fun and commuting. Bought an e-bike (Class 3 pedal assist) a few years ago with aging knee issues and avoiding a shower at work – great investment. I do think there are a few too many cyclists that 1) don’t know how to ride in traffic, 2) would be in over there head on a Class 2 or 3 or blatantly fail to follow rules of the road. I do think Class 3 at a min should be 16 y/o and host a valid drivers lic (btw, I have both car and motorcycle lic) and helmet. I do not think any bike should be registered & be lic. NO bikes (or scoters) in sidewalks, that is for pedestrians.

  20. This is a good bill with significant benefits. I’m OK with the unresolved question of access on natural paths without a surface – the local or state authorities can recognize and control abuse or harm. The bill is silent on the use of throttles for Class 3 (which CA prohibits). Be aware that there are some crazy e-bikes over 750 watts that are going to be tough to enforce. See e.g. https://www.addmotor.com/products/wildtan-m-5600 and https://lunacycle.com/babe/#trustspot-widget-wrapper

  21. I’ve spent a fair bit of time commuting along the Charles to and from work – so primarily during rush hours. It’s my personal Al opinion that nobody should be exceeding 20 mph on such paths, human-powered or otherwise. “Trad” cyclists going faster than this are typically pretty experienced riders and can handle themselves on roadways and choose appropriate routes.
    Frankly- anything over 15 mph near the Esplanade or Harvard is asking for an accident during rush hour. The variety of experience, age and prevalence of pedestrians makes for exponentially increasing unpredictability- which is the greatest danger to cyclists on and off the road.
    I have tired to make peace with the electric scooters and skateboards. Everyone has a right to the paths. However some common sense constraints are appropriate.

    1. This. My top bike cruising speed is 15 mph, and any cyclists going faster than that on shared-used paths can hit an unwary pedestrian pretty easily. In crowded paths bikes won’t reach 10 mph very often so using a 28-mph e-bike on those paths is overkill. I did try an e-bike in San Francisco once and found it great for climbing hills, but it was definitely better with few people and little traffic around. I think it’s better to limit shared-use paths to Class 1 e-bikes for this reason.

      The thing is that the cyclist can control the speed of the e-bike by how fast they pedal, so it’s not like they sit and let the motor do all the work. But e-bikes do make it easier for cyclists to reach maximum speeds. So I recommend start with allowing Level 2 e-bikes on the paths, and if there are too many “incidents” with them, the state can roll back the speed limit to allowing Level 1 e-bikes only.

      1. My issue with this is that a cyclist who uses class 2 ebike because they have to climb hills elsewhere on their commute (on roads) would be prohibited from using the safe bike paths along the Charles for portions of their commute. Just as analog bikes don’t go as fast as they could on the shared paths, ebikes (and frankly runners, kick scooters etc) shouldn’t either. I think a speed limit would be a better solve on shared use paths than prohibiting ebikes.

  22. Throttle-driven bikes that can go above 20 mph should be allowed on on-street bike lands but required (as should all types of bikes) to keep their speed below 15 mph on shared-use, off-road paths when pedestrians are in the vicinty. Bikes of any kind should not be allowed on sidewalks — unless moving at less than 5 mph (and still being required to give right-of-way to pedestrians) or being pedaled by a child under age 15. While pedestrians should have right-of-way on shared use paths, walking in the middle of the path with loud earbuds making it impossible to hear oncoming bells or shouts, or walking 3 or 4 abreast across the entire path without checking for oncoming bikes, should both make the pedestrian(s) responsible for any mishaps that occur.

  23. I’d be excited to see this common-sense legislation that supports more eco-friendly travel passed. Considering that e-bikes don’t *have* to go 28+ MPH, it doesn’t make sense to completely ban them from shared use paths. There are many situations where biking on a shared use path is the SAFEST possible route to your destination (I use the Charles River path to bike to work and avoid dangerous crossings). I can see this having the unforeseen consequence of forcing e-bikers to take more dangerous routes to get around. I know some people have concerns about pedestrian-cyclist crashes – I bet those would be reduced if we just expanded pedestrian and bike infrastructure rather than forcing cyclists into unsafe situations.
    Licensing in general is a great way to make people bike less, not more! Also, I hope that someday bikeshare programs like BlueBikes can provide an e-bike option and I imagine licensing requirements would be a logistical nightmare.

    1. I agree with both K and Steve Miller and others expressing support for the broadest interpretation of this legislation, as the proposed law would still allow municipalities and agencies to prohibit or speed-regulate the Class 3 bikes. In Cambridge the citywide speed limit on primarily residential streets is 20 mph for cars and trucks, so it’s reasonable to limit e-bikes of all classes to 20 mph or less. Some people may say, “But how will we enforce this?” and I would ask if they always stay within the 20 mph limit when driving through Cambridge neighborhoods? Noting that cars and trucks can easily exceed 28 mph and the risk they pose is far greater. We all have a responsibility to self-regulate speed and protect each other’s lives when operating any type of mobility device. Licensing requirements and prohibiting Class 3 e-bikes from using the relatively few available off-street facilities could serve to diminish the goal of increasing mode shift from cars to e-bikes for longer trips or for carrying heavier loads. The more we provide viable options for people of all ages and abilities to use e-bikes for at least some of their daily trips, the more public support will grow for investing to improve bike networks both on the street and on former rail trails etc. In general, cyclists only choose to ride on a sidewalk when there is no safe way to ride on the street. Cyclists are already prohibited from using sidewalks in business districts and must travel at pedestrian speed and yield to people walking on sidewalks elsewhere. More protected bike lanes are the solution to that problem, not limits on e-bikes. Also noting that people should not be skeptical of this proposed legislation because it was has the support of the e-bike trade association unless they also acknowledge that the AAA is funded by the auto industry and lobbies heavily for laws that favor motorists. Finally, where are the financial incentives to purchase e-bikes? Could some of the unallocated COVID-19 funding be used for that?

  24. The National Park Service rules for Acadia National Park allow class 1 ebikes on park carriage roads and bike paths, but prohibit class 2 and class 3. I think that offers a good precedent for the same policy on bike paths that in practice function as busy shared-use paths, like the Minuteman Bikeway. 20mph is plenty fast, maybe too fast on a busy shared use path, riders should at least have to pedal to get to 20, which class 1 ebikes require to get electric assist. Classes 2 and 3 are just alternately-powered mopeds, which aren’t allowed on bike or shared use paths

  25. Thanks for doing this. Most informative. I’d like to embed this discussion in the larger one of all transportation corridors (state roads, local roads, segregated bike paths, marked bike lanes, sidewalks, paths….): How much public space gets allocated to each, rules governing the use safe and sensible use or each by different transport forms (including ebikes), and enforcement. Just focusing on rules for ebikes implicitly endorses the current almost monopolization of public space by roads, and the default assumption that roads should be primarily for high power cars, vans and trucks…. with bikes and pedestrians squeezed in on the edges where convenient for the cars…

  26. E bikes are excellent for commuting and I used mine every day in the before times. They have lights front/back for safety. There is no reason to regulate class 1 any different from regular bikes. As many point out , they don’t go any faster than acoustic bikes. E bikes can increase biking and decrease driving – a great outcome.

  27. In my experience eBikes are often traveling in excess of 20 mph. If they could be kept under 20mph I would be less adverse to sharing bike paths with them.

  28. Ebikes are a fantastic alternative to driving/owning a car in Boston. I would rather my kids ride ebikes than learn to drive at 16 (I have a 15 and 13 yr old). I’m a bit annoyed that escooters (typical speed less than 20mph) are not part of this legislation. Escooters are often more convenient than ebikes for those with storage space constraints and they take up less space on shared use paths vs ebikes or bikes.

  29. I support the legislation, but am most concerned with the flagrant disregard some bike riders (particularly blue bike riders) have for all the signs prohibiting riding on the Comm Ave Mall and in the Public Garden. They are dangerous to all pedestrians on these paths. Bike riders are granted bike paths in these areas and should be forced to use them for everyone’s safety.

    1. If the bike lanes were off the street, I’d bet this behavior would lessen. In my experience the majority of blue bike riders who do this are less experienced and wary about riding on the street, even in a bike lane. And I’ve never seen one going very fast there.
      Cyclists (and pedestrians) are a bit like water – they will take the path of least resistance because of the physical exertion so cutting thru public garden & common vs riding all the way around in traffic – frankly I don’t really blame them. I think we should establish bike safe cut-throughs in those parks. But I know that’s off topic.

  30. There is a big diff b/w a 25mph cyclist and a 25mph ecyclist – the former generally self-select for more experienced commuters/road cyclists who can sustain and generally know how to control at that speed and the latter a wider range from experienced to very inexperienced cyclist. Because ebike has the potential to impart mopad capability onto inexperienced operator that can directly endanger pedestrian, manual cyclists and even spill accidents onto vehicular path, above certain speed capability they should be regulated as mopad.

  31. I’m concerned about pedestrian safety on paths. Class 2&3 bikes allow riders to easily reach speeds that otherwise require significant physical effort. I have some concern this results in more fast moving bikes on shared paths.

    Enforcing speed limits on paths will be either expensive or impractical. Better to make class 3 bikes inconvenient by having registration and license requirements.

  32. 20 mph is pretty fast for a bicycle. It gets hard to control at that speed, at least with a conventional bike, going downhill – that’s the only time I get up to that speed.
    I marked “unsure” for the two speed questions because I haven’t thought about it before. But my initial thought is that we certainly don’t want bikes going 28 mph on a path with pedestrians and bikes, and we probably don’t want them going 20 mph, either.
    I worked at a Toys R Us store in college, and thought I’d buy one of those adult trikes when I got older. 🙂 Now that I *am* older, I think that it’s an e-bike is in my future, but hopefully not for another 10 years. It would allow me to continue to ride for exercise and to get places, even when I don’t have the strength or stamina to keep myself going.
    But I’ve never ridden one, so I don’t know what it feels like to be on a bicycle that’s powering itself. Will it make the rider feel more invincible? We don’t need that!
    And why does a bicycle need to go 28 mph anyway?

    What would bicycle licensing look like? And what would it accomplish? Adult cyclists already know the rules of the road, even if they’re not always following them.

    1. Hi Hal, I’ve tried 3 e-bikes over the years. For me the throttle assist and the pedal-rate-sensing e-bikes feel a little weird, but I tried a pedal-drive (the motor is between the pedals, it has torque sensors etc, unfortunately those are the most expensive) on vacation and it was wonderful. Pretty much just like a regular bike, only 40 years younger (and maybe a little extra).

      28mph is a lot. For all but the best, that is a sprinting speed (I could manage it for about a mile, 40 years ago). Crashes at 28mph are bad, braking hard at 28mph can lead to violent headers. I’m comfortable treating those bikes specially.

      But there’s also no particular reason to believe that moms and dads carrying kids or older people riding up hills will suddenly lose all their common sense just because they don’t have to sweat quite so hard to ride a bike.

  33. I’ve responded to your survey, Will. I don’t currently own a bicycle, but cycled for many years (this is a wonderful part of the country for cycling–at least part of the year!) and did many 100+ mile rides. In general I’m in favor of treating ebikes as bikes, but I’m worried when riders can get up to 20 mph and faster with no personal effort. A collision at 20 mph can do a lot of damage!

  34. If we can speed limit e-bikes, it seems irresponsible to **NOT** speed-limit cars (I mean, electronically, via a speed governor in the car) to the posted speed limit.

    Drivers kill on average a person a day in the Commonwealth, and have done so for decades. The primary cause of 1/3 of these crashes is unsafe speed (This is MassDOT data easy to find on the web). Electronic speed governors in cars would save over 120 people a year in MA.

    What we presently do for street safety is demonstrably failing.

  35. Will the bill consider commercial (food delivery, shopping delivery, etc) vs non-commercial use on shared use paths? As electric bike use increases, the opportunity increases for delivery service work. This would be a very positive outcome from a transportation perspective. But it seems like it would be a potential concern for commuters and those enjoying shared use paths.

  36. I think a registration and insurance system should be mandated. These are powered vehicles and can cause substantial damage not just to property but to people. They weigh more than regular bicycles thus more mass and require greater breaking power. In addition a registration system would help track down thefts and a portion of the registration fee could be used for the cost of maintenance of all the rail trails which currently have no direct funding mechanism like we do for roads (excise , and gas tax)

    These are for adults we are not talking about the young kids being deprived of using a bicycle

  37. Thanks for posting this survey. I’m a longtime ebike owner (12 years), and I run a tour of Boston on ebikes. I’d just point out that many older ebikes do not come with a sticker stating which class of ebike they are. Of my 10 ebikes I believe only one came with a sticker (all are “class 1”). Some provision for older legacy bikes might be needed if this provision is to be implemented.

  38. I mothballed my 78 Chevy Nova since I got an e-bike 10 years ago. I use it as the “grocery getter” and the bus to get to work. I am concerned about over regulation, at which if it is too restrictive I would bring the Nova back into service and skip the bikes and bus which would be a duplication of service at extra cost

  39. Rather than speed and horsepower, in more concerned with the mass and weight of the ebike. The heavier the bike, the more damage it does in an accident whether to property, other bikes, or people.

    Any of these should be allowed on shared use paths like any minuteman, Charles river etc. I’m not comfortable with other of road trails like Middlesex fells or Blue Hills.

  40. Since the registry requires registration of mopeds over 25 MPH, then Class 3 E-Bikes should follow suit. They need to follow the same rules. And I don’t think they should be allowed on the bike path, but that’s going to be difficult to enforce.
    Class 1 and 2, I think will be less dangerous on a bike path.
    Sidewalks should not be open to bikes, ideally, but I couldn’t navigate Waverly Sq. without using the sidewalk. Unsure about that.

  41. I am in favor of people riding bikes while obeying the law, but I have been nearly mowed down by bikes on the sidewalk and crossing the street on a walk sign. They do not think they need to follow the law and do not look out for pedestrians. For that reason, I am against bike or electric bikes being allowed on sidewalks. The same thing happens on the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. On the Huntington Ave “sidewalk” (near Mass Ave) bikers often ride on the sidewalk marked “walk” instead of in the sidewalk lane marked for bikes. If it were up to me all bike riders would be licensed so they could be fined. When they are in bike lanes on the street, they try to race in front of right hand turning cars with turn signals on and have caused accidents.

  42. Tangential… but I would love to see a very carefully designed analysis of the anticipated environmental, economic, social impacts of either 1) giving multi-thousand dollar state-funded discounts/rebates to (typically rather wealthy) purchasers of electric cars or, alternatively 2) offering up to $400 in subsidy for purchase of a bicycle, electric scooter, e-bike or the like every five years to individuals, 18 years of age or older, who do not have a drivers license.

  43. When I was younger up until I was about 46, I rode my bike most everywhere around Boston and Cambridge: to work, to school, to do light shopping, to go visit friends. As I got older, I stopped bicycling as much. But I still think it is a great way to get around town. As an elder now at 72, I am slower, less stable, and less inclined to bicycling on Boston streets. I think bike lanes are great, but I think as with cars, bikers should also make it a point of being careful about how and where they are going, and look out for pedestrians the way they would hope car drivers would out for them.

    Once, last summer on a beautiful sunny day, lots of people were out and about and I was innocently crossing a bike lane from my car to get to the side walk. I was unaware that I was hindering a macho bicyclist (whom I didn’t see) who was bombing down the bike path. He cursed and insulted me for interfering with his travels as he whizzed by. I almost got hit! There were other people around and, I think to be safe, he should have been going much more slowly than he was. I voted the most conservative options for ebikers in the survey because I think ebikers should be held to a higher vs lower standard of conduct and safety on their bikes. Pedestrians, most of all, should have the right of way on walkways and wooded paths and such. My fear is that as more ebikers use the roads they may tend to ride recklessly, too fast for the conditions, and will not held accountable for their poor behavior. No recourse to enforce commonsense safety standards for inconsiderate behavior would make the streets, sidewalks, and pathways much more hazardous, and result in many more accidents than otherwise.

  44. I know you said the trade association is pushing only the e-bike bill but I kinda think it’s not great to do an e-bike specific bill. I don’t think that e-bikes should ultimately be treated differently than e-scooters and e-boards, and I don’t really like the idea of giving a regulatory leg up to one kind of e-mobility over another just because they hired fancier lobbyists. I think it’s better to do a unified definition that can apply to all, and I think the suggestion of other commenters that weight makes a big difference to the severity of any accidents, so I’d propose something more like the following:

    “Light E-Mobility Vehicle (LEV)” shall mean a bicycle, tricycle, skateboard, scooter, or other comparable non-enclosed personal vehicle weighing less than [C3wt] pounds and equipped with an electric motor of less than 750 watts that meets the requirements of one of the following three classes:
    (a) “Class 1 LEV” shall mean an LEV weighing less than [C1wt] pounds, which is equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, kicking, or otherwise manually propelling the vehicle and that ceases to provide assistance when the LEV reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
    (b) “Class 2 LEV” shall mean an LEV weighing less than [C2wt] pounds, equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the LEV, and that ceases to provide assistance when the LEV reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
    (c) “Class 3 LEV” shall mean an LEV weighing less than [C3wt] pounds, equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the LEV, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.

  45. I’m a regular bike rider, with concerns about the abrupt arrival of so many high-powered e-bikes ridden by reckless users. The manufacturers should be held to some standards that might include:

    – The lights seem to be way brighter on these than others, creating a glare hazard. They should be made no brighter than a car’s low-beams, unless provided with a dimmer switch (that has a safety mechanism to prevent continuous bright usage).

    – Class 3 e-bikes and others that weigh above a certain amount (60 or 70lb?) should have automatic collision-avoidance technologies. A heavy vehicle operated at unsafe speed in a narrow combination pedestrian/bike-way is bound to cause more injuries.

    – E-bikes built with child carriers should have even more safety features built in, and perhaps have a reduced maximum speed as compared to others in same class.

    I’m concerned overall that the industry is writing regulations in the interest of pushing huge numbers of e-bikes into our cities, with zero thought to safety innovations that should be added now before everyone rushes out to buy their products.

  46. Like mopeds, E-bikes are motor vehicles given that they have a power source other than a human. As with other motor vehicles, they should be subject to fees and excise taxes that help pay for roads, especially as bike lanes supplant regular traffic lanes. Perhaps a carve out for low power “hill climb assist” features is reasonable, but already, I’m seeing E-bike delivery drivers such as Getir flying down major roads, including Soldiers Field rd, driving on sidewalks etc.
    As electric vehicle adoption including e-bikes increases, demand for gasoline and is projected to decline, and thus the gas tax revenue to pay for roads and bridges will decline in parallel. Legislators will be wise to recognize this eventuality when considering wiring in advantages for electric vehicles. As the owner of an electric car, I am happy to exploit this advantage, even while recognizing it is unsustainable.
    As an early adopter of a grid-tie solar system, I note that I’m on my second central solar inverter, and nobody wants the non-repairable suitcase size piece of e-waste that nearly burned my house down. A similar waste disposal conundrum will emerge for e-bikes. There are no free lunches, and getting rid of dead lithium, nickel-cadmium and lead batteries, electric motors and integrated circuits is hardly “green”. If you want green, stick to pedal power.

  47. Keep all bikes off sidewalks. Even where there are bike lanes many still ride on the sidewalk. I have yet to cross the Mass Ave bridge without encountering a bike on the sidewalk despite there being bike lanes. I’ve had more near misses with bikes than cars.

    1. I hope we continue to repurpose street space from cars (particularly parking!), and improve maintenance so that biking (and other small transport options like scooters) feels safe enough everywhere that there’s no reason to ride on sidewalks. Flex posts aren’t much of a barrier vs 40mph cars that weigh several tons – I can understand not feeling comfortable with riding on street, particularly with kids.

      I’m excited for this bill to take a broad approach that we can continue to refine, and strongly oppose licensing requirements from an equity and access perspective – ebikes are a much more affordable low-carbon mobility option, and licensing puts up a lot of hurdles without any strong record of reducing injuries or accidents.

      Finally, as a prospective buyer, I’m looking forward to simpler no-carbon commutes and weekend trips on our growing trail network with my kids. This is a fun, city-compatible, and inexpensive way to cut carbon for lots of people, and I hope we get the bill across the finish line ASAP!

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