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Cities Want Ebikes to Stay in Their Lane—but Which One?


It’s onerous to discover something that unites Nashville, Tennessee; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Moab, Utah; and New York City. But all of these communities, and lots of others, are grappling with what to do about electrical bicycles.

No matter the place you might be within the US, ebikes are having a second. Market analysis firm NPD says ebike gross sales grew 240 % within the 12 months ended July 2021, surpassing gross sales of conventional highway bikes. It was the second yr in a row that ebike gross sales had not less than doubled.

Experts attribute the surge to the pandemic, which left locked-down Americans hungering for brand spanking new and Covid-safe methods to get out of the home and train. Ebike fashions geared towards households and new riders have seen particular success, although there’s additionally a burgeoning neighborhood of e-mountain bikers. The shift has heartened advocates of lively transportation, who consider that ebikes—much more than electrical automobiles—may help cut back emissions from transportation and struggle local weather change. Meanwhile, bike-share firms Motivate and BCycle have added pedal-assist ebikes, which use small motors to present riders boosts, to their techniques.

In Nashville, the relaunch final summer season of the native BCycle bike-share system as all-electric sparked debate about what types of automobiles ought to be capable to journey the place. The controversy has centered on the town’s greenways, a system of linear parks and trails that stretch practically 100 miles all through the town. Tennessee regulation permits ebikes touring under 28 mph to function in most locations, however native jurisdictions can create their very own guidelines. “Motorized vehicles” have lengthy been banned from the greenways—although ebike riders say enforcement has been scant. Some Nashvillians are additionally haunted by recollections of the scooter-share firms that blanketed streets in 2018 with out first looking for permission. For these individuals, ebikes can really feel like one other company, tech-driven trick. “There’s some post-traumatic stress syndrome, as a city,” says Bob Mendes, a member of the Metro Council.

Sales of ebikes have greater than doubled every of the previous two years.

Photograph: Irfan Khan/Getty Images

So final summer season, the council handed a decision directing metropolis businesses to review whether or not new guidelines are wanted. A report is due in weeks, says Cindy Harrison, director of the greenways and open area division of the town’s Parks Department.

As in lots of different locations throughout the nation, ebikes’ new reputation in Nashville has pitted typical cyclists towards commuters towards canine walkers towards leisure exercisers for area on the restricted clean pathways the place vehicles are banned. “This is a car-heavy town that’s been trying to fight from behind for years,” says Mendes, who’s owned an ebike since 2018. Banning ebikes from the greenways, he says, will prohibit the place riders can safely journey.

But Kathleen Murphy, one other council member, says she’s heard from constituents—typically walkers—who fear about ebikes’ speeds. “With the ebike, you don’t hear it coming up from behind,” she says. “They’re faster and heavier, and that really concerned people.”

The debate has divided conventional allies within the struggle for car-free areas. The nonprofit Greenways for Nashville has urged warning and argued that greenways aren’t actually meant to be a part of a metropolis biking—or transportation—community. “It’s like you’re mushing a sidewalk and a bike lane together,” Amy Crownover, the group’s govt director, says of the plan to permit ebikes on the greenways. But Walk Bike Nashville, an advocacy group pushing for different modes of transportation, desires to let ebikes trip. Its govt director, Lindsey Ganson, has urged locals to consider greenways as not solely areas for leisure strolling or biking, however as greener transportation routes.

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