E-Bikes Allowed (But Not Welcome) in Toronto Bike Lanes
The war between motorists and cyclists has been well-documented for years now. Cyclists feel that they are in constant danger on the road as cars continue to stray into narrow bike lanes. They believe that motorists have little respect for a bicycle's place on the road and that they do not obey the few traffic laws put in place to protects cyclists. Conversely, many car drivers see cyclists as reckless nuisances that slow them down, get in their way, and also disobey traffic laws. Actual fist fights and acts of violence between cyclists and motorists are becoming increasingly common due to this war for the road.
If only they settled their differences like this in real life.
Despite this vitriolic war, motorists and cyclists do agree on one thing: they both really hate E-bikes.
E-bikes (also known as power assisted bicycles or electric bikes) are motorized bicycles that by law must weigh less than 120kg and cannot go faster than 32km/h (read more about E-bikes). The Toronto City Council recently voted to allow e-bikes in the conventional bicycle lane rather than car lanes. This proved to be a controversial decision to say the least. The debate basically boils down to three major points of view: cyclists, motorists, and e-cyclists. Here are their points in detail:
Cyclists are already unhappy with their perceived second class citizenship on the road from both motorists and the law. Forcing cyclists to share their limited space in the narrow bike lanes with e-bikes is grinding salt into an already existing wound. Trinity-Spadina Councillor and regular cyclist Mike Layton stated that "This is about the safety for the group for which that area is designated – to protect that very little bit of space that cyclists use. Let's not now open it up to a different kind of vehicle. It's clear that these e-scooters have nothing in common with bicycles. So why would we put them in the bicycle lane?"
According to a 2013 study by Toronto's Transportation Services division Toronto, only 12% of cyclists thought that e-bikes belonged in their bicycle lanes. They believe that their safety is in serious question due to the fact that e-bikes are significantly heavier and faster than the conventional bicycle. A city report stated "The likelihood of being injured when struck by a 120 kg vehicle [the maximum e-bike weight] travelling at 32 km/h is probably far greater than if struck by a lighter bicycle travelling at a slower speed." Additionally, the battery powered e-bikes are extremely quiet and can sneak up on unknowing cyclists, creating a potential safety hazard.
Cyclists already have enough safety hazards as this man proves.
While cyclists feel e-bikes are too fast to be in their lane, motorists believe that e-bikes are far too slow to be in traffic with cars, trucks, and motorcycles. Motorists hate sharing the road with cyclists but at least cyclists have their own lanes away from traffic. Until this recent Toronto Council vote, motorists had to share their fast-moving and hectic lanes with these comparably light and slow e-bikes. Scarborough-Agincourt Councillor Mike Del Grande argues that having e-bikes in traffic is just going to increase motorist road rage and hurt the future of Toronto cycling:
"(Putting e-bikes in bike lanes) gives a greater impetus to put in bike lanes. Do we want an environment where people use bike lanes that are strictly bike lanes, and these people (e-bike riders) compete with cars on the street? So now you have drivers really ticked off, because they view e-bikes and these things as one and the same? How much support are you going to get for bikes in the future?"
E-bike riders are the Rodney Dangerfields of the road: they "don't get no respect". They are either too fast or too slow, too heavy or too light. They don't need motorcycle insurance and don't have license plates; neither cyclists nor motorists want them in their lanes but how do e-bike riders feel about this? Where do they think they belong? It seems the e-bike community is as divisive on the issue as everyone else. According to the previously cited 2013 Toronto Transportation Services study, nearly half of e-bike riders feel they belong in the bike lane. As an unhappy medium between bicycles and motor vehicles, e-bike riders have concerns of their own. Bicycles are slow and bike lanes are extremely narrow, meaning there is very little room for e-bike riders to safely pass bicycles. Conversely, having to compete with larger, heavier, faster automobiles on the road can be a terrifying experience. Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Denzil Minnan-Wong noted these safety concerns and brought up the increasing number of senior citizens using e-bikes: "the one thing that they [bikes and e-bikes] share in common is both of them, if they get hit by a car, will come to a terrible, terrible end... We're sending seniors using these into traffic." Time will certainly tell where e-bikes belong on the road.
Regardless of which side of the issue that you are on, it is important that everyone (motorists, cyclists, e-cyclists, and pedestrians) is as attentive, considerate, and safe as possible. Ultimately, the health and safety of everyone involved is what matters the most.
How do you feel about E-Bikes? What side do you land on? Will this happen in other cities? Leave a comment below!