New spin on e-bike policy

July 8, 2015

Morgan Lommele, e-bikes campaigns manager

Image: Currie Technologies

PeopleForBikes curates a library of hundreds, if not thousands, of research articles, data, and statistics on bicycling safety, protected bike lanes, participation, bicycling economics, and bicycling’s positive impact on the environment, among others. However, there’s only a handful of studies in the vast library that mention electric bicycles. Because electric bicycles are relatively new to North America, there hasn’t been an opportunity to study their use and adoption on our bike paths, roadways, and trails. Recently though, three leading e-bike safety researchers from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, published a peer reviewed journal article summarizing a study that compared the speed and safety of traditional bikes against electric bicycles.

The main findings?

  • With few exceptions, people who ride electric bicycles behave very similarly to people who ride traditional bicycles.
  • Violation rates (for example, riding the wrong way or not stopping at stop signs) were about the same for both types of bicycles.
  • Average on-road speeds of people who ride electric bicycles were slightly higher than those who ride traditional bicycles, but greenway speeds of electric bicycle riders were lower than regular bicyclists’.

Many of those who oppose low speed electric bicycle access to bikeways claim that electric bicycles go too fast and are a danger to other users. In fact, this article suggests that, among the same population of users, riders exhibit nearly identical safety behavior, that neither bike is more dangerous than the other, and that they should be regulated in similar ways.

The advantages that riders gain from electric bicycles have little overall effect on user safety as compared to users of regular bicycles. What makes riding more or less safe is the infrastructure, not the bicycle type. This article, and the handful of others that study electric bicycles, show that lack of bicycle infrastructure (e.g. poorly marked intersections, lack of designated bike lanes or bike paths, special traffic signals, etc.) is the greatest barrier to safety, not the kind of bicycle.

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