All over the word, cities are developing more and more bike lanes. However, authorities and bicyclists are fighting about who can use them: should electric bikes be allowed in those lanes?
American cities are trying to catch up with Europe, promoting bike-sharing programs and installing bike lanes, sometimes even physically separated by parked cars, cones or cement curbs. All this is great for bicyclists, yet there are a lot of discussions on who can use them. The problem stems from the variety of electric bikes, and the multiplicity of regulations.
The basic electric bicycle is the pedal-assist bike (or pedelec), with an electric motor which is regulated by pedaling. Then there is the moped-type electric bicycle, with a throttle and power on demand, some of them having operating pedals, some not. And all electric bicycles are available with motors of different power, allowing speeds of 20 to over 40 mph.
US Federal law classifies as electric bicycle (and thus able to use bike lanes), any two- or three-wheel vehicle with fully operable pedals, a motor of less than 750W and a top electric-powered speed of less than 20 mph. Things get however more complicated because state laws are often different, and even city laws can differ from their state law…
For example, the New York State law classifies all electric bicycles as unregistered motor vehicles, while New York City only allows for pedelecs , all other electric bicycles being illegal.
But even the Federal classification doesn’t really solve all the problems when it comes to the safety of bike lanes. Is a pedelec going at 20 mph in a bike lane really safe for regular bicyclists? What do you think?