As e-bikes loom as commuting option, Atlanta scrambling to regulate their use

By David Pendered

Atlanta is trying to get a handle on the use of electric bicycles, which are proliferating in the city and presenting new threats to pedestrians when the pedal-assisted e-bikes are ridden or parked on sidewalks, trails and in parks. The debate is to begin Wednesday in the Atlanta City Council’s Transportation Committee.

e-bike

The steep terrain in San Francisco has proved to be fertile ground for the renting of pedal-assisted electric bikes. Rates charged by Blazing Saddles start at $78 for a 24-hour rental. Credit: blazingsaddles.com

One proposal envisions e-bikes becoming a huge rental business in the city. Rental companies would be barred from having no more than 600 e-bikes in their rental fleet. No more than 200 e-bikes could be parked per square mile in the city, and no more than 10 e-bikes could be parked in any given city block.

The potential boom in e-bikes presents safety issues at a time the city already is struggling to keep up with crumbling sidewalks and curbside ramps that fail to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Atlanta completed a study in 2009 that showed more than $200 million was needed to upgrade sidewalks and ramps.

Now, some e-bike riders are adding to the sidewalk situation by riding on sidewalks instead of the street, said Sally Flocks, who leads PEDS, Pedestrians Educating Drivers on Safety, which advocates for safe sidewalks and crossings. E-bikes that zoom along at speeds of about 14 mph present a safety concern, she said.

Another wrinkle is that a private vendor is bringing e-bikes into the city and renting them to riders, Flocks said. The issue is that both the business model and e-bike usage is unregulated, unlike the regulations adopted for the city’s rental shared bike program.

The Transportation Committee is to consider two proposals – 18-R-3638 and 18-O-1322.

The proposed resolution would authorize e-bikes to operate in the city under rules to be created by the city. An ordinance would authorize the city to regulate the rental e-bike business and create codes for their safe operation.

The resolution was introduced by councilmembers Natalyn Archibong and Matt Westmoreland.

The paper notes that e-bikes are becoming popular in cities including Washington, New York and San Francisco. Atlanta could become the next major city to embrace e-bikes, given the success of the city’s shared bike program. The program started with 100 shared bikes at 22 stations, to over 500 bikes at more than 70 stations, the resolution states.

The proposed resolution does not mention e-bikes on sidewalks. The resolution does say. “the use of pedal-assisted electric bikes become a regulated use within the public right-of-way, city parks and trails.”

The resolution calls on the departments of law and public works assist the Planning Department in ensuring the e-bikes comply with all state and local laws and regulations.

The proposed ordinance would amend the city code to create a new section addressing e-bikes. The measure is sponsored by Michael Julian Bond, Jennifer Ide, Dustin Hillis, Westmoreland and Andre Dickens.

The proposal says the city has an interest in regulating the use of e-bkes to protect public safety and ensure that they don’t obstruct public rights of way.

It requires e-bikers to yield to pedestrians at all times. It prohibits the riding of an e-bike while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. And it says helmets are recommended, but not required. Parked e-bikes are not to block pubic rights of way.

After the Transportation Committee acts on the proposed ordinance, it will be referred for further consider by the council’s Public Safety and Legal Administration Committee.

 

 

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. David Cabanban says:

    I wonder if the city council has studied if there is a difference between standard bicycles and electric bicycles. I am also interested to see if any of the sponsors have experience riding an ebike and if they have consulted with industry experts on this topic. My guess is that this is reactionary with not much research conducted to justify their actions.Report

    Reply
  2. Think about it says:

    The city should be promoting ebike use as a way to reduce congestion and pollution. An ebike is the most practical and efficient form of transportation yet devised. Traditional bikes are also great, ride them too.Report

    Reply
  3. Joe Hurley says:

    Is the author conflating e-assist bikes and Bird electric scooters? “The proposed resolution does not mention e-bikes on sidewalks.” E-assist bikes, just as with non-e-assist bikes, are not allowed on sidewalks. Isn’t the current confusion about Bird electric scooters on sidewalks and multi-use paths, not about e-assist bikes? My understanding is that there are already Georgia laws concerning e-assist bikes.Report

    Reply

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