Atlantic Cities

Do Electric Scooters Belong in Bike Lanes?

Do Electric Scooters Belong in Bike Lanes?
Reuters

Astrid Idlewild points us to an intriguing debate in Toronto that doesn't involve Rob Ford. After about a year and a half of deliberation, the city's Transportation Services division has emerged with a definition of a "bicycle."

The civic authority's original intent was to clarify which travelers belong in the bike lane, and which don't. Evidently that's not such an easy task. Obviously human-powered bicycles belong in the lanes, but Transportation Services has recommended that small electric-powered vehicles have a place there, too [PDF]. These include so-called "pedelecs" — otherwise known as electric bicycles — as well as e-scooters.

Electric bicycles certainly make sense in a bike lane. They're the same size as bikes, require similar rider behavior, and are just as susceptible to the safety hazards of neighboring car traffic. And Transportation Services seems to have limited the scope to "power-assisted" bikes — meaning those that require some degree of pedaling to get the motor going, which keeps the "human-powered" spirit of the bike lane in place.

E-scooters, on the other hand, are a tougher sell. Some of them are rather massive, and they resemble a motorcycle much more than a bicycle. Even Transportation Services acknowledges that e-scooters and bicycles "have nothing in common." In fact, the deciding factor in allowed e-scooters to use bike lanes seems to have been the fact that they have useless pedals attached to the sides:

In summary, an e-scooter is considered a bicycle because it has pedals even though the pedals are ineffective and therefore are rarely used by the rider. However, if the pedals are removed the e-scooter is no longer considered a bicycle.

To be fair, Transportation Services seems to recognize that e-scooters in bike lanes create safety concerns, but the agency recommends them anyway, reasoning that "it is feasible for e-scooter riders to pass slower cyclists using the adjacent traffic lane." Astrid Idlewild isn't buying this line of thinking. While allowing that the scooters do "rightfully belong on our streets," Idlewild believes the safety hazards are too great and that this recommendation "penalizes human-powered mobility."

She continues:

Legally, e-scooters can weigh up to 265 pounds. Once a driver and occupant hop on, this can top 650 pounds — which, if using a standard unit, amounts to two Rob Fords. …

At 32km/h, that’s some serious forward inertia. An impact by either will do an order more harm than a human-powered bicycle and its bicyclist.

Top image: A man rides a scooter to get around as snow blanketed Seattle-Tacoma, Washington. (Robert Sorbo/Reuters)

Eric Jaffe is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities and the author of A Curious Madness (2014) and The King's Best Highway (2010). He lives in New York. All posts »

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