Bike Utah: The e-bike revolution is here. That’s a good thing.

Low-speed e-bikes are much more similar to traditional bikes than to motorized vehicles.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bike commuter Dave Orozco, who got rid of his car more than a year ago, transports his dog Kona in a trailer as he makes his way home on his e-bike following a visit to the park in Salt Lake City on Monday, May 22, 2023.

The buzzing debate around e-bikes has made headlines in the Deseret News, St. George News and KSL in recent months. One particularly bold headline doesn’t hold back, suggesting e-bikes may be “a menace” to other trail users.

While safety concerns deserve attention, this debate misses the forest for the trees. E-bikes aren’t the problem, it’s our transportation policies and inadequate infrastructure that have failed to keep up with surging e-bike popularity. Many trails — in both urban areas and natural parks — are struggling to meet growing demand for bicycle travel. We can solve these problems without putting the brakes on active transportation.

As an example of misguided policy, consider recent regulations from the U.S. Forest Service. They classify all e-bikes as “motorized vehicles” which are therefore banned on non-motorized trails. This one-size-fits-all approach diminishes the benefits of e-bikes and ignores how different types of e-bikes function.

Class one and class two e-bikes have a top speed of 20 mph and typically provide assistance only when pedaling. Practically, though, most e-bike riders don’t reach this top speed, and experienced riders on traditional bikes often reach speeds above 20 mph. Low-speed e-bikes are much more similar to traditional bikes than to motorized vehicles. Trail regulations should reflect this different functionality by allowing low-speed e-bikes on bike trails.

Utah law rightfully treats low-speed e-bikes the same as traditional bikes. Yet, some policymakers and interest groups are considering adding additional barriers to e-bike usage. We should be concerned about these efforts to restrict active transportation.

Policymakers should be supporting e-bike use, not restricting it. Research suggests that e-bikes encourage significantly more cycling compared to traditional bikes, reducing car trips by up to 50%. Higher e-bike usage has additional benefits for cycling accessibility, traffic congestion, air quality and community well-being.

E-bikes significantly reduce barriers to active transportation. With e-bike ridership doubling or more every year, we can expect this issue to gain more controversy until policymakers address the need for thoughtful policy and cycling infrastructure that accommodates different types of riders.

Bike Utah stands firmly in support of e-bikes, not just as a form of transportation but as the flag bearers of a future where age and ability don’t define who rides. Utahns deserve safe bike paths and trails that are friendly and welcoming to the e-bike revolution.

Cameron Carter

Cameron Carter, Murray, is the planning and policy specialist at Bike Utah.

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