Seattle Parks and Recreation presented details to the City Council April 17th of a pilot program to allow electric bikes on Seattle’s multi-use trails, like the Burke-Gilman (video of council hearing). This follows on the heels of state legislation classifying various kinds of e-bike.
The pilot, which runs through Summer of 2019, will allow for Class 1 and 2 e-bikes to ride the trails at speeds of up to 15mph.
Electric bicycles represent a truly revolutionary change in the way we get around the city. LimeBike’s e-bikes have been in service in Seattle for months and will soon be coming to Bellevue. You can now purchase an electric bike for around $500 on Amazon. Cargo models have room for kids and groceries (and the insinuation that e-bikes are only for rich tech bros is frankly insulting to all the families who save money by using an e-bike to get around town).
Around the world, e-bike use is growing astonishingly quickly. Germans bought 720,000 e-bikes last year (and just 25,000 electric cars). 45% of all bikes sold in Belgium are now e-bikes. The CEO of Bosch (maker of electric drivetrains), estimated that 65% of all bikes sold will soon be e-bikes.
Unlike electric cars, the bicycle is the only form of wheeled personal transportation that is 100% compatible with good urbanism. Bikes work in cities and have for a long time. Knute Berger explained Seattle’s long history of biking going back over 100 years in this video for KCTS:
Given Seattle’s geography and cheap, clean electricity, e-bikes could completely change the way we get around the city. Already, savvy early adopters are realizing that commuting via e-bike can be faster and less expensive than public transit or driving, especially if your commute happens to coincide with one of Seattle’s protected bike lanes or multi-use trails.
Unfortunately, the rise in e-bikes has been contentious within the biking community. Some argue that e-bikes lower the barrier to entry, while others maintain that recreational trails were never meant for hordes of e-bike commuters cruising at 20+ MPH. Fortunately Seattle Parks and Recreation is getting around to studying the issue.
The proper resolution to this dispute is not to ban e-bikes, but rather to give more city right-of-way to bicycles. It’s long past time for a safe, all-ages bike network connecting all of Seattle’s urban villages. Some recreational cyclists may be happy with the current state of our bike network, but for those who want more bike-friendly right-of-way throughout the city, welcoming e-bike commuters and errand-runners into the coalition is the most promising path to improving the status quo. Large numbers of casual riders – as seen in a recent impromptu 35th Ave NE bike ride — can create political will for safe bike infrastructure.
Cycling advocates are understandably frustrated that bike infrastructure keeps getting back-burnered, despite years of political promises. While non-electric bike share has increased the number of bikers on the streets, e-bikes could be the catalyst that finally puts bike lanes on the fast track by spurring mass adoption.