Wednesday, June 19, 2019

E-bikes may be boon for transit, but safety is an issue

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, June 19, 2019

Electric bikes are useful for seniors, for those who may want to ride to work and those
who seek a motorized vehicle but have no driver’s license. COURTESY PHOTO

I’m not sure of my position on e-bikes and other electric micro mobility devices such as e-scooters.

But I am concerned about the potential for injury due to the seemingly imminent proliferation of the devices on our roads, shared-use paths and especially sidewalks that are meant specifically for pedestrians.

Already I’m not happy that so many adults routinely operate bicycles on sidewalks — it can be dangerous for them and pedestrians alike. Adding e-bikes to the pedestrian space will only make things worse. But that being said, there are many positive aspects of e-bikes to consider. As for e-scooters, perhaps I’m too old to understand why any adult would take the risk they represent to users and those around them. So, let’s just say I’m not a fan.

Speaking of being too old, folks in my age group (60-plus) and beyond can benefit greatly from e-bikes.

“Lee County has a very large population of retirees. Electric bikes are season-of-life extenders for older riders. We can expect them to be very popular here,” is a statement provided to me by Ed Benjamin, a former local bike shop owner and one of our area’s early bicycle advocates. Since selling his bike shop decades ago, Mr. Benjamin been an international expert on e-bikes. His statement is no doubt true, especially for those who no longer have the ability or will to undertake a lengthy and sustained pedal, particularly if wind or hills (something we deal with only when bridges are involved) are an issue. Whether more serious cyclists will embrace them as they get up in years is yet to be seen. Perhaps a better question is whether fellow riders who are using only human-power bikes will accept users of e-bikes into their groups having this advantage.

 For those who commute to work or elsewhere, being able to get there without having to put out so much physical energy that they are soaked with sweat upon arrival is a clear benefit. Owning an e-bike might also be an incentive for folks who are thinking about commuting by bike but have no access to a shower once at their workplace.

Another obvious benefit of e-bikes is related to transportation equity. It’s truly an inexpensive transportation option for those who otherwise would not be able to afford a motorized vehicle. While the price for a reliable e-bike starts at over $1,000, it’s nonetheless much less expensive than even the cheapest dependable car would be. As well, costs of operating are minuscule as compared to other forms of motor-powered vehicles.

Also, e-bikes can be driven by those with no driver’s license, or those whose license has been suspended or revoked. Whatever the reason one might be without a valid license — whether due to medical conditions, DUI or other traffic law violations — e-bikes are a practical transportation alternative.

Clearly, there are individual benefits to e-bikes as well as collective benefits to having them added to the traffic mix. Getting enough bikes on the roads to reach a critical mass where drivers are forced to deal with them as the legitimate part of traffic would be a great improvement to our current environment.

Until that point is reached, however, the fact that our infrastructure is still designed and built to accommodate 2-ton motor vehicles first and foremost means safety is a major concern. And having folks who don’t know or care how to safely operate traditional bikes get on e-bikes that can travel at much higher speeds than they’d otherwise be able to reach adds another level of risk — an enhanced risk that’s shared by both the e-bike operators and other vulnerable road and pathway users. If awareness and education efforts are made part of the push by the e-bike industry, it would go a long way in making me a full-fledged proponent.

To learn about this topic and more, visit and

- Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian advocate and traffic safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at and 334-6417. 

For Lee County cycling and tri events visit Caloosa Riders Bicycle Club (; Florida Mudcutters (; and SW Florida Biking Meetup Group ( The Florida Bicycle Association ( is your source for statewide happenings. BikeWalkLee’s blog site has all the information you’ll need to stay abreast of advocacy efforts in Southwest Florida as well as statewide and nationally.

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