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THE ARGUMENT

Should low speed electric bikes be allowed on multi-use paths in Mass.?

Tom Francis
Tom FrancisHandout

YES

Tom Francis

Needham resident, deputy director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition (MassBike)

Several years ago, I tried out a new-fangled e-bike. It was exhilarating, and had me zipping along a little too speedily at 28 miles per hour. Recently I sampled a newer version that allowed me, if I pedaled smoothly and quickly, to top out at 20 miles per hour — about as fast as I can cruise on a standard bike. What changed? Twenty two states (but not Massachusetts) now regulate e-bikes based on three categories of speed, which has led manufacturers to offer more slower-speed models. Since I wasn’t interested in the exhilarating model, I ordered the slower one.

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My new e-bike has been a source of freedom for me. It’s replaced my car for most commuting and shopping trips; no more struggling home with a box of kitty litter in my basket! It frees up my time — we all know Greater Boston has terrible traffic congestion, especially near my home in Needham — keeps me healthy, and, more importantly, reduces my carbon footprint. I’m shocked transportation accounts for 43 percent of Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas emissions!

Given Greater Boston’s projected growth, biking should be encouraged for everyone since it’s faster than driving for short trips and doesn’t add another gas-powered vehicle to our overcrowded roadways. But most people don’t bike due to the very real dangers of traffic. For them, our soon-to-be-knit-together multi-use trail system, supported by the MassTrails program, will be the literal pathway to safe biking for recreation, commuting, and errands. And e-bikes will be tools for riders to go farther, over steeper hills, and carry cargo.

Yet Massachusetts law prohibits “motorized bicycles” from paths, a legacy from the moped days of the 1970s. State legislation proposed by MassBike would redefine e-bikes as separate from motor vehicles, allowing slower e-bikes on paths except where prohibited locally. Of course, e-bike riders will have to share paths safely and slow down, as all riders should. But the bikes, themselves, are not the problem — people need to ride courteously regardless of their chosen device.

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Electric assist bikes do not encourage dangerous behavior, rather they encourage more riders to get out of a car and on a bike, which is a win for everyone!

Stephen Winslow
Stephen WinslowHandout

NO

Stephen Winslow

Malden city councillor at large; founder of Bike to the Sea, group that has led the creation of the Northern Strand Community Trail

With electric bikes all the rage, I want to speak up on behalf of the humble, 100 percent human-powered bicycle and for walkers and joggers.

Bicycles had their heyday in the 1890s before autos crowded them to the roadside.

After the 1970s new multi-use trails for bicyclists, walkers, and joggers developed. The Charles River, Cape Cod, and Minuteman trails attracted thousands. Inspired, Malden area residents worked to build the Northern Strand Community Trail.

I fear those recent successes will be reversed by e-bikes by causing safety problems, creating inequities, and undermining efforts to promote healthy, active lifestyles.

When speed and convenience become the dominant focus of parkway users, people became cut off from the surrounding parks. The same risk exists for bike paths. Average bicyclists travel about 12 miles per hour. Proposed legislation would allow e-bikes on multi-use paths that can travel up to 20 miles per hour on motor power. Without funds to help local police with training and enforcement, expect e-bikes traveling at even faster speeds.

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Trails are places where kids walk and bike to schools, and residents of all ages stroll. Gardens, benches, and art all help create a safe community gathering space. The legislation provides no protection for vulnerable trail users like children and seniors, and no funds for speed limit enforcement.

Malden trail users reflect our community’s diversity. Allowing e-bikes, costing 10 times more than regular bikes, will attract wealthier riders, creating inequities. Just try walking or bicycling along the Fellsway in Malden or the Lynnway and you can see how easily “parkways” running through wealthier communities transform into expressways in lower-income ones.

The growth in multi-use trails has been spurred partly by partnerships between public health and transportation officials to create safe and accessible places to bicycle and walk. We are just starting to see more kids bicycle to school in Everett and Malden; it would be sad to undermine that progress by ceding multi-use trails to the fastest users.

E-bikes do have a place in helping address climate change — the road. Let’s make our roads safe for all users and keep our multi-use trails safe spaces for bicyclists, walkers, and joggers.

This is not a scientific survey. Please only vote once.


As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.