(Photo above: E-Bikes for rent at Island Adventures on Spring Wharf, photo by Island Adventures)
On Wednesday, August 24th, the Newport City Council will discuss a proposed resolution put forth by Councilors Kate Leonard and Elizabeth Fuerte to “draft an ordinance which would regulate the rental of e-bikes on the streets of Newport” because “Newport has been inundated with so many rental vehicles on its streets that impact safety” and “e-bikes do not meet the definition of Newport’s ordinance as defined for ‘bicycles’ or ‘human propelled.’”
Newport and communities everywhere are seeing electric-assist or “e-bikes” becoming a lot more common and popular with commuters, recreational cyclists, and even mountain bikers. The problem is not that e-bikes don’t fit the definition of a bicycle, but that our city’s definition of a bicycle by ordinance is old and outdated.
The current Newport city ordinance 10.72.020 states: “’bicycle’ means every vehicle propelled exclusively by human power upon which any person may ride, having two tandem wheels, except scooters and similar devices.” More current (21st century) definitions of a bicycle reference propelling the bike forward by pedaling with your feet, but they add the concept of pedal-assist that provides the added/supported propulsion on an e-bike. Newport’s definition needs to be updated, as do many of our ordinances.
We can take this opportunity to fix an existing ordinance rather than create a new one based on an outdated definition.
The City can look to excellent sources to improve the definitions in the best interest of the city’s transportation health. The Department of the Interior definitions are a great place to start. According to the U.S. Department of Interior, class 1 and class 2 e-bikes are regulated like bicycles, where:
Class 1: Pedal assist only; maximum assisted speed 20 mph.
Class 2: Throttle assist only; maximum motor-powered speed 20 mph.
Additionally, the national organization People for Bikes shares a wealth of information from across the country in its National Electric Bicycle Law and Policy Overview which can be found at https://www.peopleforbikes.org/topics/electric-bikes
The introduction to this thorough overview of national laws and policies helpfully states:
Electric bicycle laws are different in every state, and can be confusing for riders, retailers, and suppliers. PeopleForBikes is making riding an electric bicycle easy and accessible for all by working to create clear rules on how and where people can ride electric bicycles. With more coherent laws: Local bicycle shops and manufacturers see increased business and their customers will no longer be confused, people who already ride electric bicycles more easily understand where to ride, and new riders who may be discouraged from riding a traditional bicycle due to limited physical fitness, age, disability or convenience have improved transportation alternatives.
E-bikes make it possible for people to practice healthy active transportation, and provide a delightful and sustainable way for our residents and visitors to get around.
Let’s take a page from the US Department of the Interior, and another page from People for Bikes. Let’s not diminish access and use of healthy modes of transportation. Let’s instead think together about how we can encourage the use of e-bikes, and all bikes, and ensure a safe experience on our roads.
Bike Newport is here to assist our City however we can, to identify guidelines and practices based on best practices and best outcomes.
The Newport Daily News addressed this resolution on the front page of the August 23rd issue: https://www.newportri.com/story/news/local/2022/08/23/electric-bike-rentals-newport-city-council-considers-regulations/7842525001/
Anyone interested in this issue is, of course, encouraged to reach out to our City Councilors, to attend the City Council meeting on Wednesday August 24th at 630pm at City Hall, and to follow progress on this issue here on bikenewportri.org.