Council reverses earlier decision, allows electric vehicles to use cycling infrastructure
In a decision already being condemned by some cyclists, council has voted to allow electric scooters in bike lanes.
The idea was first proposed in a staff report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in January, but at the time councillors on the committee rejected it.
But when the report came before council late Thursday evening, members reversed the earlier decision, voting 23-17 to approve the report’s original recommendations. Most of council’s right wing, including Mayor Rob Ford, joined with a handful of leftists to pass the motion.
The new rules apply to two different kinds of electric bikes: motorcycle-style electric scooters that don’t need to be pedalled and pedelecs, which are essentially heavy bicycles equipped with a small motor to assist pedalling.
E-scooters will now be allowed in painted bike lanes, but not physically separated bikeways or mixed use trails. Less controversially, pedelecs will be re-classified as bicycles and be allowed anywhere that traditional bicycles are.
Public Works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who moved the motion to adopt the original report, acknowledged that e-scooters are heavier and faster than bicycles but said neither vehicle type should be forced to travel in car traffic.
“Both of them, if they get hit by a car, will come to a terrible, terrible end,” said Minnan-Wong. “Safety is the number one concern… The seniors in our community and the people that can’t cycle, they’re using these e-bikes more and more.”
Councllior Mike Layton opposed the proposal, arguing that it was important “to protect that very little bit of space that cyclists use.”
“Let’s not now open that up to yet another type of vehicle that can make it more dangerous for cyclists,” he said. “E-scooters have nothing in common with bicycles. So why would we put them in the bicycle lane?”
By some estimates, there are between 15,000 and 30,000 e-scooters in Toronto. Their owners don’t have to be licensed or carry insurance. Although up until now they have been prohibited from using cycling infrastructure, in reality they frequently travel in bike lanes. By law e-scooters can only travel at a maximum of 32 km/h, and their riders often feel safer on the shoulder of the road away from faster moving cars.
But e-scooters are still faster than cyclists, who typically go between 18 and 25 km/h, and they can weigh up to 120 kg. On top of that, because they are battery powered they are relatively quiet and can sneak up on unsuspecting bikers. Many cyclists consider them a nuisance, if not an outright hazard.
Cycling advocates were quick to react to the vote on Thursday night, saying it would make conventional riders less safe.
“You’re allowing motorized vehicles into a lane that’s supposed to be for human-powered vehicles,” said Derek Chadbourne, a spokesperson for Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists. “These are larger vehicles, they have a lot of weight behind them. They’re also very silent. It might be a mess.”
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