Andy McKenna on his e-bike outside City Hall.
Toronto's bike versus car debate was put on hold Thursday, as yet another player entered the fray in the fight for space on the city's roads.
E-bikes were on the agenda at a meeting of the public works committee at City Hall, where proponents of the battery-powered scooters petitioned councillors to change city rules that prohibit them from traveling in bike lanes.
The electric vehicles have pedals but many types can operate without foot power. By provincial law they're limited to speeds under 32 km/hr, compared to an average bicycle speed of between 15 - 20 km/hr. While they're much slower than cars, they're not allowed in bike lanes or on multi-use off-road trails, which Toronto's municipal code restricts to bikes without a power source.
But those who use the scooters argue they're a green, low-cost transportation mode ideal for people who face mobility challenges, and should be safely separated from car traffic.
"Many of our residents can no longer pedal a bicycle," wrote e-bike booster John De Marco in a letter to public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong. "Their knees are gone or they have lost their hips. Some... have asthma or weakened hearts in their ‘golden years.'"
Some e-bikers admit to using bike lanes already, despite the rule against it.
"Riding on the side of the road where there isn't any bike lane is scary," Jim Thompson, who rides his e-bike 35 km to work at his construction job, told the committee. "Where there is a bike lane... I don't have to worry about cars getting too close."
After hearing from a half dozen scooter riders, the committee voted to have staff look into policies that could dictate their use on trails and bike lanes, including separated bikeways. A report will come back to the committee next spring.
Minnan-Wong said he's still undecided on where e-bikes should be allowed, but finds the arguments he's heard from their proponents "fairly persuasive."
"I believe that we need to recognize that e-bikes are a legitimate form of getting around the city, and they've fallen through the cracks in terms of where they're allowed to properly ride," said the councillor.
"I'd be interested to see the report, and I'm hoping cyclists and e-bike users are open-minded about wanting to share the roadway," he added.
But Jared Kolb of Cycle Toronto says his mind is made up. He wants e-bikes kept out of bike lanes, particularly the separated bikeways the city has started to build.
"They move too fast, they're large, and their weight is considerable," Kolb said of the scooters. "If there is an accident, it has a much larger impact on a pedestrian or on a cyclist.
"Now that we're moving into this new world of separated bike lanes, it creates even more points of contact [between e-bikes and other road users]."
Kolb would like to see a city policy that distinguishes between hand-throttle operated electric scooters and the slower, pedal-assist vehicles that use a motor but still require foot power to operate. Both are often described as e-bikes, but Kolb says the pedal-assist variety would pose no hazard in bike lanes.