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Electric scooters will soon be allowed to invade Toronto's bike lanes, if a report going before the Public Works committee next week is approved.
Electric bikes, or e-bikes, have become increasingly popular in recent years but where they should be allowed to ride has been a matter of dispute. They're heavier and faster than conventional bikes, but because they're slower than cars they often travel in the same part of the road as cyclists, even bike lanes where most types are prohibited. Many traditional bike riders consider them a nuisance.
In October 2012 e-bike riders petitioned the city to allow them to legally use bike lanes. After over a year of study, city staff have determined that they should.
The report makes a distinction between different types of electric bikes: "e-scooters," which have pedals but can be wholly powered by electric motor, and "pedelecs," which closely resemble bicycles but have a small motor to assist pedalling.
Under the proposed new rules electric scooters would be allowed in painted bike lanes, but they would be barred from physically separated bike lanes and multi-use trails, on penalty of a $150 fine. Pedelecs would be permitted anywhere that bicycles go.
The recommendations are consistent with rules already in place in Ottawa and Mississauga.
Dan Egan, the city's manager for cycling infrastructure, concedes that many cyclists would be angered by having to share their lanes with e-scooters, but he believes it's a fair solution.
"This is a bit of a compromise position to allow them in the painted bike lanes, the rationale being that you can operate them safely in a painted bike lane. You can easily exit the bike lane to overtake slower cyclists," he says. "But we don't want them mixing in [physically separated] cycle tracks where you don't have that opportunity to overtake, or in trails when you've got an environment mixed with pedestrians."
Egan suggests that there is a legitimate reason to allow e-scooters in bike lanes because legally they're not allowed to go faster than 32 km/h, meaning they're unable to keep up with car traffic.
"It is felt that allowing e-scooter access to conventional bicycle lanes would provide a safer environment for these riders, instead of forcing them out of the bicycle lanes and having them mix with the faster moving automobile traffic," the report notes.
Toronto Electric Riders Association member John V. De Marco says that the proposed rules would make him safer. At 69 years old, he's had a hip replacement and can no longer ride a bike. Instead he relies on his 500-watt scooter to get around.
He says that there isn't enough legislation to protect electric scooter riders, and drivers don't pay enough attention to them.
"We've already had members who have been run off the road," he says.
But according to Cycle Toronto's Jared Kolb, sharing road space with scooters can be scary for cyclists. E-scooters can weigh up to 120 kg and top out at 32 km/h, while most traditional bikes weigh about 15 kg and travel at 18 to 25 km/h.
"They come up really quick. And you can get really jostled by that," says Kolb. "With that said, I think scooters are here to stay. We do have to make compromises."
He believes that scooters and bicycles can co-exist if the e-bike riders respect cyclists' space and alert them of their presence by honking the horn before attempting to pass.
"It's a really tough situation in that we've got narrow roads in the city of Toronto. At the same time, we've all got to find a way to get along," says Kolb.
The report recommends that the police start tracking e-scooter collisions, and for all interested parties to monitor their operation in bike lanes and report back to Public Works within two years with any safety concerns. It also requests the provincial and federal governments to change their definitions of e-bikes to reflect the difference between pedelecs and scooters, which staff say would make it easier to craft bylaws to fit what are actually two different vehicle types.
The report will be considered at the Public Works meeting next Thursday and, if approved, will go before council next month.