Toronto City Council is considering revising its by-laws regarding the definition of a bike. This past week Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong put forward a motion to review whether e-bikes should be included in the definition of a bicycle. Currently the definition of a bicycle strictly refers to bicycles and tricycles that are driven only by muscle power. The interest in putting forward this amendment is to allow e-bikes to use cycling infrastructure such as bike lanes and trails. Currently e-bikes that are caught riding on city bike lanes or paths face a fine of $305.
The benefit of allowing e-bikes to use cycling infrastructure is that it will encourage people who may not have the physical ability to ride a muscle powered bike to use alternative transport. Having more people choose the alternative transportation of an e-bike reduces the use of fossil fuels and decreases congestion. Despite these benefits Toronto’s cycling community has raised several concerns about e-bikes being welcome in bike lanes and paths.
The word e-bike is used to describe two types of electric powered bikes. One of these types is the large heavy electric scooter. These can be driven exclusively with the electric motor and can reach speeds of up to 35 kmph. The Toronto cycling community is concerned about such a heavy and fast vehicle being permitted within bike infrastructure and the risks that it creates for traditional cyclists. The other type of e-bike is called a pedal-assist. This is a bike that still relies on the use of its pedals in order to activate the motor which will kick in and assist the cyclist in powering the bike. The weights of these bikes are much less than the scooter style e-bike.
Not Far From The Tree has invested in a power assist modification for the cargo bike used in the Scarborough-Agincourt Ward. In order to follow our sustainable transportation model we determined it necessary to have a power assist bike in order to cover the greater distances that exist within Toronto’s inner suburbs.
I spoke with Christine Markwell the food bank coordinator of our Scarborough-Agincourt community partner Agincourt Community Services Association to get some insight on why their neighbourhood may need e-bikes in order to safely operate. Christine was enthusiastic about our use of a power-assist bike in her neighbourhood.
Christine explained how the roads of Scarborough aren’t designed with bikes in mind. This means the roads are often faster, wider and designed only for motorists. Christine describes how since roads in Scarborough are designed for cars it leaves motorists becoming frustrated when having to share the road with cyclists and pedestrians. In order to secure the safety of the cyclist when sharing the road with cars it is necessary that cyclists be able to keep up with traffic. An e-bike will give you a better chance at keeping up with traffic. However it is safer for a person on an e-bike to ride separated from car traffic in a bike lane rather than trying to keep up with cars on a bike. Because of this she believes it is necessary that e-bikes be allowed to use the cities system of bike lanes and paths.
What do you think about the use of e-bikes in Toronto’s bike lanes? Should there be a separate designation for Electric Scooters and Pedal-Assist Bicycles? How can we keep everybody safe while encouraging sustainable transportation?