In a move that seems guaranteed to invite backlash from cyclists, a newly released city staff report recommends that the city make it legal for owners of so-called e-bikes—those electric scooters with tiny, vestigial pedals—to ride in most bike lanes.
E-bikes have always suffered from a kind of identity problem. They’re heavier and faster than conventional bicycles, but they’re slightly too slow to keep pace with normal auto traffic. They’re street legal in Ontario, but city by-laws currently ban them from paths and bike lanes.
Even so, e-bikes are popular, and the city has been taking a second look at those by-laws over the course of the past year. These latest recommendations, which will go before the public works and infrastructure committee on January 9, would make it so that e-bikes can ride with bicycles in painted bike lanes, on the theory that it should be safe and easy enough for people riding the scooters to pass slower bike riders. E-bikes would still be banned from multi-use trails and curb-separated “cycle tracks,” like the ones on Sherbourne Street.
Cyclists have been complaining about e-bikes for years. Their motors are relatively silent, meaning it can be difficult to notice one creeping up from behind—and also, presumably, to avoid a collision. The issue has been exacerbated by the fact that some e-bike riders already use bike lanes, despite the law. It’s anyone’s guess whether these proposed changes pose an increased safety risk. The new report calls for the city to work with the police to monitor the situation, and report back after two years. If the plan makes it out of committee, city council will have to give final approval.