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Florida Proposal Could Mean More Access for E-Bikes

A bill filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes aims to bring Florida’s electric bicycle regulations in line with those in at least 22 other states. Under the proposed law, all three types of e-bikes would be defined as bicycles.

(TNS) — Fast electric bicycles and e-bikes that propel without pedaling would be allowed the same access to sidewalks and bike paths as traditional bicycles and pedal-assist electric versions under a proposed new Florida law.

But cities and counties would have the right to prohibit the fast and no-pedal versions from shared rights-of-way if deemed too dangerous to pedestrians, joggers and traditional bicyclists.

Electric bicycles are growing in popularity — particularly among seniors — but because they are relatively new, laws in many states don’t yet recognize basic differences between the three main types.

A bill filed by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, aims to change that by bringing Florida’s electric bicycle regulations in line with those in at least 22 other states.

Current Florida law considers electric bicycles as no different than traditional bicycles as long as they require riders to pedal them before the electric motor kicks in to help propel the bike. Also, to be regulated the same as a bicycle, the electric motor must stop operating when the bicycle achieves a speed of 20 mph.

But two other types of electric bicycle fall outside of that definition. One can power the bicycle up to 20 mph whether or not a rider is pedaling. The other requires the rider to pedal but can propel the bicycle to 28 mph before the motor stops assisting.

Under Brades’ proposed law, all three types would be defined simply as bicycles, but the three categories would be spelled out in the law for local governments that might want to restrict one or two but not all three.

A campaign to standardize the categories in Florida and across the nation is being led by PeopleForBikes, a coalition of industry members and bicycling advocates, and the Bicycle Product Suppliers Association.

“Current Florida traffic laws do not recognize the three classes of e-bikes,” said Morgan Lammele, director of state and local policy for PeopleForBikes, in an email to the South Florida Sun Sentinel. “This creates a confusing retail environment for bike shops and ride environment for bike riders, who could be placed in a legal grey area when trying to ride their e-bike.”

While Florida’s existing e-bike regulations are considered “acceptable” by the coalition, numerous other states’ rules remain problematic, the coalition says.

States with laws viewed by the coalition as “problematic” regulate electric bikes as mopeds or motor vehicles, impose confusing equipment or use requirements, require licensing and registration, and enforce separate requirements on roads, trails and lands where tradition bicycles are allowed.

Three categories are defined in the bill:

Class 1 — Has a motor that kicks in only when the rider is pedaling and stops assisting when the bicycle reaches 20 mph.

Class 2 — Has a motor that can power the bicycle whether or not the rider is pedaling and stops assisting at 20 mph. Often, these bikes come with a motorcycle-like throttle that controls the speed at the handlebar.

Class 3 — Has a motor that kicks in only when the rider is pedaling and stops assisting when the bicycle reaches 28 mph.

Some cities have already used the class definitions in creating local e-bike regulations. In December, Sanibel’s city council exempted Class 1 e-bikes when it voted to ban all other types of electric bicycles and scooters from its shared-use paths, according to a story by Fort Myers’ NBC2.

PeopleForBikes’ website states that electric bicycle sales double in states that adopt the three-class system. Bike retailers in those states report the three-class system helps them clearly explain where electric bikes are and aren’t allowed.

Brandes said that encouraging electric bicycle use fits with many cities’ goals of promoting “micromobility” — transportation via lighter, smaller electric vehicles including scooters and skateboards.

Electric bicycles are popular among the young and old, he said, especially “if their commute is a little long for a bike or if they don’t have the fitness level, an e-bike puts them well within range.”

©2020 the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.