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Cyclists, e-bikers spar over bike lanes

The Toronto Star: Cyclists, e-bikers spar over bike lanes

Stakeholder meeting seeks input on how bylaws should classify electric bicycles. Cyclists, e-bikers agree to disagree.

Friday, April 26, 2013

STEVE RUSSELL / TORONTO STAR

For cyclist Paul Farnan it’s simple: bike lanes are the only place in the city where you can operate non-motorized vehicles in relative safety.

To buttress his point, he showed up at Saturday’s stakeholders’ open house with photographs of the muscular electric two-wheeled vehicles he fears will squeeze cyclists out of bike lanes if the city abolishes rules keeping electric bicycles out of bike lanes and parks.

“It’s a thin edge of the wedge thing,” he says, pointing at a photo of an electric scooter. “I don’t know what reality anybody lives in where that is a bicycle.”

But for Gary Salo the conflict is just as clear-cut: Toronto should place e-bikes — bicycles with both pedals and an electric motor — into the same category as normal bikes and allow them free access to bicycle lanes. He says cyclists who don’t want to share are either selfish or indifferent to the peril e-bike riders face.

“We feel we’re in danger on the road, especially in downtown Toronto,” says Salo, whose company manufactures bicycle-to-e-bike conversion kits.

And for the city, the trick is to establish a set of bylaws that satisfies both sides.

While provincial laws treat both classes of vehicle equally, Toronto’s bylaws restrict e-bikes to a top speed of 32 km/h and their riders from using their motors in bike lanes and on trails.

In June, the city’s cycling and infrastructure committee will make a presentation to city council on how to adjust the bylaws regarding e-bikes, and until May 8 residents can offer suggestions online.

Saturday’s open house at Metro Hall was aimed at stakeholders who wanted to register their opinions in person. Organizers said fewer than 100 people showed up at the day-long event, partly because online response has been so strong.

Daniel Egan, Toronto’s manager of cycling infrastructure and programs, says 300 people responded to the online survey within its first two hours, reflecting the passions that arise as cyclists and e-bike riders compete for the city’s narrow bike lanes.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out what their proper place on the road is,” Egan says. “There’s only so much space to go around.”

E-bike riders say their vehicles are too slow to move with traffic, but cyclists say bikes with electric motors move too fast for the bike lane.

Meanwhile, some cyclists argue the definition of an e-bike is simply too broad. Some are barely distinguishable from regular bicycles, and can easily co-exist with regular bikes. But others are full-sized motor scooters retrofitted with bike pedals, too big and too powerful for bike lanes, cyclists say.

Both sides agree that overcrowding will force two-wheeled vehicles into car lanes, but they disagree on which camp faces greater danger.

“If I get hit (by a full-sized scooter), I’m done,” Farnan says.

“But what happens when I get hit by a car?” Salo interjects.

“Same thing that happens to me.”

“But,” Salo says. “You have a place to ride.”