Can We NOT Turn E-Bikes Into A Regulatory Nightmare?

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A recent news article out of Marin County, California shows us what happens when a mix of well-intentioned neglect and hyperactive safety Karens come together to create a perfect storm, and produce a terrible public policy outcome.

Basically, e-bikes are becoming very popular. But, as they become popular, the number of injuries and other problems goes up. So, the local government is working to collect data on the number of accidents that are happening. As often happens, the word “public health” gets thrown around to justify additional restrictions, but this time on e-bikes.

The first thing they did was ban e-bikes from the sidewalks, because they’re faster than normal bikes and an elderly person got hit by a rider who was going too fast for conditions. Now, they’re saying that all people under age 16 should be banned from riding bikes with throttles, because they supposedly have no idea what the rules of the road are.

The police department, in a move that was unusually enlightened, decided to educate young violators of e-bike regulations instead of running them through the meat grinder that criminal justice system has become. Instead of issuing citations that result in fines or a court appearance, teens are required to attend a safety class.

But, the article doesn’t hear any opposing views until almost the end of the article. Cyclist groups and bike shop owners point out that the area has substandard bicycle infrastructure that basically forces bike riders onto the sidewalks.

Perhaps more importantly, they point out that statistics can be useless without context. If the number of accidents alone is counted without knowing how many riders are riding without accidents, it’s impossible to understand the nature of the problem. It could either be a non-problem or a big one, and nobody would know. But, despite the limitations on the data, safety Karens and government officials are running with the numbers as if they mean anything.

Another thing bike shops point out is that some e-bikes are of very poor quality, and we simply don’t know how many accidents are caused by that problem. Again, the data isn’t giving us a picture of what’s actually happening on the ground.

But, the opposing views are buried practically at the end of the article, and many readers won’t get that far. So, local media seems to be burying one side of the story while being able to say that they gave them a fair share of time. In other words, the Karens, local government officials, and the media are all taking a side (even if to varying degrees) against kids riding e-bikes.

The Alternative: Support Young Riders

The most damning buried fact in the article is that bike infrastructure isn’t good enough. Facing the choice between riding in the traffic lanes with two-ton chunks of fast-moving steel and riding on the sidewalk, kids are quite naturally choosing the sidewalk. But, that’s a misdemeanor offense, so riders are basically left with nowhere to ride.

Instead of busting their chops and even banning them from riding a capable bike, the infrastructure needs to improve. But, there are too many people who are all to happy to bother people and all too hesitant to help. That mindset is setting clean technology back and making life hard for young people who are trying to take care of the future of the planet they’re inheriting.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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