A couple rides scooters Dec. 4 near the White House in Washington. Electric scooters are overtaking station-based bicycles as the most popular form of shared transportation outside transit and cars.

Electric-assisted bikes and scooters are one step closer to being officially defined and regulated in Missoula statutes as part of bicycle and city parks ordinances.

City council members agreed to set two hearings for 7 p.m. June 17 when they'll seek the public's comments on the updates. 

Only Ross Best commented on the proposed updates Monday night, saying the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board should have held its own hearing on the ordinances.

But Councilors Jordan Hess and John DiBari disagreed, with Hess saying the proposed updates have been discussed at numerous committee meetings, they've been well covered by the media, and there will be additional room for public comment at the June 17 meeting.

"Tonight we set the public hearing and had the first reading, so the public is aware it's on the agenda and will be coming," Hess said.

The bike ordinance divides the e-bikes into three classes. The first is for bikes with motors that provide aid only when a rider is pedaling, and is limited to 20 mph. Class 2 doesn’t need to be pedaled but doesn’t allow the motor to propel the bike faster than 20 mph. Class 3 is similar to Class 1, but can reach speeds up to 28 mph.

The proposed ordinance also defines electrically assisted scooters as a two-wheeled device with handlebars and a floorboard designed to be stood upon when riding and a motor that limits it to 15 mph.

Those definitions will come into play when the city parks and trails ordinance is discussed at the June 17 public hearing, when the council is expected to decide where the different classes will be allowed.

While the bicycle ordinance prohibits the e-bikes and e-scooters on city sidewalks in the downtown area, they otherwise can be operated anywhere the city allows bicycles to be ridden “as long as the use is reasonable and prudent” under existing conditions including traffic, visibility, weather and roadway conditions. Those areas include designated bike lanes, sidewalks, and along paved shared use paths unless otherwise prohibited.

Further limitations on where they can be used will be part of the city parks and trails ordinance, which hasn't been updated since 1991. The current proposal calls for the creation of primary commuter trails on which bicycles, scooters and skateboards with electric motors are allowed if they don't exceed 20 mph. 

The parks ordinance updates would prohibit traveling on the trails in excess of any posted speed limit, and may include references to "slow zones," which are heavily used locations. Speeds may be limited there to 8 mph.

The ordinance updates are in anticipation of increased popularity of e-bikes and e-scooters. The city also is trying to set up a framework for commercial ride-sharing rental companies after two met with city and University of Montana representatives during the past year to discuss providing bike-sharing services for commuters.

While neither the bike-share nor scooter-share project has moved forward, some Missoula residents have purchased their own electrically propelled devices, and the city is trying to craft regulations to cover both those that are personally owned and those that are rented.

Those regulations include the businesses having insurance and 24-hour customer service operators for people to report safety concerns, maintenance issues or file complaints.

Electric traveling devices are becoming more and more popular as clean, healthy, and inexpensive alternatives to personal vehicles or buses. They often are used by people commuting to work, some of whom don't want to work up a sweat by using only pedal power. Others may be mobility-impaired, and use electric traveling devices to more easily navigate Missoula's hills.

Updates to the two ordinances are meant to clean up the old language as well as create rules governing the newer modes of transportation. In addition, the city park and trail ordinance also will consider revisions on the use of "adult" beverages in city parks, trails, and open spaces, and lists 28 types of prohibited conduct that range from blocking a trail to flying drones.

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