Calling new regulations on electronic bikes and scooters “not cooked enough,” Missoula’s Public Works Committee sent two proposed ordinances back to staff Wednesday for more work.
Part of the hesitancy for committee members, who all are City Council members, involved allowing some e-bikes and e-scooters that can attain speeds faster than 20 mph to travel on paths and sidewalks shared with pedestrians and non-motorized bikes and scooters.
“As I look into the future, it sort of begs the question that if we go down this path allowing essentially motorized vehicles on commuter trails we’ll have to contemplate a third class of infrastructure — automobiles, bicycle/pedestrian, and another class,” said committee member John DiBari. “I get the point that we are trying to increase our (mode of traveling) supply and be more environmentally sensitive, but when you look at a spin-off like the batteries and building more infrastructure, I wonder how much of a wash that is.
“I don’t think … this is cooked enough to handle the nuances that come with it.”
Ben Weiss, the city’s bike and pedestrian program manager, told the committee that those mixed uses would be addressed when the Parks and Recreation Department comes before them in the next few months with revisions to its regulations on shared trails.
That prompted committee chair Jordan Hess to ask to see both revisions at the same time.
The proposed regulations include allowing e-bikes and e-scooters to operate anywhere the city allows bicycles to be ridden, including on roadways, designated bike lanes, sidewalks, and paved shared use paths, unless otherwise prohibited.
Councilors also are considering revisions to current non-motorized bike ordinances to better comply with state laws.
The committee is considering the two ordinances in anticipation of increased use of e-bikes and e-scooters, especially by commercial ride-sharing rental companies. Two companies met with city and University of Montana representatives in the past year to discuss providing bike-sharing services for commuters.
While neither of those bike share and scooter share projects have moved forward, some Missoula residents have purchased their own electronically propelled devices, and the city is trying to craft regulations to cover them.
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Weiss proposes the city define three classes of electrically assisted bikes based on them having fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts. Class 1 has a motor that provides aid only when the 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 up to 28 mph.
DiBari wants to prohibit the Class 2 and 3 on some city trails, paths and sidewalks.
An electrically assisted scooter is meant to be stood upon, has an electric motor of less than 300 watts and goes only 15 mph, according to the proposed definition. The motor also stops functioning when the brakes are applied.
Weiss noted that e-bikes and e-scooters can replace cars, are a good way for visitors to see the city, and their convenience can benefit occasional riders. The downside, he said is some bikes are bulky and heavy, they might not be available where people use them, riders need to bring their own helmets, and Montana’s changing weather can catch riders in the rain.
Committee member Julie Merritt added that the e-bikes also can take up “already cluttered” real estate, especially on downtown sidewalks.
Keith Matthaes, a long-time Missoula resident who winters in San Diego, said he’s experienced blocked sidewalks in that city, and that they pose safety hazards to both riders and pedestrians.
“They just need a credit card or smart phone (to rent an e-bike or e-scooter), and don’t know how to operate them,” Matthaes said. “They’re riding them like they stole them, and nothing can keep them off of them if they’re drunk.
“I bike everywhere and it’s totally changed the atmosphere down there.”
Weiss said commercial operators would have someone on 24-hour call to handle problems with e-bikes and scooters, and that local agencies can enforce laws involving problem riders. He added that the city would collect fees from e-bike and e-scooter companies on a quarterly basis, as well as during the annual permitting process. In addition, the ordinance could require users to view safety videos before riding the electronic devices.