Missoula bikers and hikers could share the trails, roadways, designated bike lanes, sidewalks and paved shared-use paths with electronic bikes and scooters under proposed updates to the city's biking laws.
The City Council is considering those updates, among others, on e-bikes and e-scooters in anticipation of their increased use, especially by commercial ride-sharing rental companies.
Councilors also are considering revisions to current non-motorized bike ordinances to better comply with state laws.
In March 2018, California-based LimeBike sent representatives to meet with city and University of Montana officials to discuss providing bike-sharing services for commuters. Later that year, Bird, a second California-based electric scooter company, applied for a business license in Missoula.
While neither of those bike share and scooter share projects have moved forward, the city needs to address regulating them, Ben Weiss, the city’s bike and pedestrian program manager, told the City Council during the Public Works Committee meeting last week.
“When Bird submitted a request for a business license to operate in Missoula, we had to say ‘Hold on, what are those things?'” Weiss said. “One thing we realized is there isn’t a provision even in state law to allow scooters on the road. They fell under motorized non-standard vehicles that are prohibited from operating on any roadways. But municipalities can set their own rules.”
He proposes the city first 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.
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.
E-scooters were banned in Seattle based on safety concerns; this week Mayor Jenny Durkan announced they'll begin crafting a scooter share pilot program. San Francisco recently expanded the number of rental e-scooters after a study on injury data.
The new ordinance also could include provisions that commercial operations have 24-hour hotlines and possibly allow for payment with something other than a credit card or smart phone. The city also is trying to find a balance on how many e-scooters would be allowed, so that there’s enough for people to find them but not too many that they’re not being used.
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“We’d like to average 2½ rides per scooter per day,” Weiss said.
He 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.
“We see these as mobility enhancements for the city and campus,” Weiss said. “So we want to build flexibility into the ordinance.”
In addition, Weiss proposes updating the city’s ordinances to comply with state bike law changes made in 2015.
Some of the lengthiest revisions for non-motorized bikes involve where a person can ride on a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic. Instead of needing to stay in the right-hand lane, a bicyclist can pull into the left lane to overtake a vehicle, make a left turn or to avoid hazards, among other items.
The updated ordinance also clarifies that bikes aren’t allowed on sidewalks in the central business district, and would allow bikers to use both arms to signal directions, rather than using the left arm pointed upward to signal a right-hand turn.
It deletes the requirement that bikes have a white lamp affixed to the front to illuminate the path forward, instead allowing for headlamps on bikers’ helmets.
After hearing Weiss’ presentation, City Council members said they had numerous questions, and asked him to come back during their May 15 meeting to respond to them. A time for that meeting hadn't been set Friday afternoon.
“I want to give this the discussion it deserves,” said Jordan Hess, chair of the Public Works Committee who also is the director of the Associated Students of the University of Montana Office of Transportation.
A public hearing on the updates to the ordinances tentatively is set for 7 p.m. June 3 in the council chambers at 140 W. Pine St.