Keith Lay with Active Trails Whitehorse Association at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay called on city council Jan. 20, to make it clear where residents can ride e-bikes. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

Regulation debate over e-bikes rides into council chambers

Motorized bicycles could change how people move around town, but what are the rules?

E-bikes — they could be key to getting more vehicles off the road, leaving more parking spaces available around town, but are they technically bicycles and what rules apply for them?

That debate was put to Whitehorse city council Jan. 20 with the motorized bicycles which run on battery accompanied by pedal power the subject of two presentations at the council meeting.

Keith Lay of the Active Trails Whitehorse Association called on the city to make it clear where residents can ride e-bikes given regulations around motorized traffic on trails while Spencer Edelman of Listers Motor Sports argued the bikes should be permitted anywhere bicycles are already permitted.

Lay pointed to sections of the city’s bicycle bylaw, Official Community Plan (OCP) and transportation demand management plan, arguing e-bikes would not be considered bicycles (as they are not propelled solely by human power) under those. He also said the OCP and transportation plan both “suggest that e-bikes are not allowed on any trail that the city builds or designates specifically for active transportation use.”

Lay said officials in Whistler, B.C. are looking at a potential policy for electric powered mobility devices — as he pointed out the same kind of technology could be used for skateboards and foot-powered scooters — and Whitehorse should do the same.

“Members of the public need to know where they can legally operate e-bikes within the city, at what speeds they can be operated (depending on where they are being used), and what age requirements (if any) must be met,” he said. “There could be serious liability concerns should one have an accident while operating an e-bike on a trail where its use is not permitted.”

Edelman, meanwhile, argued, “trails should be there for all users,” adding the bikes are heavily regulated by the federal government, including being a limited 500-watt motor.

The bikes are part of an “exploding” new market. Many who don’t want to pedal up Two Mile Hill at the end of the workday are now willing to take an e-bike to and from work and use the help of the motor to get home at the end of the day.

“This product is exactly what the city said it wanted,” Edelman said, describing e-bikes as a greener alternative that will help the city with parking issues and in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In an interview following the meeting, Mayor Dan Curtis said the impact of e-bikes is not something the city has been looking at, with this being the first time potential regulations have come forward as an issue.

While it hasn’t been considered extensively, the mayor said at first glance he can see a lot of benefits, particularly as the city’s population continues to grow and more people are looking for alternative ways to get around town.

Curtis highlighted the limited speed an e-bike’s motor will allow for in areas where there are other cyclists and pedestrians and the potential to keep cars off the road, cut down on gas emissions and open up parking spaces in the city.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Cycling

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