Do e-bikes belong on the bike path?

Published: Jul. 27, 2021 at 4:43 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The popularity of e-bikes has taken the country -- and Vermont -- by storm over the past several years, but how safe are they on the Burlington Bike Path, where they share space with bicyclists, walkers, and runners? Melissa Cooney talked to folks who use the bike path and e-bike supporters to learn more.

For Caitlyn May, this is her first time riding an e-bike. The Burlington resident started out a little nervous on the bike path. “I don’t know about this new bike and all of these people at once. I’m not sure if I want to navigate this today,” May said.

Her sister Sophia, who is also along for the ride, says it’s clear you need to know what you’re doing before you take off. “Just because it is different -- it does give you that kick, like my sister was saying -- and so knowing how to work that and how much to pedal and everything is useful,” Sophia said.

Devin Farkas loves to walk this section of the Burlington Bike Path and says he’s not opposed to sharing it with e-bikes. “I like that e-bikes create an opportunity for more people to enjoy biking on the bike path. I do think they can go faster, so maybe we should think about putting a speed limit on the bike path.”

Even Congressman Peter Welch and his wife weighed in. “I think as long as we adapt and are really, really careful, it’s a great option. And when you consider that as opposed to having to be in the car all the time, the speed doesn’t bother me because it’s replacing a car,’ Welch said.

The Vermont Agency of Transportation’s Jon Kaplan says they’ve heard some of these concerns but aren’t worried -- at least not yet. “I think it’s somewhat misplaced. I think it’s partially because it’s something new and people are maybe anticipating problems that we don’t know if those really exist yet,” he said. Kaplan also says he doesn’t see a need for a speed limit.

There have been two reported e-bike crashes in Vermont since 2020. “We did back in early 2020 was to update our crash report form to allow us to better collect that so we can better discern between a regular bike and a motorized bike,” said Mandy Wight with VTrans.

E-bikes and regular bikes are similar in structure, but e-bikes can go up to 28 mph on a flat surface like the bike path. You can go that fast on a regular bike too, but it takes a lot more effort.

“We don’t see a problem with any assist bike or scooter or Segway being used on the bike path. If the people are following the rules of the road -- or the rules of the path -- and respecting all of our users,” said Mary Catherine Graziano with Local Motion.

Officials say bikers, e-bikers, runners, and walkers can all coexist on the bike path as long as all of its users are respectful.

“I don’t feel threatened by it. It’s the responsibility of the rider,” said Dana Martinelli of Burlington.

VTrans officials say they will continue to monitor the use of e-bikes -- both on the road and on the bike path -- but they don’t expect any problems, as long as folks follow the rules of the bike path.

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New electric bike share program rolls into Burlington area

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