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Q Should bicyclists and advocates encourage friends and family to use electric bikes and why?
A The short answer is a very enthusiastic, “YES!” The first and best reason for including electric bicycle riders in advocacy efforts is that there is safety – and strength – in numbers. Overall bicycle safety increases as the number of bicyclists rises. So one of the best things that we can do to make our streets safer is to get more people bicycling, more often. And from what I have witnessed, electric bikes can do exactly that.
This gets me to my second reason for encouraging advocates to accept and promote electric bicycles: increasing access. By easing physical strain, electric bikes can help lower one of the barriers preventing some from bicycling. Electric bicycles provide a boost of power that can help some riders overcome a hill or a headwind and make it easier to ride longer distances. Plus, cargo electric bicycles make it more feasible for parents to tote kids and supplies by bike rather than relying on a car to get them to daily activities.
There is a sense of empowerment that bicycling gives us, something we as advocates often highlight. Electric bikes can provide that same feeling of freedom to riders. I also see the power that electric bikes can hold as they lure people back to the bicycle, especially those who haven’t been on a bike for decades. While some people will be drawn to the technology, the speed, or the convenience of electric bikes, some will find that they don’t always need a boost and might pick up a pedal bike again as well.
Since electric bicycles are relatively new to North America, there is some concern and hesitation about whether to include electric bike riders in advocacy efforts. Of these concerns, the one I encounter most often is that electric bikes can travel too fast. While most states have capped the maximum travel speed of electric bikes at around 20 mph (30 km/h) it is important to note that these concerns should be addressed without excluding or marginalizing electric bike riders.
When our neighbors, friends, and family have the ability to choose to ride an electric bike instead of driving a car, our efforts to create safer streets can be bolstered by these new allies. Electric bikes have the power to help get more people biking, making our streets safer for everyone. And what’s not to like about that?
Jeffrey Miller is the president/ CEO of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, a coalition of nearly 200 state, provincial and local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations across North America.
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