Guest editorial: E-Bikes are piling up the record miles…and the near misses
August 10, 2018
As a resident of Newpark, I — and many of my fellow residents — take issue with your July 28 "E-Bikes Take Charge" article; specifically with its focus on the increase in rental mileage, while giving short shrift to the safety problems that their users inflict on our neighborhood.
I strongly encourage your reporter and Transportation Planner Collins to visit our neighborhood and see for themselves the dangers described below.
The primary menace is the many near-crashes in the Kimball Junction/Newpark/Swaner Preserve area caused by inexperienced or irresponsible adult visitors and under-aged or aggressive riders for whom these rentals were never intended.
The Swaner Preserve path and surrounding area is an extremely popular and congested residential area where children, walkers, joggers, pet owners, strollers and nature-lovers take daily advantage of its recreational facilities. We all coexist and share this neighborhood with our courteous and safety-aware bike riding brethren, and a lot of us are both riders and pedestrians. We know the vast majority of Park City's road and mountain-bikers understand and exercise basic cycling safety and courtesy.
The same, however, cannot be said for large numbers of E-Bike renters — most of them visitors – who have little or no understanding of the increased safety requirements for these heavy and powerful motorized vehicles. These E-Bikes require a learning curve to be safely driven, as their turning radius, stopping distance, powered acceleration and sheer weight dramatically change normal bike-handling characteristics. Unfortunately, the densely populated Newpark area is not a safe place to acquire this kind of hands-on learning. New users frequently find themselves out of control shortly after mounting a rental E-Bike with dangerous consequences for pedestrians, other riders, and themselves.
Compounding the learning curve issue is that new E-Bike riders are frequently either speeding and/or under-aged, and/or dare-deviling (e.g. handle-bar riders, wheelies, children in baskets) or are ignorant of basic path-sharing etiquette and safety (e.g. not alerting pedestrians of their imminent presence).
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Your article listed several proposed steps to enhance safety through education and public events. However, all the education in the world won't help if visitors can't or won't attend the safety events nor read the small-print warnings.
Here are a few inexpensive low-tech fixes that will extend the bike-tracking technology that is currently used to identify vandalism, toward eliminating E-Bike safety abuses, while also making it easier to hold renters accountable for irresponsible actions.
1. Place a greater focus on enforcing the over-18 rule. Make the over-18 signage at rental stations and on the web site much more prominent than the puny printed caution that is currently in use.
2. Add a caution statement at the kiosk and on the web to the effect of: "This is a motorized vehicle that requires more skill and safety measures than a standard road bike. Operation by persons under 18 is strictly prohibited and can result in revocation of rental privileges and/or fines. By renting this vehicle you are agreeing that no one under the age of 18 will operate this vehicle."
3. Institute a fine for careless or reckless driving or underage operation.
4. Add a large-print, easily noticed, unique, identifier to each e-bike (the outside of the head tube, outside of basket, bike frame) so that a pedestrian can identify and report an offending bike rider.
5. Provide a published phone number for reporting above violations.
6. Add a signaling device to each e-bike so that riders can warn pedestrians of their presence. It can be as simple as a bell or an electronic beeper. These bikes are mostly silent and a simple warning would be a great help.
7. I'm sure other readers have helpful ideas that can mitigate these hazards and provide for a safer and even more successful E-Bike program.
Again, I encourage the Park Record and Ms. Collins to come to our neighborhood and see first-hand how prevalent these safety hazards are and why it should take priority over the push to increase ridership miles. You can bring your bikes!
It is clear that just one serious incident could stop this worthwhile program in its tracks, and nobody wants that. The more miles we pile up, the greater the likelihood of this happening.