Flagstaff City Council appears to be moving forward with a number of new regulations on cyclists and those riding both traditional and electric bikes within the city.
In a contentious decision, Council directed staff that electric bikes should not be allowed on unpaved sections of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System and moved to implement laws making biking while intoxicated illegal on both electric and traditional bikes.
As drafted currently, if the council decides to pass the law, someone caught riding while intoxicated could see five days behind bars and a $250 fine.
A judge could decide to reduce that sentence to only 24 hours in jail as long as the person agrees to complete an education or treatment program on intoxicating substances.
In the past nine years, intoxicated cyclists have been involved in accidents with cars 17 times. In that same span, sober cyclists have been involved in accidents with vehicles 512 times.
Both the pedestrians and bicycle advisory committees voted against implementing such a law unless the penalty was reduced.
Council also moved to require riders stopped by a police officer for riding an e-bike on the urban trail system or those riding under the influence to be required to provide the officer with a true name, age and address.
E-bikes on FUTS
When it came to the added regulations on cyclists, vice-mayor Adam Shimoni was more hesitant than other members of Council, but was primarily opposed to banning e-bikes on gravel sections of the urban trail system.
“I think that the debate about these e-bikes being separate from bicycles is wrong. I think that they’re really the same thing,” Shimoni said “I have serious, serious concerns about banning e-bikes from FUTS trails.”
Shimoni said until the city has more complete bicycle infrastructure, including more bike lanes and even separated bike paths, he believes it is far safer for e-bike riders to be on urban trails than on roads. Shimoni added Council’s decision to force e-bike riders off of trails could lead to an increased number of deaths among cyclists.
Mayor Coral Evans disagreed with Shimoni and said she believed the vice-mayor was inciting fear.
Depending the type of electric bike, the motor can allow the rider to reach speeds of anywhere from 20 to 28 miles per hour before cutting out.
A number of councilmembers said they had done test rides on e-bikes before making the decision and both the mayor and councilmember Jim McCarthy said they felt the e-bikes were closer to motorcycles than regular bikes.
“I have done a lot of regular peddle biking in my life; I used to do fairly routinely 50 mile rides when I lived down in Phoenix,” McCarthy said. “I have to say that the e-bike felt more like a motorbike than it did a bicycle to me.”
“As far as going 20 miles an hour on the FUTS trails, that’s inappropriate,” McCarthy added.
Because e-bikes can reach such speeds, McCarthy and much of Council said the devices could be dangerous for pedestrians using the urban trail system.
And Evans pointed out that there have been deaths in other parts of the world where e-bikes are popular, when pedestrians have been struck by e-bike riders.
Anthony Quintile, the manager of Absolute Bikes and a board member of Flagstaff Biking Organization, said he was disappointed with the council’s decision, having told the council he regularly reaches speeds faster than those of an e-bike when riding on his traditional bicycles.
Quintile added that the majority of people who buy e-bikes at Absolute are older and just looking for a way to keep riding as they age.
“Mostly folks that are a little older, a lot of retired folks, this is who’s using these bikes primarily. We do get people who are just wanting a faster or easier way to commute longer distances and use their cars less too,” Quintile said. “These [e-bikes are] outwardly designed to emulate other regular peddle bicycles. They're not faster, they’re not scarier, they’re not more dangerous, they're very similar to regular bicycles.”
The city is developing a bicycle master plan and one of the goals of that plan is to achieve a gold tier status as a bike friendly community. The city’s bike friendly status is determined by the League of American Bicyclists, but it is not known whether the added regulations will further the goal of achieving a gold status. The organization does ask if cities place restrictions on cyclists and e-bikes.
When it comes to e-bike laws in other cities that have achieved the more prestigious platinum status as a bike friendly community, regulations vary.
In Fort Collins, Colorado, electric bikes are allowed on paved multi-use trails but not allowed on unpaved trails, similar to what Council is considering. Those regulations began on May 1 and are set to last just one year as a trial period.
In Boulder, Colorado, e-bikes are allowed on only some sections of the multi-use paths, but a City of Boulder transportation planner couldn’t speak to if those were only paved sections.
Updated for correction at 10:18 a.m. on May 31.