OCEAN CITY — Proponents of allowing at least some electronic bikes, or e-bikes, on the Boardwalk made yet another effort to sway their colleagues this week, but there was little interest in changing the vote.
The Mayor and Council had before them on Monday the first reading of an ordinance that would prohibit the use of any e-bikes on the Boardwalk. For the last month or so, the Mayor and Council have been debating if e-bikes should be allowed on the Boardwalk at any time and, if so, how should they be regulated.
There are three classes of e-bikes, each with slightly different capabilities. They are all pedal-assist bikes that require the rider to continuously pedal, but have low-powered electric engines. About a month ago, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) recommended allowing the lowest rated Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk.
However, citing enforcement challenges in differentiating between the classes of e-bikes, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) recommended a blanket prohibition of all e-bikes on the Boardwalk. After a tense debate last week, the council voted 4-3, with Councilmen John Gehrig, Matt James and Mark Paddack opposed, to move the Boardwalk e-bike prohibition to ordinance form and it was brought back up for first reading on Monday.
Before that vote was taken, however, the minority made another effort to convince their colleagues to change their minds. Gehrig said the lower-rated Class 1 e-bikes are ideal for riders who want to enjoy the Boardwalk, but are rehabilitating injuries and have limited capabilities.
“I’m going to ask that we rethink this again,” he said. “We already have e-bikes on the Boardwalk and we’ve had no issues or reckless behavior whatsoever. Passing an ordinance means its done. If we keep an eye on it, we can take care of the challenges when they come. All people need to have the right to enjoy the Boardwalk and some people need this assistance. I’m just asking that we hold off.”
Paddack agreed it is the behavior of the riders themselves that should be regulated and monitored.
“Are guns bad? No,” he said. “It’s the behavior of people using them. It’s the same thing here. They are currently legal and constantly on the Boardwalk and the police have said there have been zero incidents. These bikes range between $700 and $2,000. The riders are mature and riding responsibly.”
Paddack said there was still time to monitor the use of e-bikes on the Boardwalk and make the appropriate rule changes if and when they become necessary.
“At a minimum, we should temporarily monitor it instead of passing an outright ban,” he said. “Frankly, it’s a lot safer to ride these on the Boardwalk than riding up Baltimore Avenue.”
Councilman Tony DeLuca, who chairs the BPAC, said he initially supported the Class 1 bikes on the Boardwalk, but changed his mind after getting a demonstration.
“Here’s the irony, I wanted Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk at first,” he said. “Then, we had a demonstration and we learned you can’t tell the difference between the Class 1 and the Class 3. The police department asked us not to allow any e-bikes on the Boardwalk. Why? Because you can’t tell the difference.”
Gehrig said there was no reason to rush to pass an ordinance before a problem was identified.
“I don’t care if it’s Class 1 or Class 3,” he said. “It’s all about behavior. If someone is acting recklessly, they get in trouble. Now we’re passing an ordinance for no reason. There is no factual basis. I’m not ready to draft an ordinance just because I don’t like something.”
James also sought to pump the brakes, so to speak, before an outright ban.
“I think a trial basis would be nice before an outright ban,” he said. “I just think this is premature.”
In the end, the ordinance passed on first reading by the same 4-3 vote.