OCEAN CITY — Despite some passionate last-ditch pleas to sway opinion, the majority of the Ocean City Council on Monday approved on second and final reading a prohibition on electronic bikes, or e-bikes, on the Boardwalk, putting an end to the contentious issue.
The Mayor and Council had before them on Monday he second reading of an ordinance that would prohibit the use of any e-bikes on the Boardwalk. For the last month or so, the elected officials have been debating if e-bikes should be allowed on the Boardwalk at any time, and if so, how should they be regulated.
At each level and following each discussion, the outcome has been the same 4-3 vote with Council President Lloyd Martin, Council Secretary Mary Knight, and Councilmen Tony DeLuca and Dennis Dare in favor of the prohibition of e-bikes on the Boardwalk. On Monday, the ordinance came up one last time for second and final reading and the outcome was the same 4-3 vote, despite impassioned pleas from the dissenters to reconsider.
For DeLuca, the decision came down to three essential points.
“Our police department recommends prohibiting them,” he said. “You can’t differentiate between the various classes. Why would we ask our police to enforce something when they can’t tell the difference? Finally, the calls and emails I’ve received on this issue are three-to-one in favor of no motorized bicycles on the Boardwalk.”
However, Councilman Mark Paddack said banning e-bikes from the Boardwalk was premature because they have existed for years and there is no evidence they cause any problems.
“The state of Maryland has allowed these,” he said. “We have not had one documented accident up there relating to e-bikes. I will not be voting to approve this.”
Councilman John Gehrig agreed there hasn’t been any evidence presented to suggest the e-bikes are any more dangerous than regular bikes on the Boardwalk and continued his call to simply monitor the situation for now before passing a broad-brush prohibition.
“It’s not like we’re allowing them,” he said. “They’re already there. We can keep an eye on it. To ban something that doesn’t have a history of needing to be banned is premature.”
Gehrig then turned his sights on DeLuca’s point about the difficulty for police to differentiate between the classes of e-bikes.
“This is not about Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3, it’s about behavior,” he said. “Sure, it might be hard to differentiate, but there shouldn’t be a need to differentiate. If somebody is riding a pedal bike recklessly on the Boardwalk and putting other people at risk, they should be punished too.”
Gehrig said passing the ordinance is essentially discriminating against an entire segment of the population that need the pedal-assisted bikes for regular exercise or to rehabilitate an injury, for example.
“People want to use the Boardwalk, which is a top 10 Boardwalk in the world, right?” he said. “Basically what this ordinance does is say if you need to get out and get exercise and stay healthy, you live in one of the greatest places in the world with one of the best amenities in the country, but you can’t use it.”
Gehrig said the alternative is inherently more dangerous.
“Instead, we’re going to put you out on Coastal Highway where we do have documented cases of accidents, injuries and even deaths,” he said. “We’re forcing them, many of whom are senior citizens, or who have ailments and injuries where they need to get exercise, off the Boardwalk and onto the highway.”
Councilman Dennis Dare, however, said the decision to ban e-bikes on the Boardwalk was a no-brainer for him.
“To me, it’s simple,” he said. “Motorized vehicles don’t belong on the Boardwalk, with the emphasis on walk. It makes it that much more difficult to make the Boardwalk safe.”
Dare took exception to the seemingly endless amount of time the elected officials have spent debating the e-bike issue.
“We’ve spent more time on this debate then we have had on some very significant issues such as tourism, economic development, renovating Baltimore Avenue, tax differential and the list goes on and on,” he said. “We have serious issues that need to be solved and we dwell on this? That’s one of the reasons I decided not to run for City Council. We’re not focused on what we need to be focused on.”
Gehrig agreed with the endless discussion of the e-bike issue, but for a different reason.
“I agree,” he said. “Why we’re proactive on an issue like this makes no sense to me. This is where we plant our flag? This is where we take a stand? Why we choose what we choose to rise up and be bold about, I never understand it.”
Local attorney and e-bike advocate Cullen Burke weighed in on the issue. Burke said his wife rides an e-bike because of a health issue and also brought along with him a longtime friend who also rides an e-bike because of multiple joint replacements. Burke said he can practically walk along with his friend on an e-bike because he goes so slow.
“My wife rides her e-bike up there and I ride my regular bike and I really don’t see too many of them up there,” he said. “All of the sudden this issue comes up and it’s like the Hell’s Angels or the Pagans are coming to town. We just don’t have any empirical evidence that they cause problems.”
Burke agreed with Gehrig’s assessment of the amount of time the council has devoted to the e-bike issue.
“Sometimes, it seems like the council is frustrated they can’t put the clamps down on H2Oi or some other serious issue, so they take a stand against people riding a bike at 10 mph,” he said. “This is excluding people from a wholesome, healthy activity. The law is simply too broad.”
Local resident Larry Yates agreed with Dare and the majority of the council and said DeLuca’s estimate of the ratio of those for and against the ban was likely too low.
“I’ve heard both sides of this,” he said. “I’m a senior citizen and if I had to use one of these bikes, we have parks, we have bike paths and we have other alternatives,” he said. “I ride my bike up there two or three times a week and I’ve had a chance to ask a lot of people their opinion on this and I think the ratio is more like six-to-one against allowing these bikes up there.”
In the end, the council voted 4-3 to approve the prohibition of e-bikes on the Boardwalk, bringing closure to an issue that has lingered for several weeks.