Ocean City In ‘Precarious Position’ With E-Bikes, Disabilities

OCEAN CITY – A recommendation to allow those with disabilities to ride electric bikes on the Boardwalk, with certain stipulations, will advance to the Ocean City Police Commission for review following a lengthy discussion this week on accessibility and power-driven mobility devices.

Two years ago, the Ocean City Mayor and Council voted to prohibit eclectic bikes, or e-bikes, on the Boardwalk after weeks of debate at the committee level. And since that time, that restriction has remained in place.

This week, however, the issue of e-bikes on the Boardwalk resurfaced at two resort committee meetings after questions about disability rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) prompted officials to take a closer look at the town’s prohibition.

“The ADA law is not like a building code. It is a civil rights act …,” City Manager Terry McGean said this week. “If there is an appearance you are discriminating against someone because of their disability, that is when we can be liable and found in violation of the act and be sued.”

The topic was first debated on Monday at the town’s police commission meeting. McGean explained the issue was raised while reviewing the use of ADA vehicles on the beach.

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“In a much larger discussion, we will be talking about the whole issue of what’s known as Other Power-Driven Mobility Devices (OPDMD) …,” he said. “It’s pretty clear the [National] Park Service, as well as other cities, do consider an e-bike as what’s known as an OPDMD. My concern is right now there is a wholesale prohibition of e-bikes on the Boardwalk, even though we allow other bicycles.”

Simply put, McGean told the commission this week prohibiting e-bikes in an area where regular bikes are allowed to operate could be viewed as discriminatory.

“We can regulate them,” he explained. “We can regulate the speed, we can regulate the type of e-bike. But I think the wholesale prohibition of allowing a disabled person to use an e-bike on the Boardwalk while allowing able-bodied people to ride their bicycles on the Boardwalk, I think we are in a precarious position right now.”

McGean told commission members that the town could regulate the use of e-bikes as it pertains to safety. For example, the town could limit the class of e-bike or set speed limits. The bigger issue, officials argued, was the enforcement of those regulations.

“The police aren’t going to be able to determine how fast they are going unless they are using radar,” Mayor Rick Meehan said.

Council President Matt James asked if police officers could question a rider’s disability.

“What occurs if a police officer sees someone who looks able-bodied riding and says, ‘What disability do you have?’ Why are you riding this bike?’” he said.

McGean explained that the officer would not be allowed to ask those questions.

“You can ask, ‘Are you disabled?’ and the person can do one of two things,” he said. “They can say they are disabled and show you a copy of, say, their handicap parking sticker, or they can simply say, ‘I am disabled.’ You cannot argue with that …  you have to essentially take them at their word.”

After further discussion, McGean suggested the commission consider limiting the use to Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes, which he said can reach maximum speeds of up to 20 mph. He noted that while there was discussion of restricting use to Class 1 e-bikes, he said some with disabilities may need more assistance.

“Level one, you still have to peddle it. Level two, you can just glide along,” he explained. “A level three can go 28 mph. You certainly don’t need to allow a level three. My recommendation is that we allow levels one and two if you are disabled.”

Ultimately, the commission recommended allowing those with a disability to operate Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on the Boardwalk during bike hours with some consideration regarding enforceable safety measures.

“It’s important to allow access to the handicapped and provide something that’s practical,” Meehan said. “But at the same time, we don’t want somebody that’s going to be unsafe or cause unsafe conditions for other patrons.”

The recommendation was then referred to the Ocean City Bike and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which picked up the discussion at Wednesday’s scheduled meeting.

After a lengthy discussion, the committee voted to recommend allowing those with disabilities to operate Class 1 e-bikes – adopting a policy similar to those at state and federal parks – on the Boardwalk during bike hours. Members also recommended that a speed limit be set at 10 mph and that riders must obtain a registration tag.

“You come to the police station or City Hall and get a fluorescent tag that goes on your bike,” Council Secretary Tony DeLuca suggested. “You have to have it to ride on the Boardwalk.”

The committee’s recommendation now goes back to the police commission for review and discussion. Commission members can then advance a recommendation to the full Mayor and Council.

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.