Council Debates Allowing E-Bikes On Boardwalk

Council Debates Allowing E-Bikes On Boardwalk
File Photo

OCEAN CITY – The discussion about allowing electric bikes, or e-bikes, on the Boardwalk under certain conditions continued this week at the Mayor and Council level with no clear consensus.

In 2020, the Mayor and Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the growingly popular e-bikes on the Boardwalk at all times when regular bicycles were allowed. The ordinance prohibiting all e-bikes on the Boardwalk at the time passed on a narrow 4-3 vote. While all agreed the higher-class e-bikes that can reach speeds of up to 28 mph could be dangerous and would not be appropriate on the Boardwalk, some on the council asserted the lower-class e-bikes could present an opportunity for those with disabilities or recuperating from an injury to enjoy the Boardwalk bike-riding experience during the town’s posted hours.

Last week, the issue about prohibiting all e-bikes on the Boardwalk and potential Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) civil rights violations was raised at two separate times at the subcommittee level, first at the Police Commission and then again two days later at the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC). In both cases, City Manager Terry McGean proffered research into the town’s policies on vehicles for those with disabilities on the beach led to a look into the validity of the town’s e-bike prohibition on the Boardwalk and its potential ADA implications.

After considerable debate, BPAC members came up with a series of recommendation to allow the lowest class of e-bike on the Boardwalk during regular bicycle hours with certain stipulations. During Monday’s review of the BPAC meeting from last week, chair and Council Secretary Tony DeLuca reviewed the committee’s discussion of the issue.

“We recently met with the Police Commission on this subject,” he said. “Interpretations of the Americans with Disabilities Act may require the council to allow e-bikes on the Boardwalk with certain stipulations.”

DeLuca outlined the BPAC recommendations for the full Mayor and Council. For example, the committee recommended only allowing class-one e-bikes on the Boardwalk in order to comply with ADA laws, and only at times when all other bicycles are allowed.

The committee also recommended setting the speed limit for e-bikes on the Boardwalk at 10 mph. Another recommendation from the committee, and perhaps the one that caused the most heartburn for some on the council, was to require those with valid disabilities to bring their e-bikes to the Public Safety Building to register it and obtain a sticker to attach to the bike to help with the enforcement of the proposed ordinance amendment. Councilman John Gehrig, in particular, had an issue with the registration and sticker requirement.

“Making people come to register and get a sticker to ride a bike on the Boardwalk seems like overkill,” he said. “Does it really matter though? If somebody is on a regular bike on the Boardwalk, we don’t regulate how fast they can go.”

Gehrig asserted whether the issue was a class-one e-bike or a class-three e-bike, or any other bike for that matter, it was the responsibility of the operator and not the vehicle itself to follow the rules.

“It’s the behavior, not the bikes,” he said. “To make somebody go and get a sticker to ride a bike on the Boardwalk on a beautiful 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. morning seems like overkill to me. We’re saying we’re allowing them, but we’re making the hurdles so high.”

For his part, DeLuca said the original ordinance had its genesis in preventing the higher-class e-bikes from blazing down a crowded Boardwalk with other bicycles and pedestrians. He said the issue has now resurfaced because of concerns about possible ADA violations.

“The reason we have the ordinance now is we can’t differentiate between the class-one and the class-three e-bikes,” he said. “We just want to follow the state’s rules and the federal rules. We don’t want somebody going 28 miles per hour down the Boardwalk on an e-bike. That’s the reason we have the ordinance now, but it could be challenged at some point.”

The debate circled back to sending the issue back to the police commission for further review and a recommendation, along with a recommendation from the staff. Council President Matt James said the police commission had discussed the issue and was already prepared to make a recommendation.

“I think the police commission was ready to make a recommendation,” he said. “The reason it didn’t is because it was waiting to hear from the bike commission. I think our police officers have better things to do on the Boardwalk then be looking for a sticker on a bike passing by.”

McGean said easing the prohibition on certain e-bikes on the Boardwalk under certain conditions was not necessarily an action item for the Mayor and Council on Monday

“I don’t think you’re ready to act on this tonight,” he said. “We can come back with some staff recommendations after consulting with the police, or we can take it back to the police commission.”

Councilman Mark Paddack pointed to the split 4-3 vote on the Boardwalk e-bike issue two years ago. Paddack said there was discussion at the time about allowing those with disabilities or recovering from surgeries or injuries to use low-level, pedal-assisted e-bikes on the Boardwalk, but the potential ADA issues that have surfaced two years later were not considered.

“The ordinance passed in 2020 was a split 4-3 vote,” he said. “There was considerable discussion at that time about the ADA issue. Why was this not brought up in 2020?”

Paddack said the town could be tip-toeing a thin line when determining who and who should not be issued a sticker allowing the use of an e-bike on the Boardwalk.

“What right to we have to ask a person what their disability is?” he said. “Anybody can come and get the sticker for a class-one e-bike. I’m okay with that.”

Again, McGean explained how the e-bike issue arose. He said the town has a right to regulate their use on public property including the Boardwalk but cautioned against going too far.

“The research led to a closer look at e-bikes,” he said. “We had an issue with prohibiting those with disabilities from using an e-bike on the Boardwalk when we allow other bikes on the Boardwalk. You can regulate them, but you have to have a good reason to regulate them.”

After considerable debate, it was decided to send the e-bike issue back to the police commission for further review and a recommendation, including a recommendation from the staff, before any action was taken. Paddack said the town had to be careful with any action taken regarding the use of e-bikes and ADA requirements.

“I’d bring it back to the police commission,” he said. “I agree with Councilman Gehrig. It’s not the bike that’s the issue. It’s the behavior of the operator operating an inanimate object. We need to be careful with this. We don’t want our city solicitor defending the town against an ADA discrimination suit.”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.