Resort Council Approves Class 1 E-Bikes On Boardwalk

Resort Council Approves Class 1 E-Bikes On Boardwalk
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OCEAN CITY – The discussion about allowing certain electric bikes, or e-bikes, on the Boardwalk under certain conditions came full circle this week with resort officials agreeing on a set of recommendations that would allow the lowest-rated class of e-bike along with other provisions.

In 2020, the Mayor and Council narrowly passed an ordinance prohibiting the increasingly popular e-bikes on the Boardwalk at all times when regular bicycles were allowed. While all agreed the higher-class e-bikes, such as the Class 3, which can reach speeds up to 28 mph, could be dangerous and not likely appropriate on the pedestrian-heavy Boardwalk, some on the divided council believed the lower Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes could be appropriate on the Boardwalk to provide an opportunity for those with disabilities or recuperating from an injury to enjoy the Boardwalk bike-riding experience.

Essentially, the Class 1 bikes are pedal-assisted and, as such, require the operator to pedal. They can reach estimated speeds of 20 mph. The Class 2 e-bikes can also reach estimated speeds of 20 mph, but do not require the operator to pedal at all. The Class 3 e-bikes, like the Class 1, are pedal-assisted and require the operator to pedal at some time, but can reach estimated speeds of up to 28 mph.

Earlier this year, the issue of prohibiting all e-bikes on the Boardwalk and the potential for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) civil rights violations arose anew at two separate times at the subcommittee level, first at the police commission and then at the bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee (BPAC). The consensus was some allowance for e-bikes on the Boardwalk at the same times other bicycles are allowed was likely appropriate, but there were issues to work out including what class or classes to allow, for example.

After considerable debate, the BPAC came up with a series of recommendations that included allowing only the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk and a requirement to have the owners or operators register the bikes and apply a sticker so law enforcement could determine if they met the criteria. Those recommendations were presented to the Mayor and Council last month, and a decision was made to remand the issue back to the police commission for further review on the enforcement side.

After conferring with the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) chief, some of his command staff and his own staff, City Manager Terry McGean came to the Mayor and Council during Tuesday’s work session with an update and a series of recommendations.

The recommendations included allowing only Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on the Boardwalk during the same times regular bicycles are allowed,  establish an ordinance prohibiting the reckless operation of all bicycles on the Boardwalk, evaluating the use of e-bikes during the offseason as a pilot program of sorts with a report to the Mayor and Council before the start of the next season, and, finally, establishing an ordinance banning the rental of Class 3 e-bikes in town, the latter because the thinking is if an individual could rent a Class 3 e-bike, the presumption would be for most they could be ridden in all areas where conventional bicycles are allowed.

“All e-bikes are currently prohibited on the Boardwalk,” he said. “We began to look into it a different committee levels including the police commission just this week. I found if we didn’t at least allow disabled people to use e-bikes, we could be subject to an ADA suit.”

The difference between the recommendations McGean presented and the motion ultimately made by Council Secretary and BPAC chair Tony DeLuca was the allowance for the self-motorized Class 2 e-bikes on the Boardwalk. DeLuca’s motion, seconded by Councilman Mark Paddack, essentially followed McGean’s other recommendations.

After considerable debate, that motion passed unanimously. DeLuca said the intent of the proposed changes was to provide an opportunity for those with a disability or rehabilitating an injury to ride on the Boardwalk with the pedal-assisted bikes.

“I started this months ago,” he said. “The idea is to get people up there that wouldn’t be able to get up there. This can be a platform for that. We didn’t recommend allowing the class 2 e-bikes on the Boardwalk. I reached out to Continental Cycles and they said the Class 2 bikes are basically electric mopeds. They are apparently easy to ride wide open and sometimes difficult to control.”

McGean explained his research into existing state law regarding e-bikes.

“State law allows the Class 1’s and the Class 2’s on bike paths in parks,” he said. “We’re trying to stick with what the state is doing. It’s a little easier for law enforcement to distinguish. The goal of this on the staff side is to make this as simple was we could.”

Councilman John Gehrig questioned if allowing just the Class 1 e-bikes was too narrow. As he has said before on the same issue, the problem might not be the class of the e-bike, but the actions of the operators.

“I can understand Tony’s request for just allowing the Class 1,” he said. “I’ve never ridden a Class 3. It seems to me the Class 3 isn’t any more dangerous than the other two. Maybe the Class 2 is the most dangerous because you don’t have to pedal.”

McGean said it was a good idea, as with many other ordinances, to add elements incrementally.

“In my experience, it’s better to add than to take away,” he said. “A Class 3 typically looks a lot different than a Class 1 or 2. Most people have the ones and twos.”

DeLuca pointed out when the issue first arose, each class of bike was brought to a police commission meeting and police officers said at the time it would be difficult to distinguish between the classes as they rode down the Boardwalk.

“Just to refresh everybody’s memory why we didn’t allow any e-bikes on the Boardwalk,” he said. “We brought each type to the police commission. If they can’t tell the difference, it makes it difficult for enforcement. Whether we like it or not, they are coming. Why not have a pilot program in the offseason and listen to our police department and allow the Class 1’s out there first.”

Gehrig reiterated his desire to allow each class of e-bike and enforce the behavior of the operators.

“Why not make it easy,” he said. “It should be all or nothing. I think we’re anticipating a problem that might not be a problem. Let’s just see how it goes. It’s the operator and not the bike. If you act like an idiot, it will be enforced.”

Paddack agreed.

“I don’t think the bikes are dangerous, I think the people using them can be dangerous,” he said. “The Boardwalk is technically Atlantic Avenue and a state road subject to state laws.”

City Solicitor Heather Stansbury pointed out while the Boardwalk is technically a state roadway subject to state traffic laws, it was challenging to apply state laws on essentially a pedestrian promenade.

“Atlantic Avenue is very unique,” she said. “We don’t think the police department has the resources to enforce all of the state traffic laws up there with everything else going on.”

Paddack said the offseason would provide an appropriate test case for allowing e-bikes on the Boardwalk.

“The real challenge is the season,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll have a problem in the offseason. I agree with the incremental approach. I’ve seen e-bikes up there already and there really isn’t a problem.”

OCPD Chief Ross Buzzuro was asked about the difference between reckless riding and negligent riding, which each come with varying degrees of enforcement and penalties.

“There is some discretion,” he said. “The challenge is getting into the mindset of the operator. There is a distinction between wanton and willful. That’s where it gets difficult.”

Stansbury agreed there would be some enforcement discretion for police officers, and there would likely be some outreach and education in the beginning. A similar approach was taken when the town adopted a “no smoking” policy on the Boardwalk and began issuing citations.

“It gives them the option to stop a bicycle if reckless behavior is observed,” she said. “It could be an advising situation, or a warning or a citation. You don’t have that on the Boardwalk right now. We’re looking for compliance first.”

Buzzuro said it would provide the OCPD with another resource as it attempts to enforce reckless bicyclists on the Boardwalk.

“It’s another tool in the toolbox,” he said. “I think there is a need for this. There is also the issue of liability to consider if someone gets hit and injured by one of these e-bikes.”

Mayor Rick Meehan said any decision by the council must consider the sheer amount of traffic on the Boardwalk.

“One thing we haven’t talked about are all of those pedestrians on the Boardwalk,” he said. “It’s a little different than a trail in a state park where you might encounter a jogger or a walker. It’s called a Boardwalk for a reason. You don’t see people crossing at every single point. We are now mixing more and more motorized and semi-motorized vehicles out there on a pedestrian walkway.”

Paddack suggested that part of the motion regarding a bicycle safety ordinance for the Boardwalk should more appropriately be considered negligent and not reckless behavior. He said reckless implies wanton and willful behavior and is the highest standard. He said perhaps negligent might be the more appropriate approach.

Gehrig continued to assert the whole discussion about the proposed ordinance, or likely multiple ordinances, was based on the concerns about the bikes themselves and not the actions of the operators.

“People are basing a lot of this on fear,” he said. “We’re anticipating the worst behavior. There are bikes on the Boardwalk already.”

After considerable debate, the council unanimously passed the motion as presented, allowing just the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk along with the other provisions.

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.