Ocean City Mayor and Council members were wise to tweak their position on electric bikes (e-bikes), but it’s going to take a summer season to decide whether the right provisions were put in place.
As of now, Class 1 e-bikes will be permitted on the Boardwalk during appropriate riding times. The approved class of bike requires pedaling and is designed to provide users with assistance. The council’s decision went against the staff recommendation of additionally allowing Class 2 bikes, which do not require any pedaling.
The concept appeared to be start with approval of the lowest class of e-bikes for now to assure compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and review the situation before next season. Though wise to be aware of ADA requirements, the city should have considered this vulnerability before voting down e-bikes in a 4-3 vote in 2020. The denial would seem to be a clear violation of a handicapped person’s right to enjoy biking on the Boardwalk. We think allowing the Class 1 e-bikes addresses any legal concerns.
Before the summer season, the plan at City Hall is to review how allowing e-bikes on the Boardwalk over the off-season impacted public safety. We suspect the read over the fall, winter and early spring months will be inconclusive. It’s going to take a full summer to determine if public safety is compromised at all by the addition of e-bikes.
We do not expect a major safety issue with this move. The Boardwalk on most summer mornings can be congested by all sorts of users. There are walkers, joggers and bikers. The bikers come in all sorts of styles – regular, tandems, three-wheel fun cycles and surreys – as well as users. Most are responsible but some are not. Some bikers don’t use common sense and are unaware of their busy surroundings.
On any given Boardwalk morning, unsafe situations play out. Anyone who spends anytime on the boards has surely witnessed some incidents and close calls. One we observed while walking in July involved a banana bike stopping abruptly in front of a surrey with four occupants. The surrey ran up and over the front wheel of the banana bike, which was stopped by the user to answer a cell phone. The surrey flipped over on its side but nobody was injured. The ringing cell phone caused the banana biker to abruptly stop in front of the surrey and other bikers causing a collision.
While e-bikes could add a new aspect to the scene on summer mornings, Boardwalk safety has more to do with the users than the equipment. It’s always been this way, and a summer season will be needed to get an accurate review of this change’s impact. We suspect it will be minimal.