Council Moves Ahead With Final Electric Bikes Approval

OCEAN CITY — After months of often-contentious debate, the electronic bike, or e-bike, issues were laid to rest this week with the approval by a divided council of multiple ordinances on second reading.

Back in 2020, the Mayor and Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the increasingly popular e-bikes on the Boardwalk at all times, including when regular bicycles were allowed. However, a deeper dive that came out of the discussion of a separate but similar issue resulted in the belief a complete ban on all e-bikes on the Boardwalk could run afoul of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and put the town at risk.

That led to revisiting the e-bike issue at multiple levels including the Police Commission, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and finally the Mayor and Council, which debated it multiple times before the associated ordinances came before them for second reading on Monday. While all agree the higher-class e-bikes, such as the Class 3, for example, which can reach speeds of up to 28 mph, could be dangerous and not likely appropriate on the pedestrian-crowded Boardwalk at any time. The debate centered around the Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes, which both can reach speeds of 20 mp[h but have different operating procedures for riders.

For example, the Class 1 e-bikes are pedal-assisted and, as such, require the operator to pedal the vehicles. The Class 2 e-bikes do not require the operator to pedal at all, instead relying on the power created by the vehicle electric motor.

After discussions at various committee levels, the staff recommendation was to allow both the Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on the Boardwalk, but only at times when other bicycles and various vehicles are allowed. However, after considerable debate by the Mayor and Council, it was decided to allow just the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk at times when other bicycles are allowed.

Allowing just the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk was crafted into ordinance form, along with language defining careless or imprudent operation in order to allow police officers some discretion with enforcement. That ordinance passed on first reading last month and came back before the Mayor and Council for second reading on Monday. The council passed the ordinance on second reading with a 5-0 vote with Council President Matt James and Councilman Mark Paddack absent.

A second ordinance up for second reading on Monday related to e-bikes was not Boardwalk specific and turned out to be a little more controversial. During the debate about allowing any e-bikes on the Boardwalk, the issue of allowing e-bikes to be rented in town arose. Under current state law, e-bikes are allowed on roadways. The ordinance up for second reading on Monday would prohibit the rental of any Class 3 e-bikes in town.

The thinking is if one could rent a Class 3 e-bike from a private business somewhere in town, the presumption is those renters would ultimately make their way to the Boardwalk, only to find some classes of e-bikes are allowed and some are not. The ordinance as written allows for the sale of and repairs to Class 3 e-bikes in town, but not their rental.

City Manager Terry McGean, after the debate came up last month, canvassed the resort’s bike rental businesses to determine which were renting e-bikes, and determined there were currently no businesses renting e-bikes of any kind in the resort. He said at the time the concern wasn’t so much the bicycle rental companies were going to rent e-bikes, but that the operators of the higher classes were going to go to the Boardwalk and learn some were allowed and some were not.

The ordinance up for second reading on Monday prohibited the rental of the Class 3 e-bikes anywhere in town. The ordinance does allow for the sales and repairs to Class 3 e-bikes in town, while prohibiting their rental. Again, no business is currently renting any e-bikes in town although there is an operation in West Ocean City that rents them. Councilman John Gehrig questioned the motivation for the ordinance when motorized vehicles of all shapes and sizes, including scooters and low-riding scoot coupes are being rented throughout the resort.

“I don’t think we need to ban the Class 3’s,” he said. “I see scooters and all kinds of things going up and down Coastal Highway.”

Councilman Frank Knight concurred.

“I agree,” he said. “We allow renting the Class 2’s, but not the Class 3’s? I just see why we’re doing this.”

The council ultimately voted 3-2 with Gehrig and Knight opposed to pass the ordinance prohibiting the rental of Class 3 e-bikes anywhere within town limits while allowing their sales and repairs.

In a final piece of housekeeping related to e-bikes, the council had before them a resolution that would allow the Class 1 e-bikes on the Boardwalk only during the times other bicycles, surreys and such are allowed. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, bicycles, including e-bikes, are only allowed on the Boardwalk from 2 a.m. to noon. Between Labor Day and Memorial Day, bicycles and e-bikes are allowed at any time with the exception of during Springfest and Sunfest. The council passed the resolution on a 5-0 vote with no further discussion.

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.