Earlier this week Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) held a hearing on a newly proposed law that would try to straighten out the confusing rules defining various kinds of non-traditional vehicles like scooters, mopeds and segways and the laws that apply to them.
Part of the law would redefine what is and is not a motorized bicycle
While currently a motorized bicycle is anything that can't go over 35 miles per hour, Gray's bill would make the definition more specific: two or three 16-inch wheels, fully functional pedals and not be able to exceed 20 miles per hour. And in a big change, owners wouldn't have to register them, get licensed to use them or purchase insurance for them. And as provided for in the current regulations, they'd be able to use bike lanes, park on the sidewalk and their users wouldn't have to wear a helmet.
Those who ride mopeds and motor scooters - anything that can not be human powered - would be required to buy insurance, register with the Department of Motor Vehicles and—in some cases—obtain motorcycle licenses. It would also prohibit scooters from parking on the sidewalk.
The Bicycle Advisory Council has been considering this change in law, and most agree that some clearer definitions are needed in light of ever-evolving technology. And most agree on the issues as they relate to bicycling, but the specifics are harder to agree on. The issues are:
Parking: The current law actually goes farther than the council thought it had to. The general thought was we didn't mind sharing bike parking with scooters, but there needs to be a lot more parking available. Maybe part of the registration fee for scooters could be dedicated to installing bike parking. That might be a better solution than segregating the parking facilities because it would be more flexible. If there is a lot of parking that bikes and scooters can use, that's better than some for bikes and some for scooters with neither being able to use the other for spillover parking.
Bike lanes: There was strong agreement that vehicles that can't be pedaled do not belong in the bike lane, but there was some question about using the motor power of an electric bike while in the bike lane. The easier bright line is to say that bike lanes are for pedalling. If you want to use your motor, get in the all-traffic lanes. But what about electric-assist, which uses a battery to help you while pedalling? Should that be allowed in the bike lane? Or what about using a motor to go up a steep hill? Since the concern is really about excessive speed in the bike lane could we best achieve that goal by setting a lower speed limit for bike lanes? Related ly, all seem to agree that motor use is inappropriate on sidewalks.
MUPs: This issue largely mimics the bike lane issue but, because trails also have pedestrians, they may require more limitations. Maybe no motors at all. Maybe no motor use (so you can bring an electric-assist bike, but you can use the motor). Maybe a lower speed limit is needed.
There is a need to balance concerns about safety, encouraging active transportation - even when it's less active, enabling transportation options and yet protecting the limited space that cyclists and pedestrians have.
I have my thoughts on all these issues, but the BAC is considering testimony for the October 30th deadline and it would be instructive to hear what the wider bicycling community thinks.