City Government

Peddle Your E-Bikes Off Greenbelt

By Steve “Bike Boy” Hulme

In one of those “stealth” moves that our city government is somewhat famous for, people on electric-assist bicycles will soon have full access to our “Crown Jewel” Greenbelt, bike lanes, many foothills trails… and sidewalks to boot!

A hearing was held on December 5th. The Parks Department representative presented their recommendations:

– Class 1 and 2 E-bikes will be allowed, but not Class 3. (Do you know the difference? Do our law enforcers?)

– NO E-bike use on sidewalks, or in crosswalks.

I was among maybe 25 members of the general public to testify. Probably half of those people admitted to already using their E-bikes, in violation of current rules, and were asking the Council to make them legal. (Boise’s “Dreamers.”) It’s hard to oppose a nice lady who testifies about how much better things are, now that her electric-assist bike lets her and her kids get to their various destinations!

My friend and fellow cycling advocate, Annette Hansen, recommended that they conduct a poll/survey of current Greenbelt users beforehand, to gauge their feelings about the proposed rule change.

I stated that I didn’t have enough expertise to testify about E-bike use on foothills trails… that I have no objection to their use in bike lanes along the edge of the roadway… but that I have serious reservations about introducing them to the Greenbelt.

It wouldn’t be a problem in December or January… but in August, when the Greenbelt is crowded with pedestrians, skaters, dog-walkers, BMXers, Lance Armstrong wanna-bes, smart-phone zombies? Since 1971, “NO MOTOR VEHICLES” has been a rule we could live with. But that’s about to change. (And won’t the yahoos on GAS-powered bicycles feel left out?)

Apparently the opposing testimony fell on deaf ears. After it was done, and Council deliberation was completed… they decided to make it legal. With one change – E-bikes will also be allowed on sidewalks and in crosswalks. Councilwoman McLean explained it in an email she sent out. “I was compelled by the testimony that ebikes should be allowed in crosswalks and on sidewalks until we have a safer and fuller bike lane system in Boise.”

I replied, “Just as there are lots of irresponsible and/or uneducated cyclists, pedestrians, skaters, etc. already using the Greenbelt, there’s no reason to believe there won’t be irresponsible E-bike riders.” Based on my casual observation, a lot of the current E-bike riders are people who don’t ride very often, and probably won’t have finely-honed skills when interacting with other pathway users.

We will be finding out. Ms. McLean: “We will hear the ordinance next week [December 12] for the first reading, and then it will be read another two times before it becomes law. We’ve also asked to have a report on the impacts of the ordinance about 6 months after it becomes law.”

I’m a devoted proponent of bicycle transportation… but I’m happy to be “on the record” with my concerns. Once the genie is out of the bottle, it will be hard to put back.

Comments & Discussion

Comments are closed for this post.

  1. Last year during the legislative session I had email correspondence with Phyllis KIng who was pushing a bill regarding e-bikes. The bill would have allowed e-bikes to operate on the Boise Greenbelt. Boise City was against the bill primarily since there was no provision for local authorities to dictate or prohibit where the e-bikes would be allowed. Needless to say last Tuesday when I read that the council was presenting a bill that would allow e-bikes on the Greenbelt my initial reaction was whoa what caused the sudden mindshift with the City. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the council meeting on such short notice

    My comments to Ms. King were based on my belief that if the popularity of the e-bikes were true and their numbers dramatically increased on the Greenbelt it would significantly impact the experience of Greenbelt walkers, strollers, joggers and casual cyclists (the people I feel the Greenbelt was envisioned for). Presently, you hear complaints regarding those “spandex” clad bike riders going too fast on the Greenbelt causing disruptions and safety hazards. So what is it going to be like if you multiple those riders by 5, 10, 50 times. These additional “non-spandex” wearing cyclists are going to exacerbate the issue of high speed bicycle traffic co-existing with non-cycling Greenbelt users. My concern is if the e-bikes are allowed on the Greenbelt it will degrade the experience of the people it was designed for, there will be even greater animosity toward cyclists and severely tarnish the luster of what truly is an asset to the city.

    Full disclosure: I am a spandex wearing, over 60 road cycling enthusiast logging 2000+ miles a year. Of those thousands of miles less than 1% is on the Greenbelt. I avoid the Greenbelt because I realize when riding along at 12-15MPH on the Greenbelt I am as much a nuisance to the people as they are to me.

    Undoubtedly, this ordinance will be enacted but unenforced and complaints are going to increase. Sad.

  2. I too ride the greenbelt nearly every week from late February to December. I have seen my fair share of idiots on the Greenbelt. Some are very young (4-6) others, are old (>70), most are in between (15-60). However, most Greenbelt users in all classes are polite, courteous, and respectful of others. Too bad you find it hard to adapt to change. I fully endorse the Council move and their ability to listen to all of us and arrive at an appropriate compromise. Ms McLean, in particular, is one of the few Council members who listen and respond to public input. She deserves a pat on the back.

  3. This is terrible news. I sure dirndl;t know about the meeting topic. I encountered some of these motorized bikes already using the Greenbelt last summer. They were going WAY TOO FAST. There will be serious injuries to people from this decision. I wonder if the City could be sued by someone who was injured? I understand that someone being bitten in the Foothills by Goat Guard Dogs was what put an abrupt end to the very expensive faddish goat grazing. It was all kept very hush hush. So maybe something similar will take place to counter this late City insanity.

  4. Genie is already out of the bottle, Guardian. It is not that they will soon have access, they already do- legal or not. 🙂

    #1. The City SHOULD be doing something about the gasoline-powered, NOISY as a jet, bicycles being ridden around at all hours of the day.

    Secondly, a difference is in the speed and manner of operation is really what matters. Some e-bikes, I have noticed do not require any pedaling- a throttle is all it takes and 20mph is possible. Electric or not, that is not much short of a motorcycle. Someone who rides one of those should be riding in the road- just like a motorcycle.
    Pedal-assists are different. The rider has to pedal fast in order for the bike to go fast. Less of a danger as when the pedals stop or brakes are hit, the juice stops too. that’s what the salespeople say anyway.

    Mostly- it is the speed that counts! E-bike or human powered.
    Lance Armstrongs zooming around the Boise Zoo need to be ‘clothes-lined” or at least there needs to be a way for BPD to cite them.
    But then again, who the heck is gonna enforce such rules?
    BPD doesn’t enforce current bike laws. How can we expect anything different for ebike laws?

    1- Prohibit noisy gas bikes in city limits and require a drivers license for any bike going more than 20mph. That is something that is very possible for BPD to enforce- based on sound- it would help our air quality and reduce noise pollution.

    2- Instead of a straight out ban- there should a zone where speed on anything is not allowed- from WS Golf Course to the Americana would be a pretty good start- a pedestrian friendly, pet friendly, child cyclist friendly, SLOW speed.

    -Solutions by Eastie.

  5. Wow! Another stealth move by our public officials! What is wrong with this city? Where did this hearing agenda get published? Why does it require laser-like vigilance to get ahead of Boise administrators’ hair-brained assumptions about what’s best for us?
    Soliciting public comment isn’t rocket science if an agency truly wants input. Developing plans for changes as huge as allowing electric bikes (whatever class they may be) on the already busy Greenbelt and Boise Foothills (?!) should have occurred in an open and well-publicized manner.
    I guess we’ll have to wait now for some crashes involving small children, dogs or folks in wheelchairs before science and common sense get a hearing.

  6. Clancy Anderson
    Dec 15, 2017, 1:35 pm

    I too am confused about the different classses of E-bikes of 1,2 or 3. There should be a differentiation between pedal assisted vs. throttled technologies. I generally okay e-bikes as transportation and some recreation uses for those that qualify.

    E-bikes sales and use will continue to surge as the tech and price get better. Sales in Europe are through the roof. Boise is prime place to use one for year around, especially if they replace a car (which is good thing for those who still drive and park).

  7. From the CITY:

    Class 1 and
    Class 2 e-bikes (power output of no more than 750 watts and a top speed of 20 miles per hour)

    Class 3 e-bikes,
    which can reach or exceed speeds of 28 miles per hour, would not be allowed on the Greenbelt under the proposed ordinance.
    Great City. How about explaning the difference between 1 and 2? Gosh!

    From elsewhere:
    CLASS 1 350W // 20mph
    CLASS 2 500W // 20mph
    CLASS 3 350W // 28mph

    Further: Class Type Definitions

    “Electric bicycle” =less than 750 watts.

    “Class 1 electric bicycle” or “low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle” shall mean a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

    “Class 2 electric bicycle” or “low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle” shall mean a bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle, and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

    “Class 3 electric bicycle” or “speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle” shall mean a bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches the speed of 28 miles per hour.
    Some industry standards:

  8. If we only had a trolly! That would solve this problem….. like so many other problems that are down town…

  9. A bicycle with any kind of motor is a motorcycle.

  10. Yikes!

  11. I cannot understand how anyone who has ridden an electric-assist bike could vote to allow them on sidewalks, which is one of the most dangerous places to ride any type of bicycle. Class 1/pedal-assist on the Greenbelt is marginally OK, but there really should be a separate path for all bikes.

    The worst bike crashes I’ve ever had have been on the Greenbelt, once wiped out by an inexperienced kid going too fast into a corner bridge approach, the other trying to pass a roller-blader on his lunch break listening to his earbuds, who didn’t hear my continual bell-ringing & skated out in front of me as I was about to pass. To avoid running up his back, I hit the brakes, went head-over-teakettle as the blader skated on blissfully oblivious—radial head fracture where my elbow bent the bar handle.

  12. Steve Rinehart
    Dec 16, 2017, 6:04 pm

    Bicycle plus motor equals motorcycle. Why would an electric motor be treated differently from a gasline or natural gas or hydrogen powered motor? There may be good reasons, but we have not heard anything like a public discussion about this from the city council or the parks managers. Enforcement, as others have observed, will be difficult or worse. A trial period, carefully monitored on a couple of trail segments, might be wise.

  13. This flawed proposal, Ord-35-17, is on the third-reading agenda for adoption at this coming Tuesday’s noon Boise City Council meeting.

    I’m not up on council procedures.

    What can we do to slow this down?

    EDITOR NOTE–If it is on the “consent agenda,” appear before the council at the meeting and ask that it be “pulled for further consideration.” Any citizen has the right to speak up when consent items are considered. Then, ask to be heard to address the issue a final time. If it passes, you can get a councior who voted in favor to ask for “reconsideration” at the next meeting if you can find one willing to change his or her vote.”

  14. Complete stupidity to allow mixed with pathway users. Take it from the people who know all about excellent public order and bicycling.

    Tax em? Inspect em? Insurance required for injuries caused?

  15. two wheel Ted
    Dec 17, 2017, 11:20 am

    Ride, Roll, or Stroll…. common courtesy is what is needed. If you are approaching someone … SLOW DOWN TO THEIR SPEED … Say hello, smile, then go happily on your own way. If I want to ride like my azz is on fire I should be able to… as long as I am courteous to other users. Same thing If I have a 3 kid wide stroller and am a s l o w walker… I simply move to the right and stay aware of others… Have a nice day 🙂

  16. Sue the City
    Dec 17, 2017, 11:50 am

    The first time a motorcycle runs into anyone on the Green Belt please sue the City of Boise for “enabling” the event to occur!!!!

  17. I agree with “Voter” they should also be licensed and be on the streets only.

    EDITOR NOTE–This debate needs to include the two-wheeled electric Segway devices. No one has ever been able to determine WHAT
    it really is.

  18. Heinrich Wiebe
    Dec 18, 2017, 1:47 pm

    Those of you who oppose the idea of Ebikes, have you tried one? If you had one to ride, would you ride more and drive less? If Ebikes were encouraged and allowed and it meant more of our public were out on two wheels, and not in a car, can you see that would be better? Please don’t lose sight of the benefits as you dream up the worst possible outcomes.

  19. Ducky says licensed on the street only:
    And the survey says, :

    Tell that to the old man, who is not allowed to drive due to medical reasons and pedals slower than you walk, so he uses an electric bike to help him get to the VA hospital… “Ride in the street mister”.

    (there is one old guy in town running his electric wheelchair in the street- flags a flying!).

    There is no one size fits all- except courtesy.

  20. Go Doug Jones
    Dec 18, 2017, 6:18 pm

    The city should have considered all of these positions. They are just putting up a fight as evidenced by the comment of the councilor quoted. I agree, if a motorized bike hits me, the city will be named in the complaint. The greenbelt is not for transport per se, it is for non transport.

  21. My email testimony on the issue:

    I am 78 years old and a regular user (bicycle) of the Greenbelt and I strongly object to allowing electric bikes of any power on the Greenbelt.

    The Boise Greenbelt should remain a “no motorized vehicles” system. The only reason consideration is being given to allow electric bikes is that Boise businesses are now selling them. It is not our responsibility to provide their customers place to ride.

    It is my recollection that some of the initial money for the Boise River Greenbelt came from the Federal Highway Administration under the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (commonly called ICE TEA) funds which were intended to promote alternative non-motorized transportation options, primarily walking and bicycle paths. It would seem that this was probably the origin of the Boise City “non-motorized” policy on the Greenbelt.

    I am certain electric bike promoters will raise the red herring of impaired or elderly users as justification for the change.

    If this is an issue then a special permit should be considered. Why should special permits for handicapped be required for foothill trails and not the greenbelt? It seems the current proposal just accommodates the lazy.

    EDITOR NOTE–I think that same ICE TEA fund was tapped to pay for the “Big Mike” locomotive move from JD Park to the Depot as well.

  22. UPDATE… it’s been passed into law as of tonight (12/19). E-bikes that assist speeds up to 20mph can now be used on the Greenbelt and on sidewalks. It’s not too late to ask Santa for an E-bike… you can be legally toolin’ down the Main Street sidewalk at 20mph by the Saturday after Christmas!

  23. Sorry Folks
    Dec 19, 2017, 9:50 pm

    Sorry folks the Boise City Council ok’ed motorcycles (I agree that any bike with a motor is a motorcycle)on the Greenbelt.

    If you walk on the Greenbelt better buy a helmet and wear good padding.

    The City Council could care less about the “normal” users of the GreenBelt or the drivers of cars on downtown streets.

  24. Another situation of the smallest of minorities ruling the majority.

    The motto of the blue democrat Boise politicos.

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