E-bikes are everywhere, but not everyone is happy about that
E-bike use is increasing on the Pinellas Trail, as well as downtown streets in Tampa and St. Petersburg. So is concern among some about whether they're safe.
Richard Morea has been walking the Pinellas Trail in Dunedin for more than 20 years. He says he was once hit in the back by a speeding e-bike.
"We have a proliferation of e-bikes, we have a unicycles, which are electric, we have hoverboards that are electric. You have our skateboards, generally young kids, middle schoolers and high schoolers around those electric skateboards," Morea said.
"And we have a sign in town, which is a joke where it says 20 miles an hour. And we also have a sign that says no electric vehicles, which is long since outdated, so the signage is outdated. And we also mix into that those other bikers on regular bikes who are Speed Racer types."
It may be the sheer number of pedestrians and bikers on the Pinellas Trail, and not the increasing number of e-bikes, that are making some people feel less safe.
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A dangerous future for transportation?
Some people see e-bikes as the future of urban transportation and a way to get more cars off the road. Others say they’re adding new dangers for pedestrians.
The truth lies somewhere in the middle of the road ... or the sidewalk ... or the trail.
Some of the confusion lies in understanding just what an e-bike is in the first place.
Kevin Craft, of City Bike in downtown Tampa, is participating in the city's new e-bike rebate program. Participants who get picked in a lottery will get $500 to $1,000 off an e-bike, which can cost between $1,500 and $3,000.
Those are Class 1, pedal-assist e-bikes. Craft said they just put a little power behind your pedaling.
“All of these bikes are going to be governed at 20 (mph)," Craft said. "And that means the motor is going to be shutting off at 20. If you're going faster than that it's all going to be on your own power.”
Riding one of these Class 1 e-bikes is like, well, riding a bike.
But when you add the assist, it's a different kind of bike ride. It's much easier and, at the highest settings, it's obvious you really don't have to pedal at all.
And that's what has some people concerned.
Rebecca Bray of Tampa was walking with her husband on the trail and said e-bikes are not for her.
"Yeah, we don't do e-bikes," Bray said. "I think e-bikes are a whole new game. We do find them a little bit more dangerous, especially if someone's not paying attention or has air pods in or in our neighborhood, for instance, a lot of kids look at their phones while they're traveling."
E-bikes are not just for trails
In addition to Tampa’s e-bike rebate program, the city of St. Petersburg recently announced its downtown bike share program was going all-electric.
That means more people along the Pinellas Trail — and on downtown streets — will encounter e-bikes.
In fact, a study compiled by The Roundup shows sales of e-bikes grew by 240% between 2019 and 2021 — and more than four times the rate of standard bikes —and by this year, around 300 million e-bikes will be in use around the world.
The majority of e-bike purchasers, according to the study, are between 40 and 70 years old.
Kyle Simpson, active transportation planner for Forward Pinellas, said that data indicates speeding e-bikers is more a feeling than a reality.
"In the spring of 2022, we actually did a speed study out on the trail, because we had been receiving complaints about the speeds of people on the trail and on e-bikes," Simpson said. "And basically, what we found is that very few people were exceeding the posted speed limit of 20, on the Pinellas Trail, and that really was, was more of a comfort this year than necessarily a safety issue."
But, Simpson said, the data is also clear on trail use. It just keeps going up.
"In 2019, we had around 1.4 million users over the course of the year. And then 2022 is around 2 million. So there's a lot more people on the trail than there used to be," Simpson said. "And then there's probably a lot more people on e-bikes who are traveling at a faster speed than they would on a pedal bike. But they're not necessarily exceeding the speed limit on the trail."
The key to safety: Just be aware
John Quinn is from upstate New York. He is one of those increasing numbers of people pedaling an e-bike on the Pinellas Trail.
He said conditions at home make e-biking the right choice for him.
"Where we are is fairly mountainous," Quinn said. "So having an electric motor to assist us up the hills makes a big difference. And we can go farther and just enjoy it, you can get as much or as little exercise on him as you want."
City Bike's Craft said as every area gets more congested, it's important for everybody to be aware they're not alone.
"We've noticed it here in Tampa, as the city gets busier and more congested, people actually have to start being aware of each other and taking consideration of each other," Craft said. "Pedestrians have the right of way and then it's bicycles and then it's cars, and so it's kind of keeping in mind who you need to be looking out for. And the more predictable and the safer you can be as a cyclist or pedestrian or a driver, it's just going to help everybody down the road."