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Town spins its wheels on e-bike ordinance

April 18, 2018 GMT

The Town Council continued its discussion about allowing electronic bikes on pathways Monday, but counselors found themselves bogged down by doubts about speed.

“Virtually all of the path segments in town are too congested to be what I consider a fairly high rate of speed,” Councilman Jim Stanford said. “With electric motors we’re making it easier for people to exceed that.

“I think the simpler thing, rather than having police and speed limits — is make our roads safer, and if people want to use motorized assistance that would be the venue for it,” Stanford said in the meeting.

The council pushed approval of the first of three readings, the process that sets the ordinance on track to become law, until its April 30 meeting. But it did make progress ironing out wrinkles that continued to plague some counselors.

As written the ordinance allows class 1, 2 and 3 e-bikes with up to a 750-watt motors capable of running up to 28 mph. Anything not classified as a “low-speed electric bike” is considered a different class of vehicle and is not allowed.

The council and county commission agreed to the terms in a joint information meeting in December, but the council found itself wrestling with the classifications, as well as how to regulate and enforce speed limits.

Speed-calming steps being considered include inspection and permitting through the Jackson Police Department, which would ensure the right classes of bikes are being ridden on public pathways. E-bikes would also be required to carry a bell or horn audible from 350 feet away and would have to be fitted with a speedometer.

While the process wouldn’t prevent someone from modifying an e-bike after the fact, the council requested Monday that language be written into the process that would require users to swear they would not alter the bike after a permit was issued.

As yet another precaution, the council also discussed posting speed limit signs throughout the pathways system. Highly congested zones along the pathways — near schools or in areas with a lot of walkers or dogs — would be designated as slow zones. Riders in areas around the periphery of town would be able to travel up the maximum e-bike speed of 28 mph.

The key to any of the regulations, however, is the town’s ability, or lack thereof, to enforce them. That was a sticking point Monday.

Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith said his department does not have the capacity to enforce the rules. But Pathways Coordinator Brian Schilling requested additional funding for the coming fiscal year, earmarked for education.

“We’re trying to attack this issue from a number of different fronts,” Schilling said. “We plan to start with education and outreach and one-to-one interactions along the pathways system, working with Friends of Pathways, who already has an ambassador program.

“Then, if that calls for additional enforcement,” he said, “we would work with the police department to get some of the community service officers and cycling patrol ... to have an increased presence on the pathways system.”

Having answered some of the question, the town expects to approve the ordinance at first reading at its April 30 meeting. County commissioners are expected to enact their own set of rules later this spring.