Navigating the e-bike boom with America’s outdated infrastructure



Electric bikes are becoming increasingly popular around the world. In the U.S. e-bike sales are outpacing electric and hybrid cars combined, according to the Light Electric Vehicle Association.

“The level of ridership has almost doubled or more every year since 2015,” said Mike Radenbaugh, the founder and chairman of Rad Power Bikes. “And we see no slowing of that in the years forward as we look at fuel prices increasing and other challenges to transportation only getting worse.”

This trend is in large part due to the variety of options that have entered the market. Some are built specifically for certain jobs such as food delivery, others are designed to fold up or built with extra seats for kids.

Now, they’re being used as a convenient micro-mobility transportation option for those who don’t want the inconveniences and costs that come with a car.

In the U.S., some e-bikes can travel at up to 28 mph, but most peak at around 20 mph.

This speed is often blamed for the increased dangers that are seen with e-bikes compared with those of traditional bikes.

“It’s actually simple physics. If a car is traveling 45 or 40 miles an hour and hits somebody, it’s almost a certain fatality. Whereas if that same car is traveling just 10 miles an hour less, you’ve got less than half that probability of a fatality,” said Charles DiMaggio, a professor of surgery and population health at NYU who led a study on e-bike injuries.

The severity of injuries between different forms of micro-mobility has proven e-bikes to be significantly more dangerous.

“E-bikes are three times more likely to result in a hospitalization if an injury occurs compared to traditional bikes,” DiMaggio said.

However, e-bikers and cycling enthusiasts argue the speed isn’t an issue — but cars are.

“Cars are the greatest threat to other road users,” Radenbaugh said. “Whether that’s pedestrians, regular cyclists or electric bikes.”

In places such as the Netherlands where biking infrastructure is prioritized, e-bikes are significantly safer to use.

“The big difference that you see here in the Netherlands compared to most other places, with very few exceptions, is that everybody cycles here. Everybody from 6-year-olds to 90-year-olds,” said Jason Slaughter, the creator of an urban planning YouTube channel called Not Just Bikes.

To make the U.S. safer for e-bikes, an approach similar to what has been done in much of the Netherlands — replacing roads with bike paths and pedestrian plazas — is a likely solution.

“And bicycle infrastructure is not expensive. But we need to start thinking about this seriously in North America as a network,” Slaughter said.


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