2018-05-19 / Top News

City Takes Another Look At Electric Bicycle Rules

By Stephanie Fortino

The Ordinance Committee may revise the rules governing use of electric bicycles to require renewal of e-bike permits annually, better describe what types of e-bikes are allowed, and, possibly, to govern the speeds at which they are operated.

While the city must allow some types of electric bikes because of a 2003 court ruling and a state requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the vehicles remain a pressing issue for citizens and elected officials who see them as a threat to the Island’s motor vehicle ban.

Over the past 15 years, the city and Mackinac Island State Park Commission have established a joint electric bicycle and tricycle permitting process to regulate the e-bikes, which have grown in popularity. The process requires a person with a disability to have a doctor-signed certificate of disability to qualify for an electric bike permit, which is issued by the po- lice department. Electric bicycle owners also must purchase annual bicycle licenses, which cost $3.50.

Many e-bike permits have been issued indefinitely, according to the doctor’s orders. That permits have been granted indefinitely to people with temporary disabilities, such as side effects from surgery, is one of the biggest complaints about electric bicycles on the Island, committee Chair Anneke Myers said at a Tuesday, May 15 Ordinance Committee meeting. This could be resolved, Police Chief Lawrence Horn said, by requiring e-bike permits to be renewed each year.

Committee member Steve Moskwa, however, questioned whether the city could legally require people with disabilities to renew their permits annually. Mr. Moskwa suggested the city follow the state’s regulations for the handicap placards people with disabilities can get for cars.

Attorney Erin Evashevski, who attended the Ordinance Committee meeting in place of her father, city attorney Tom Evashevski, said the ordinance can be amended to require the permits to be renewed each year. Ms. Evashevski also advised the committee to eliminate an ordinance provision saying people with disabilities should use an alternative transportation mode - such as an electric cart - as opposed to an e-bike. She said that violates the 2003 court ruling, but added that an ordinance section specifying that e-bikes must look like traditional bicycles and tricycles can remain.

Mrs. Myers also said she’s received complaints about electric bike speeds, especially from people they pass while going up hills. She has heard complaints that some permit holders don’t “seem disabled enough” to warrant electric bicycles, but she said the city shouldn’t get involved in medical determinations. City officials in the past discussed setting up a panel to verify doctor’s notes certifying disabilities, but abandoned the idea for fear it would violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The committee further discussed the way electric bikes are operated on the Island, mainly how fast they are driven. In addition to going fast up hills, e-bike users often zip in an out of traffic downtown, Mrs. Myers said, which can be unsafe.

The city initially tried to set a speed limit for electric bicycles in the permitting section of the ordinance, but the language was unclear and doesn’t follow manufacturer guidelines, Ms. Evashevski said. Instead, she and Mr. Horn suggested the city only allow Class I electric bikes, which have electric assist mechanisms that only allow them to reach 20 miles an hour.

To additionally address concerns over e-bike speeds, the committee likely will add an ordinance requirement that electric bicycle riders follow the speed of surrounding traffic. It will consider penalties for e-bike misuse, including fines, and permit revocations for repeated violations. Mr. Horn said police officers should be able to enforce provisions against reckless e-bike operation and could give warnings before fines are issued or permits revoked.

Mrs. Myers also raised an ongoing concern about unauthorized users borrowing permitted electric e-bicycles. To make sure police officers know who a bike’s owner is, the city added a space on the permit for the owner’s name. The names wear off over time, however, so Mr. Horn is considering a change in stickers to eliminate that problem.

Mayor Margaret Doud asked Mr. Horn to send copies of any ebicycle ordinance changes to Mackinac Island State Park Manager Sue Topham. She asked that a state park representative attend the next Ordinance Committee discussion of e-bike regulations.

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