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Fix Biking 5: Help People Try e-Biking ... and Let the Machine Do Its Magic
E-bikes are a game-changing technology for transportation
This is the fifth in a series of common sense solutions for building a better city for biking.
E-bikes are fun and easy …
Riding an e-bike is a little bit like getting onto an amusement ride. Push down on the pedal, and swoosh – off you go. It’s like riding a bike downhill with the wind on your back. All the time. Riding an e-bike is incredibly fun.
E-bikes are also incredibly efficient. Hills and wind melt away. With a regular bike, most people will cycle 3-5 km before considering other options. With an e-bike, that comfort zone grows to 15-20 km.
… and set to take over the world
Most trips we take are under 5km. People often drive those trips because they have little choice.
About half the population is “interested but concerned” in riding a bike. So if cycling was safe, fun and easy, biking could become a much bigger mode of transportation. Particularly for short trips.
That’s coming soon to a city near you.
According to Streetlight Data, cycling trips in the US rose by 37% between 2019 and 2022. (New York City almost doubled bike trips in this time.) E-bikes were a big factor in this increase.
People on two (or three) wheels is good for everyone
It’s time to shift the narrative on why cities need more people on bikes.
Too many motorists see a zero sum game, with new bike lanes coming at the cost of car lanes or parking. How about instead …
Bikes makes traffic flow better for everyone by getting cars off the road. Think how busy the roads are in your city during rush hour. Now think how busy those roads will be in a few decades, when the number of Canadians has grown by 25%, or even more in our cities. If we don’t give people alternatives to driving, our roads are quickly going to become even more gridlocked. We need viable bus and bike options to relieve the pressure.
How to move the needle on e-biking
Four things cities can do to get people out of cars and onto e-bikes:
Provide safe cycling infrastructure. Build safe bike networks and all forms of cycling and micro-mobility will follow. This is the single most important way to grow biking and e-biking.
Offer rebates for e-bikes. It is common to see rebates for electric vehicles. Some provinces, states and cities have started offering rebates for e-bikes. Some people might be put off buying an e-bike because they consider them expensive. A rebate system gives potential buyers the incentives required to make an emerging market go mainstream.
Build out bike share systems. Bike share systems around the world are increasingly moving their fleets to a larger share of e-bikes. For many people, this is how they first experience e-biking.
Hold e-bike and e-trike demo days. Cities should be doing everything possible to help people try out e-bikes, so that they can see for themselves how fun and easy it is. Cities should also be helping people try out e-trikes, including older individuals who had previously given up cycling, or people with disabilities who may find a new viable mode of travel.
What about winter?
Skeptics like to point out that most Canadian cities are winter cities and not suitable for cycling. The truth is that cold weather is easily addressed with the right clothing, and heavy snowfall is only an impediment to cycling a handful of days over the season.
The experience of Montreal, which knows a thing or two about cold and snowy winters, is that if you have protected cycling infrastructure which you keep clear, about 20% of the cyclists you see in summer will use that infrastructure in the winter.
But even if no one rode in winter, this is a silly argument. Cities provide outdoor swimming facilities, or sports fields, which only get used for a few months of the year. This is a country that gets to enjoy the full range of seasons, with different times of the year optimized for different activities.
Some people will choose to ride bikes in winter; most will not. And that’s fine. It’s not all-or-nothing. If we could get people to replace a quarter of their drives throughout the year with e-bike rides, we’d solve traffic congestion and have a material impact on our pollution levels.
Do everything possible to get people to try an e-bike
If you haven’t already, get out and try an e-bike. You’ll instantly understand why they are going to transform transportation in cities.
Fun and easy is a hard combination to beat.
E-bikes are going to be a big part of the transportation future of cities. Let’s get the protected infrastructure in place now to accommodate that future growth.