It’s time for America’s largest cities to get behind e-bikes.
The arguments in favor of this move have long been compelling; now they’re downright irrefutable, starting with the already sizeable gap that exists between e-bike sales on continents like Europe and Asia, and those here in the US.
As we reported back in May, China’s total e-bike count surpassed 200 million back in 2016. Most of these purchases have come in the form of relatively inexpensive, mid-hundred-dollar bikes, but the trend demonstrates just how great the demand has already become across the Pacific.
In Europe, sales are moving in a similar direction. According to Jonathan Weinert at Bosch eBike Systems, 25% of all bike sales in Germany are pedal assist (the name given to electric bikes that also utilize pedal propulsion). In the neighboring Netherlands, that figure jumps to 33%. Compare these numbers to the US, where only 1 in 10 new bike sales fall into the e-bike category, and you begin to get a sense for how great the disparity is.
Instead of simply rattling off reasons why a rise in electric bike ridership would be a boon to American communities, however, we think it’s more convincing to demonstrate the benefits using real-world examples. Take a look.
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ALLEVIATING LAST MILE WOES IN NEW YORK
In case you haven’t been paying attention, New York is in the midst of a very public transportation crisis. Delays, derailments, and aging infrastructure have slowed down the pace of subway commutes dramatically, exacerbated by the city’s persistent population growth.
Above ground, the picture isn’t much rosier. As the New York Times reported in March, an average daily surge of around 50,000 ride-sharing automobiles has slowed traffic in Manhattan by about 12% since 2010. And things could get significantly more chaotic once the L-Train from Brooklyn to Manhattan closes down for a 15-month facelift beginning in April, 2019.
Unfortunately, electric bikes are still effectively illegal in the city, negating a promising solution to the pressing question of last-mile transportation in New York. Instead of confiscating pedal-assist bikes in a futile effort to enforce antiquated transportation laws, city officials are faced with a perfect opportunity to revisit their electric bike policy and incorporate it into an already-robust cycling network. To this end, it may be helpful to look at California, which successfully implemented a progressive set of e-bike laws back in 2015.
CLEARING TRAFFIC IN LOS ANGELES
Speaking of California, Los Angeles continues to hold the dubious distinction of being the most traffic-clogged city not only in the US, but in the world. During peak commuter hours, Angelinos spend a mind-boggling 104 hours stuck in traffic annually. This immobility comes at a high price, costing drivers over $2,000 in gas and lost productivity every year.
As one might expect, all those idling motors take a heavy toll on the environment as well. In 2017, California once again had the worst air quality in the US, led by the Los Angeles basin which boasts the country’s highest ozone levels.
Thanks to their speed, small size and versatility, electric bikes are an ideal alternative to cars in a city like LA, where public transportation options are severely limited. They take up less space, are more maneuverable, and can be operated on both roadways and bike paths/lanes. They’re also the most environmentally sustainable form of motorized transportation on the market. Given the right conditions, pedal-assist bikes can get the equivalent of 1,300 miles per gallon, and generally charge in under 6 hours.
CONNECTING COMMUNITIES IN HOUSTON
Houston may soon overtake Chicago as America’s 3rd largest city, but the struggle to revamp its image is still very much ongoing. According to Governing magazine, difficulty convincing young talent to live in a city that’s perceived as hot, ugly, and polluted is at least in part behind a robust effort to connect and revitalize downtown Houston.
As we reported last month, one strategy that’s gaining serious momentum is the transformation of Houston into a cycling powerhouse. The Bayou Greenways 2020 initiative alone is set to increase the city’s creekside cycling network to 150 miles – an expenditure whose $220 million price tag pales in comparison to both metro rail and highway construction.
But the presence of cycling infrastructure is only one half of the equation; eventually you have to get people on it. Given the fact that the Bayou City suffers from even more urban sprawl than Los Angeles, electric bikes offer an ideal combination of long-distance reach and bike-trail accessibility. Most models top out between 20-28 mph, giving riders the ability to cover long distances and steep hills without breaking a sweat. In large cities like Houston, they could prove instrumental in bridging the divide between athletic and commuter cycling.
So let’s recap: less traffic, less pollution, less expensive infrastructure, more versatility, more connected communities, and a faster solution to last-mile transportation.
If there’s a reason America’s largest cities aren’t moving to capitalize on the biggest development in cycling in the past 100 years, they’re doing a fantastic job of keeping it under wraps.