On the Eve of the Lyft/Divvy Deal, New Ordinance Sets Rules for E-Bikes

The electrical-assist Divvy bikes would probably look similar to this electric Citi Bike on display at the Shared Mobility Summit earlier this month in Chicago, since both systems use hardware from PBSC. Photo: John Greenfield
The electrical-assist Divvy bikes would probably look similar to this electric Citi Bike on display at the Shared Mobility Summit earlier this month in Chicago, since both systems use hardware from PBSC. Photo: John Greenfield

Here’s an interesting tidbit from last week’s City Council meeting. The legislative session took place the day after Rahm Emanuel announced plans for a new Divvy sponsorship deal with current concessionaire Lyft/Motivate, which may be approved at a City Council meeting on April 10. All of the 10,500 new bikes that Lyft would deploy would be electrical-assist models. The Sun-Times reported that the mayor introduced an ordinance regulating “E-bikes and mobility devices.”

“The ordinance clarifies where e-bikes and scooters are allowed on city streets,” Chicago Department of Transportation spokesman Mike Claffey told me. “It modernizes the code to accommodate personal low-speed electric devices. This ordinance does not permit private scooter sharing; however we continue to listen to stakeholders and mobility providers to consider the role of scooter-sharing in Chicago that weighs both resident safety and the ability to learn from a new mobility service.”

The recently released report from Chicago’s Transportation and Mobility Task Force recommends piloting dockless electric scooters in our city.

The new ordinance expands the city’s definition of bicycle to include E-bikes, and categorizes “low-speed electric bicycles” (ones with a motor of less than 750 watts) in three classes:

  • Class 1: Weighs less than 125 pounds, motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and stops providing assistance when the bike reaches 20 mph
  • Class 2: No weight limit stated, motor can be used as the sole means to propel the bike, tops out at 20 mph
  • Class 3: motor provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and stops providing assistance when the bike reaches 28 mph; or else a Class 1 bike that weighs 125 pounds or more

The ordinance states that the fully-electric, faster, and/or heavier Class 2 and 3 bikes may not be ridden in bike lanes. Nor may these types of E-bikes be ridden on sidewalks in situations where non-electric bikes may be ridden, such as if the sidewalk is marked as a bikeway, of if the sidewalk is used to travel from a parking spot to the nearest roadway, intersection, or bike path, or to access a bike-share station.

The ordinance states that, like non-electric cyclists, drivers of Class 1 low-speed bikes may pass a slower-moving or standing motor vehicle or bike on the right, but must exercise care when doing so. When approaching a vehicle with passengers exiting on the right side, the E-bike rider or cyclists must yield to those pedestrians or pass the vehicle on the left.

A “low-speed electric mobility device,” i.e. an electric scooter, is defined as being a device with no pedals, no more than 26” wide, weighing less than 100 pounds, with an electric motor that is capable of propelling the device no more than 15 mph on level ground.

The ordinance states that E-scooters must follow the same parking rules as bicycles, i.e. being parked on the sidewalk so that they don’t block the pedestrian right-of-way. Presumably this means that scooters may legally be locked to bike racks, signs posts, and poles, as is the case with bicycles.

The ordinance is one more sign that electrical-assist bike-share cycles may soon become ubiquitous in our city.

  • David Henri

    “The ordinance states that, like non-electric cyclists, drivers of Class 1 low-speed bikes may pass a slower-moving or standing motor vehicle or bike on the right, but must exercise care when doing so. When approaching a vehicle with passengers exiting on the right side, the E-bike rider or cyclists must yield to those pedestrians or pass the vehicle on the left.”

    So John, if I’m riding in a bike lane and there are cars lined up in the motor vehicle lane to my left, waiting for a red light, and a passenger swings their door open from the right side of the vehicle in my path, it’s my fault because I have to yield to them? Am I reading this correctly?

  • Tooscrapps

    I read it like this:
    If you approach a car door that is open/someone is already exiting, you must yield. If you are riding and the door is opened in front or into you without due care (not allowing you to reasonably stop), that is still considered dooring.

  • Brendan Kevenides

    In the proposed ordinance only Class 1 e-bike will be allowed to use Chicago’s bike lanes. https://www.mybikeadvocate.com/2019/03/chicago-seeks-to-clarify-e-bike-rules.html

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Correct, that’s what I wrote: “The ordinance states that the fully-electric, faster, and/or heavier Class 2 and 3 bikes may not be ridden in bike lanes.”

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Here’s the language: “Any [non-electric or Class 1 low-speed electric] bicyclist upon a roadway is permitted to pass on the right side of a slower-moving or standing vehicle or bicycle, but must exercise due care when doing so. When approaching a vehicle which has discharged passengers from its right side, a bicyclist must either yield to those pedestrians or pass on the left.”

  • rohmen

    Just curious how they came up with the 20 mph cut out for electric assist while pedaling on Class 1. Is that already an industry standard? Is there an industry standard? If not, enforcement just seems like it’s going to be pretty hard.

  • rwy

    So can the Class 2 and 3 be ridden outside of a bike lane on any street other than expessways or lakeshore drive?

  • rwy

    20mph is a bit fast for a bike lane. Also, why does pedal assist vs throttle make a difference?

  • rohmen

    To me, at least, the difference with pedal assist is they’re generally designed to just give a couple mph boast to people riding, and can often allow people who maybe can’t physically ride a bike for long distances do so. However, there’s at least some physical effort still involved. Given how they’re designed nowadays, you probably won’t be able to even really tell a person is on an assisted bike unless you really look.

    A pure throttle e-bike is really just a lighter, electric-powered moped. Most cyclists would be upset to see a gas powered moped in a bike lane (even if it goes 20 mph), and I fail to see why throttle-only electric mopeds should be treated any different.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Perhaps this references a technical standard, and the bikes will not physically be capable of going faster? Because if otherwise, I think you’re correct.

  • rwy

    20mph is much faster than most users of a bike lane. Much prefer a 15mph limit.

  • rwy

    A gas powered moped is noisy and polluting. Don’t want to encourage people to ride them.

    I don’t see a problem with throttle e-bikes if they are going at a reasonable speed.

  • planetshwoop

    They don’t go at a reasonable speed.

  • planetshwoop

    Europe has many of these standards and they were developed in conjunction with ebike manufacturers so there are reasonable standards to follow .

  • planetshwoop

    Many are designed to give less boost as you go faster and stop the assist over 20mph.

  • Carter O’Brien

    That could be an area where the City could push back on? 20 does seem fast.

  • Mcass777

    I ride a carbon fiber bike and can out pace a lot of bikers. After 25 years commuting I think 20 mph is pretty fast! If you are unfamiliar with riding in the city or in a tight lane with bike traffic, you probably will hurt yourself and someone else, quickly.

  • rohmen

    I think it depends heavily where and when you’re riding. When I commute in during the morning from the west, the Madison and Washington bike lanes have long stretches between lights with minimal other bike traffic, and with the wind on my back I can pretty routinely do 20 on those stretches without it feeling dangerous at all. Obviously, people on the LFP are also going to do above 20 at a lot of times as well.

    I wouldn’t ride the same way in the Loop or even Milwaukee bikes lanes, but it shows that it’s hard to set an appropriate speed that works well on the whole system, and it sounds like they picked 20 because electric assist bikes are already designed to cut out assist at that speed. Setting it any lower is probably not enforceable.

  • Mcass777

    Very True – All good points!

  • JeBuS

    I own an e-bike and ride it often. 20mph is very reasonable. It’s not often I can get it above 23mph. Though, when I have the wind at my back and going downhill, I often approach 30mph. This would be true on any bike, though. I wonder why the speed limit is only for e-bikes but not all bikes? And I don’t see what difference a throttle makes to the equation, so long as it has a governor at the speed limit. I use a throttle to start easier from a stop, not to cruise.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    In 6′-7′ barrier-protected, one-way bike lanes in urbanized areas (i.e. all or most of the City of Chicago and quite a few suburban areas too) 20 mph would be much too fast. That speed would create a dangerous speed differential between “average” cyclists, who travel (on average) about 8-11 or 12 mph and the e-bikes going 20 mph. The differential in speed in a constrained space is very dangerous. One small mistake (handlebars hitting) could produce a life-endangering crash.

  • JeBuS

    But this is true of all bicycles, not just ebikes. If a spandex warrior does 20 mph in a PBL and clips someone, the result is equally as likely.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Theoretically, but e-bikes accelerate really quickly. Also, most “spandex warriors” are experienced cyclists and they know (from experience) that the even fastest riders in a city like Chicago, with lots of peds, bikes of all abilities, cars, trucks, seniors, parents with strollers, small blocks, etc, travel on average — unless it’s middle of the night — at 10-12 mph. Bike share e-bikes will be ridden largely by inexperienced cyclists.

  • JeBuS

    A 250W ebike won’t accelerate that quickly. This is one thing I can be considered an expert on, so I simply ask that you trust me on this. A 250W motor is generally just enough power to get something as heavy as a Divvy bike moving. You’re not going to see any 250W Divvy bikes doing 0 to 20mph in a short city block.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Obviously, without scientific data, this is subjective, but I’ve ridden four different e-bikes (250W) and they accelerate much faster than a normal bicycle (even with a strong rider).

  • JeBuS

    So there’s two things to consider here. First, acceleration is not equivalent to top speed. Second, any motorized assistance when accelerating is faster than normal and it feels doubly so on a heavy bike. If you’ve tried pedaling a 60lb ebike without assistance, you know what I mean.

    To take this away from subjective observance and put it into the realm of objective mathematics, you can take a look at https://www.furosystems.com/news/the-physics-behind-electric-bikes-through-numbers/

    They base their math on a slightly lighter bike (45lb) and fairly light-to-average rider (160lbs) and come to the mathematical conclusion that to accelerate at 0.6mph/s, you need a 210W motor + legs output.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    The risk of crashes between e-bicyclists and other bicyclists and between e-bicyclists and pedestrians is due to “speed differential” — especially in a constrained space such as a barrier-protected (aka separated) bike lane, but also on shared use paths. The difference is speed could be at the start/acceleration period, or at speed on a stretch of bikeway. E-bikes use in urban or urbanized areas (where there are lots of peds, mobility-challenged, seniors, youth, parents with strollers, etc. etc. and where mixed land use and smaller blocks) should max-out at 15 mph. That is what CA and other states, as well as countries/cities in Europe are mandating. However, the big question is: how do you enforce / control this limit?

  • JeBuS

    The Divvys can simply be gear-tuned so that 15mph is the point where pedaling faster is nearly impossible. That’s enforcement through prevention.

    But my initial point still stands, if 15mph is what you feel is the safe speed limit, why should it not apply to every cyclist, no matter the bike they’re riding?

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