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Editorial

E-bikes deserve their day in the Ocean City sun | COMMENTARY

September in Ocean City can be a glorious time. The weather is mild, the beach less crowded, and, this year, business owners have the added joy of taking stock of a successful summer season despite the ongoing pandemic (note to Joe: We’re still in it). OC even has a new tagline from their hired influencers on social media: “Enjoy Fall,” which has officially replaced “Enjoy Summer.”

Septemeber is also apparently a good time to talk about bicycles on the Ocean City Boardwalk, portions of which crews are even now redecking. It’s a longtime transportation issue with a distinctly 21st century twist: Should electric bikes, more commonly known as “e-bikes” be permitted on the boardwalk wherever standard bicycles are allowed?

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Opinions in Maryland’s Atlantic Ocean resort community have long been mixed. The Ocean City Council voted 4-3 to prohibit e-bikes from the boardwalk two years ago. The majority felt that the bikes were too powerful (and potentially driven too aggressively) to mingle with pedestrians and traditional bike riders without causing injury. There are e-bike models that can reach speeds of 28 miles per hour, and that raised serious questions of public safety with the town’s police department, which recommended the ban. “Motorized vehicles don’t belong on the boardwalk,” Dennis Dare, a former town engineer and since-retired councilman, said at the time.

But recently, there have been signs that these apprehensions may be lessening. As reported Thursday by the Maryland Coast Dispatch, council members have been warned that the town’s ban may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, as some residents and tourists who are mobility impaired rely on e-bikes to get around. And then there is also the matter of models: Not all e-bikes are the same. The basic models don’t go fast at all. They are designed to be pedaled when possible with motorized assistance on hills or when the rider grows weary. In practice, they don’t really travel faster than bikes. The more powerful e-bikes, which can sell for prices as high as $10,000, can go faster, but they are also much less common and are meant for more challenging tasks than mere recreation including commuting, carrying cargo and zipping around city streets.

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Might just the small e-bikes be permitted? Might all be restricted to going no more than 10 miles per hour? Might people with disabilities be provided a sticker for their bike to demonstrate its necessity? All are possibilities that could yet be presented to Ocean City’s mayor and council in the coming weeks, but here’s what we would humbly recommend: Let the e-bikes be. All bikes, whether powered by pedal or motor, can be operated irresponsibly. Ocean City should simply set standards for the operation of permitted vehicles no matter their physical capabilities (or those of their riders).

There are some obvious reasons for this approach. First, because e-bikes have not been proven hazardous when used elsewhere. Second, because it simplifies enforcement and reduces the chance of discriminatory behavior. But third, and importantly, because the use of e-bikes ought to be encouraged and not just on the boardwalk but on the street. The goal should be to travel less by car and more by foot and bike (or boardwalk tram, perhaps). That’s good for the town, it’s good for the environment, and it’s good for the health of the travelers.

We’ve observed this before, and we’ll say it again: We think Ocean City has a great future as not only a fun place to splash in the water or get a tan on the beach, but as a community where visitors can be absolutely confident that they are not doing harm to the planet. The resort will soon be getting a slew of offshore wind turbines that will serve the area’s electrical needs without burning coal or natural gas for decades to come. They’ll be visible from the beach (which has been controversial to some), but that also advertises Ocean City’s low-carbon footprint. The fight against greenhouse gas emissions ought to start in a place that is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels. What better example to set than to ride an e-bike powered by the wind instead of a car-powered by fossil fuels?

Finally, we would humbly suggest a new tagline for those social media influencers: “Enjoy a low-carbon vacation.” E-bikes shouldn’t be tolerated, they should be endorsed.

Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.


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