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Boise City Council to Hear Proposed Electric Bike Rules, Asks for Public Comment

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- Michael Miller, one of the owners of Boise Electric Bikes, looks over one of his e-mountain bikes. -  - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Michael Miller, one of the owners of Boise Electric Bikes, looks over one of his e-mountain bikes.
To the untrained eye, the neon-green Focus mountain bike Michael Miller wheeled out his shop door looked like a typical mountain bike.

"It's just a bike. That's all this is," Miller said.

It isn't, though. The Focus is an electric bike, which uses an electric battery to decrease resistance while increasing speed gained with each push of the pedal. The extra juice is minor but noticeable, and Miller said mountain bikes and cruisers make up a large portion of the e-bikes he sells—mainly to Baby Boomers and people with disabilities—at Boise Electric Bikes, of which he is part owner.

In the almost four years Boise Electric Bikes has been in business, Miller said he has seen continual growth in sales of and demand for e-bikes.

"They're not going away," he said.

The city of Boise agrees. A new city ordinance has been proposed that would address e-bikes specifically .The proposal, which will open for public comment and go before the Boise City Council on Tuesday, Dec. 5, would regulate Class 1 and Class 2 bikes—with power output no greater than 750 watts and top speeds of no more than 20 miles per hour—on city streets, in bike lanes, on the Greenbelt and on some trails in the Ridge to Rivers trail system. It would also keep Class 3 bikes, with top speeds of 28 miles per hour or greater, off the Greenbelt.

Electric bikes in classes 1-3 would not be allowed on sidewalks or in crosswalks.

Boise Parks and Recreation is backing the proposed ordinance, which it developed with contributions from various bike stakeholder groups. According to Parks and Rec Communications Manager Bonnie Shelton, the proposal stems from both the increase in the number of people riding pedal-assisted bikes and public input.

"This has been a gray area," Shelton said. "[We've] seen an increase in the sale and use of them around town and on the Greenbelt."

The department has already started hearing from the public on the issue, with some people concerned about e-bike riders traveling unsafely on the Greenbelt and in the foothills. Others have contacted Parks and Rec pushing for greater e-bike access to those same routes.

Tension between pathway users is just one of the conflicts that came into play as possible new rules were crafted. Another is allowing e-bikes on the Ridge to Rivers trail system. Under the proposal, pedal-assist bikes would have access to 15 of the approximately 190 miles of the Ridge to Rivers system—after applying for approval from Parks and Rec.

Michael Miller said the discrepancy is worrying.

"The big concern is access to trails," he said.

Boise Parks and Rec Director Doug Holloway said the Ridge to Rivers partners see e-bikes as motorized vehicles, and easements on parcels of land associated with the trail system have further complicated the issue. The proposed approval process would, however, let Parks and Rec grant e-bike privileges to people with disabilities on selected trail networks.

"We have always provided that accommodation in the Greenbelt and foothills for those that request it," Holloway said.

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