Can bikes and scooters get along?

AMSTERDAM – Last summer an interesting debate got underway in Toronto. Electric scooters started appearing in the bike lane and some cyclists weren’t too happy about that (Note: I may have to recant my quote in this NOW Magazine article). In fact, the discussion came up at recent meetings of the Toronto Cycling Advisory and Pedestrian Committees. There are a variety of reasons why some cyclists don’t want to share their already-scarce dedicated space, but a lot of the discussion last year focused on the distinction between electric scooters (which are currently classified as bicycles) and traditional gas-powered scooters (which are not supposed to use the bike lane). Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation will soon wrap up a pilot project to test power-assisted bicycles in the hopes of developing a policy on their vehicular classification.

In Amsterdam, the distinction between electric and gas-powered is moot – all scooters are allowed to use bike lanes as long as they don’t exceed a 40 km/h speed limit (and most scooters are already limited to that speed). In fact, even small two-person cars – not much smaller than a Smart Car – can use the lane (see image below).

I have to say, back in Toronto I was against the idea of cyclists sharing the bike lane with anything motorized. However, it seems to work here and cyclists don’t really mind. It’s important to note that the average separated bike lane in Amsterdam is wider than the average bike lane in Toronto (2-4 metres compared to 1.5-1.8 metres), so there is more room to share. Also, not all scooter drivers use the bike lane – I’d estimate about a quarter to half of them do, depending on how busy the traffic is in the normal travel lanes.

I haven’t studied the issue closely, nor have I found much in the way of professional or academic study, but I imagine the debate in Toronto – much like the bike lane itself – will resurface once the snow melts.

29 comments

  1. When the moped first came on the scene in Ontario, I was contemplating whether or not to buy one for personal use in the neighbourhood. However, as more and more people were buying them, the Ontario government announced that helmets, licenses (vehicle and driver), and insurance were required. That killed the moped sales right then and there.
    This year, I was going to buy an e-bike (electric bicycle), but will wait for the end of the pilot. The recession maybe a good reason to get one, instead of a car. If licenses and insurance will be needed, forget about me getting a e-bike.

  2. One of the things you have to deal with as a cyclist that you don’t as much as a car driver is the highly variable speed capabilities of different cyclists. This means you have to pass or be pass a lot more often for the number of people on the road. These scooters are just another thing thrown in the mix.

    What would help is on busy routes, like the Martin Goodman Trail, is to create four lane routes rather then two lane routes. I should have suggested that for the new section of the trail by Ontario Place, but I didn’t think of it until after construction started.

  3. I really mind. I have a big problem with gas powered scooters in bike lanes – no matter what their speed is and it’s because of the pollution they cause.

    Their small bore engines are notorious for poor emission quality and while I admire the design aesthetic of Vespas I really don’t like sucking their dirty exhaust.

    In fact I’ve dropped my bike across the bike lane and directed a Vespa rider to the car lanes where her licensed, polluting machine belonged.

    I think rather than comparing Toronto bike culture with Amsterdam bike culture it may be more relevent to compare ours with Portland or Chicago. European drivers and cyclists are in an entirely different head space than folks here due to the age, history and usage patterns of the streets they use together.

    Electric scooters are not so bad but I do find it interesting that they’ve been designed to resemble Vespas rather than the electric assisted bikes that were intended. The March issue of Wired profiles four electric bikes on the market that are all bikes first and don’t resemble scooters in the least.

    Good topic.

  4. A true electric-auxiliary bike like this should have been what was promoted by Ontario legislation:
    http://www.giant-bicycles.com/en-ca/bikes/ebike/460/32790/

    The ‘e-bikes’ promoted last summer are electric scooters, with vestigal pedals. Walking by one ‘e-bike’ store by the St. Lawrence Market yesterday, I noticed all their display models did not even have the pedals installed. Promoting such electric scooters does nothing for the state of the population’s health.

    However, my preference for electric-auxilliary over electric-scooter isn’t a good argument for keeping them off the paths, it’s an argument against the incredible sloth in our culture. The more people who use our cycling paths the better (apart from pedestrians slowing things down!), because it’s that many more people in our lobby.

  5. Electric bikes in bikes lanes are okay, but electric scooters aren’t.

    Any electric bikes in bike lanes should be charged by nuclear, hydro, wind, solar, geothermal, or tidal power. Bikes whose last charge was from a coal, gas, or biofuel plant shouldn’t be allowed, except on weekends.

  6. I guess most cyclists in toronto(*at least along the sunnyside path) ride almost as fast as scooters do, so i don’t see the problem.

    My concern comes when there’s family riders(w/kids) in these lanes, and scooter riders scaring them to death.

    So in that case, i’ll side with families on bike lanes and motorists staying on roads.

  7. ‘Ben’, why? Make an argument, please. Wish I could agree with your conclusions, but no matter the impurity of the vehicles you object to, they all far improve on the internal-combustion engine. Let’s go for the low-hanging fruit we can get some public support for; we’ll aim for utopia after that.

  8. I love Ben’s idea, except I would remove the weekend exemption. I can’t wait to see the implementation plan! If I ever get an electric bike, I’ll be sure to carry a copy of my latest Bullfrog Power invoice in my wallet and make a time-stamped video of myself recharging the bike at home to carry in my pannier.

    Seriously, though, electric bikes are, to me, just a different kind of bicycle, except designed for people who are lazy or who have weak leg muscles. (Actually, by my casual observations, most electric bike users are fairly young and seemingly able-bodied, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.) They’re usually the slowest cyclists in the lane, so I just pass them as I would any other cyclist. No big deal.

  9. This could be a good thing. Scooters and ebikes in the bike lanes will help to provide critical mass and encourage car drivers to stay out of these lanes (and we really will have to do more about the problem of people park cars in them). I don’t see much of a danger as the speed differential is low. Even on off-street bike recreational paths I’d be prepared to consider them.

    Scooters on sidewalks is right out though, ok?

  10. Our lanes are too narrow for the fat scooters. And if they hit you, they have no plates for identification – I know from experience. The scooters sneak up on me and cut me off with no warning. What might work in Amsterdam would not work here – they live in a flat world with a bicycle-centered culture. Bike lanes in Toronto are designed for bicycles, not motorized vehicles. And, FWIW, all motorized vehicles except those for the handicapped are not allowed on any park path or off-road pedestrian/cycle route. The matter of provincial licensing requirements has nothing to do with existing restrictions on bike lanes and park paths. Motorized two wheel vehicles are now allowed in diamond lanes but that’s the only exception.

  11. @jamesmallon, David V

    Ben’s obviously making a joke (I know I LOL’d). Enforcing a rule like that is almost infeasible – how can you tell where someone gets their electricity from?

    I believe his point is that there is little distinction between electric scooters and electric bikes, at least in terms of emissions. I say we welcome both, subject to speed limitations. If it’s safe, clean, and small, then I don’t see a problem.

  12. I’m from Amsterdam originally, and cyclists *do* actually mind when someone whizzes past them on a scooter in the bike lane. But there are so many bikes that there is simply not much whizzing-past to be done, and a hurried scooterist will still take the car lane.

    Also, while scooters can use bike LANES, many bike “lanes” in Amsterdam and other parts of Holland are designated bike PATH (even within the city, if it’s very separate from the car road) and scooters are NOT allowed on those.

    (Maria, the tiny cars are for people with mobility problems, eg. wheelchair users, old people. They’re not very common.)

  13. Obviously one cannot really compare bike lanes in Shanghai with those in Amsterdam, and even less with those in Toronto, but this is a growing issue in China too, especially as the number of scooters grows relative to the number of cyclists.

    Due to their weight and size, scooters are not as ‘nimble’ as bicycles. Many of the “accidents” which I witnessed there (nothing too serious fortunately) had scooters involved. A common theme was a scooter passing too close to a bicycle and the pedals and wheels hitting one another.

    Here are some photos of the Shanghai bicyle/scooter mix:
    http://flickr.com/photos/zvileve/241261235/
    http://flickr.com/photos/zvileve/241261166/
    http://flickr.com/photos/zvileve/241260725/

  14. I don’t mind real electric assist bikes… on cold windy days when I’m tired, they even seem tempting. Those electric scooters with fake pedals are another class of vehicle taking advantage of loopholes in the regulations (just like most mopeds were low powered motorcyles pretending to be motor assist bicycles – hence the regulation of them as such). I can tolerate them in the bike lane because they get people out of cars, IF they have a speed governor, and good safety standards: at least it’s better than being stuck behind the same person riding a real bike at 12 km/h. They certainly don’t belong on multi-use paths, which includes the Martin Goodman.

    @james: Peds in the bike lane are 100 points, and peds on the section of the Beaches bike path that runs right beside the boardwalk, but peds on multi use paths have right of way and I don’t mind them at all if they leave room to pass. If you think cycling in Toronto is tough you should try walking sometime, especially in the suburbs (and getting buzzed by yahoo cyclists is enlightening as to why people are so hostile to us).

  15. “I really mind. I have a big problem with gas powered scooters in bike lanes – no matter what their speed is and it’s because of the pollution they cause.

    Their small bore engines are notorious for poor emission quality and while I admire the design aesthetic of Vespas I really don’t like sucking their dirty exhaust. ”

    You proved right in you first two paragraphs that you are really uninformed. Vespa style scooters do not eat up gas and spew pollution. I have one and it get over 90mpg as is common for all modern scooters (note a scooter requires a motorcycles license always and an ebike is an ebike so please do not call them scooters).

    Your argument about emissions from a scooter might be valid if this was 1980 but back then they were all two stroke and used up a lot of oil. The DO NOT anymore. 2 stroke scooter are almost impossible to bring into the country so give us the BS that they are such a bad pollutant. If more people used scooters there would be a lot less congestion and a lot less air pollution.

  16. I have a different concern. I drive a modern Vespa [the fuel-efficient kind that doesn't spew stink behind it] and am really concerned about cars confusing e-bikes with gas-powered scooters. E-bikes may look similar to a car driver, but they can’t move quickly out of the way or travel at flow-of-traffic speed like a gas-powered scooter can.

    What this means is that car drivers start to believe all scooter-looking vehicles are slow, impediments to them getting where they’re going and are something they have to maneuver around. My 150cc Vespa can achieve 80kph with no trouble. Many car drivers have NO idea this is the case, and e-bikes just make it more confusing for them.

    When you’re driving a gas-powered scooter properly, abiding by traffic laws, and car drivers are trying to cut you off or get away from what they think is a “slow” vehicle ahead of them, it can be very dangerous.

    p.s. I NEVER drive in the bike lane.

  17. I neglected to mention what the solution could be: keep e-bikes looking like BICYCLES. Simple as that.

  18. @Peter K:

    Yes, I know Ben was making a joke, and I was joking back. I guess mine wasn’t as funny as his. Oh, well…

  19. I have difficulties with the electric scooters being in the same class/lane as bikes, or e-bikes. They seem parasitical.
    Also, many of our bike lanes have spots that are NOT 1.5 metres wide, but at times can be 1.2M – usually on the dangerous rightwards curves eg. the Bloor eastbound lane just ahead of the Viaduct. Also the City just put in a new dangerous version (though it was quite preventable) on the new Wellesley lane, on the eastbound lane just east of Jarvis.

  20. >> The recession maybe a good reason to get one,
    >>instead of a car.

    Your governments and car manufacturers insist that in vehicle and road designs “Safety is Job Number One”…

    So I ask the car makers to show me the safety features built in for pedestrians and ppl on two wheels? Whereupon they stare intently at their feet and grow silent.

    It is a simple question. And the simple answer is good tires and brakes and professional drivers…

    The truth is, when you strip away the air bags and seat belts and crush zones (see “two wheels”) drivers become much more circumspect about their own personal safety… and this makes our streets safer for everyone else.

    Tks
    Lock

  21. In 1908 in Toronto there were car dealers that wanted to parade their (gas) cars in the annual Orange Parade.

    They were told no, but they could have them in the parade if they put them on wagons (presumably horse-drawn.) The parade organizers didn’t want the NOISE and the SMOKE (STINK) of the gas cars.

    So the car dealers formed an association and lobbied to be included (these would have been men from the cities monied class, with political power behind the wings.)

    The new dealer association was able to get the parade organizers to back down and they got to motor their cars in the parade after all.

    HaHa… I love these public forums! Usually they are infested by morons happy to express their ignorant and blinkered opinions about “ebikes”/whatever.

    I have ten years and over 10,000kms of experience surfing human-electric hybrids across Toronto pavements… Thousands of hours of research on the subject…

    Nobuddie here cares to dance with me?
    ;->
    tks
    Lock

  22. I will stop riding my e-bike (with its scooter-like appearance) in Toronto’s bike lanes just as soon as every adult cyclist in Toronto wears a helmet.

    My 30 kph electric two-wheeler is actually safer than a conventional bicycle since my helmet, signal & brake lights and mirrors are NOT optional.

    Conventional cyclists should be lobbying and pushing for mandatory helmet use by ALL adult cyclists. Oh but wait!!… that’s a legal loophole that they LIKE to have! So instead they decide to unite against the occasional e-biker instead of dealing with a REAL issue!

    I say that everyone who rides an e-bike should send a letter to their MPP demanding helmet use by all adult bicyclists.

  23. I was riding my E-Boke along Queen Street Saturday April 11 with my friend heading toward the distillery district. We had stopped to tell my friend he had left his right signal on. As we were getting ready to start riding again I put on my left signal to show we were going to start riding in the bike lane again (my E-Bike has a very loud beeper for my signals). Then we heard a loud shout of a bicyclist saying get out of my way you F*in E-Bikes. Well we were legally signalling and were just starting our ride again, we had to very quickly turn out on our left into the traffic lane so we would not be hit by this idiot that did not even slow down. As far as I know traffic (cars, E-Bikes, bicycles, etc) has to slow down or stop if traffic ahead of them is slowed or stopped (that applies in the bike lane as well, bicyclist read the rules of the road for bicycles and understand your laws.
    Anyways after he passed he said next time I will just hit you ass*****. I then said yes you probably ride the sidewalks at your convenience even though it is illegal and he just looked at me and continued riding. If I had a stick I should have shoved it in his front wheel spokes as he rode by and then laughed at his carnage. But being a civalized person me and my friend just continued on our way to our destination.

  24. I really think the Toronto Cycling Union should retract their comments regarding e-bikes on bike paths from their website. It incites rudeness and road rage from their cycling union against e-bikes.
    Both Transport Canada and the MTO have made a decision based on facts and not feelings, and yet their website begs people to take action. Grow up Yvonne and step down from your position. One day many years from now you can tell your children, “mommy tried to kill the electric bike”…won’t they be proud.

  25. Well if the TCU would get their act together and stop fighting every other type of vehicle on our roads, which is a big waste of time and money. Then use the same energy, time and money on educating all their members on proper bicycling techniques and rules of the road, then the TCU may actually accomplish something useful.
    Ken Finch

  26. I had a bike for doing excise, normally during weekends, i will cycle for about 10 miles in the countryside. Scooters are too aggressive, i personally think bike is more eco friendly.

  27. I had seen some small enclosed personal (1 to 2 persons) transportation vehicle. I think those would have been perfect for most of us in Toronto to use to go to work. This is because (if you pay closer attention) most of the cars are carrying 1 or 2 persons only – during rush hours.

    As we may all know it too well that lots of us drive to the corner store to pick up a bag of milk or bread – again single person.

    Perhaps we should start a citizen motion and demand the governments to invest in and allow this type of personal transportation vehicle.

    Thanks.

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