Bikes with electric assist—E-bikes—are taking off around the world, and for good reason: They are arguably the best form of motorized transportation. Many cities are embracing E-bikes to help alleviate their transportation and pollution woes. With transportation being the of global carbon dioxide emissions, support for the proliferation of low-carbon mobility options like E-bikes is crucial.
E-bikes are mounted with a small, rechargeable battery that helps riders travel faster and further, with speeds up to 28 miles per hour, and going up to 60 miles per charge. Some bikes are configured to boost the rider’s pedaling power, while others use a throttle and require no pedaling, much like a scooter. E-bikes allow riders to cruise up steep hills as if they were flat, easily carry groceries or kids, and commute to work without breaking a sweat.
For cities, the advantages are even greater:
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When car drivers switch to E-bikes, they take up far less space on the roads, leading to less traffic. The bikes can use bike lanes in most areas, enabling riders to completely avoid a traffic mess. In some cities, it is best for E-bikes to use streets, where they can blow past lines of cars sitting idly in traffic.
E-bikes also emit much less pollution than cars, while still getting riders to most of the destinations they need to reach. The majority of trips people take, easily within E-bike range. In the best of cases, E-bikes are charged using low-carbon energy sources like residential solar panels, but even if powered by a dirtier electricity grid, they are still the most energy-efficient form of motorized transport, consuming the electricity equivalent of about . A by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy shows that transportation mode-shifting to bicycles and E-bikes—increasing from about 7% today to approximately 22% of urban passenger travel distance worldwide by 2050—would reduce emissions 47% and save $128 trillion compared to business-as-usual. And let’s not forget about noise pollution: Freeing a busy city from the sound of engines and car horns can do much to enhance city dwellers’ comfort levels and quality of life.to school, to work, and for errands are
E-bikes save money too. The purchase price and operating costs are much lower than that of a car, with costs ranging from as low as several hundred dollars for an average version sold in China, to more than ten thousand dollars for the top-of-the-line European bike with all the bells and whistles. The primary difference is whether customers opt for the cheaper lead acid battery version, or one with a more expensive but better quality, lighter, and more reliable lithium ion battery. But , and thus E-bike prices, are coming down swiftly, as battery technology advances and competition in the E-bike manufacturing space continues. Soon, the price of the better quality E-bikes will be within reach of people living on low incomes worldwide.
For city planners, E-bikes offer a transit solution that can integrate seamlessly into other sustainable city features. E-bikes can use the growing number of dedicated bike lanes in cities around the world, and can be integrated into bike sharing programs, which are quickly increasing in popularity. E-bikes provide an autonomous option for people to more easily cover the ‘’ to access public transit for longer distances, a conundrum that often vexes transit planners. Furthermore, E-bikes offer a healthier and more pleasant experience in the city: They encourage a more active lifestyle while also enabling travel at a more natural pace, with greater exposure to the city’s sights, culture, and entertainment.
While there are health concerns for riders exposed to severe air pollution in dirty cities, as well as safety concerns for E-bike riders as they integrate into existing bicycle or vehicle infrastructure, the solution is to identify and rebuke the sources of pollution and to address road safety laws, rather than dissuade E-bike usage.
In some areas E-bikes are soaring, buttressed by smart policy. Take California, which has with three designations for E-bikes depending on their power, speed, and whether they are pedal-assist or not. These designations can be used to set limits for E-bike use on roads and paths to manage safety. E-bikes are taking off in cities like San Francisco, and throughout Colorado, who has also adopted model legislation. Internationally, they are also flourishing in cities like Berlin, Germany, Taipei, Taiwan, and many others.
Unfortunately the majority of states in the U.S. have reacted to this new technology with problematic regulations or by outlawing them completely. Although E-bikes are commonly seen whizzing down the streets of New York City, especially for deliveries, they are essentially banned due to conflicting regulations. Beijing and over 10 major cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou, have also .
Given the great benefits of E-bikes, more states and cities should embrace them and take action to ensure their safe and controlled proliferation. Here are a few things that can be done:
- States, or the appropriate regulator for the location, should adopt model legislations with distinct E-bike classifications and set safety standards accordingly. provides a good summary of the status for U.S. states’ laws and provides recommendations for model legislation.'
- Cities should provide good infrastructure for all bikes, including designated bike lanes, with specific rules for E-bikes, and secure bike parking.
- Cities should help encourage E-bikes through nodes of diffusion, such as through the implementation of E-bike share programs, offering incentives for the use of E-bikes on large government and corporate campuses, or by promoting them for deliveries.
This technology solves traffic woes, slashes pollution, quiets city streets, and reintroduces citizens to their neighborhoodsall at a fraction of the cost of a car.