To the Editor:
Bicycles powered by electric motors, commonly known as ebikes, pose an enormous threat to the safety of users of Martha’s Vineyard’s bike paths, and a misinterpretation of the laws of the commonwealth has allowed them to mix with conventional pedaled bikes, runners, and pedestrians on most of the already crowded paths. The major danger is the potential for great speed, even when ridden by inexperienced riders.
The Massachusetts standards for ebikes that do not need to be registered as motor vehicles specify that the motor cannot exceed 750 watts, the bike cannot travel faster than 20 mph without pedaling, and no limit when boosted during pedaling. This is much faster than the majority of pedaled bikes using the Island’s bike paths. More troubling is that a lot of ebike riders, especially those who might rent an ebike, do not have the experience to handle a bike at those speeds. A typical cyclist who can pedal and maintain speeds over 20 mph has logged many hours in the saddle, and learned how a bike handles at 15 mph, 16 mph, etc.
The commonwealth has all banned motorized bikes from bike paths (General Laws, Part I, Title XIV, Chapter 90, Section 1B): “Motorized bicycles may be operated on bicycle lanes adjacent to the various ways [streets and roads], but shall be excluded from off-street recreational bicycle paths.” Unfortunately, this has been misinterpreted on the Vineyard to exclude most of the Island’s paths where they run parallel to roads, but they are indeed bike paths, which are “route[s] for the exclusive use of bicycles separated by grade or other physical barrier from motor traffic.” But a bike lane as defined in Massachusetts law is “a lane on a street restricted to bicycles and so designated by means of painted lines, pavement coloring or other appropriate markings,” common in cities, but not on the Island.
Legitimate users of the Vineyard’s lovely bike paths will be well served when ebikes are legitimately excluded.