Editorial: A safer bike path for all

Posted 6/14/24

Among the flurry of bills being passed out of the Rhode Island General Assembly is a new law with big impact for the communities along the East Bay Bike Path. The “e-bikes bill” creates a …

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Editorial: A safer bike path for all


Among the flurry of bills being passed out of the Rhode Island General Assembly is a new law with big impact for the communities along the East Bay Bike Path. The “e-bikes bill” creates a system for recognizing and regulating electric bicycles, which have exploded in popularity and prevalence. Controversy regarding speed and safety has exploded with them.

The new bill, sponsored by Rep. Jennifer Boylan of Barrington and East Providence, identifies the three “classes” of e-bikes that are considered industry standards, but it permits only one of those classes (Class 1) to operate on state-owned bike paths.

The engines on Class 2 e-bikes can be operated by a throttle, whether the operator is pedaling or not. They will not be allowed on bike paths once the new law takes effect. The engines on Class 3 e-bikes work only when the rider is pedaling, but they keep working until the bike reaches 28 miles per hour — 40% faster than the top speed of a Class 1 e-bike. Those Class 3 bikes, which are typically bigger and heavier than their peers, also will not be allowed on bike paths.

These are very smart updates to state law. The Class 2 and Class 3 e-bikes both come with inherent risks. The former allow riders to cruise along congested pathways only half-engaged in what they are doing. The latter allow aggressive or irresponsible riders to reach speeds traveled by mopeds, motorcycles and motor vehicles, in a space utilized by children, the elderly, and parents with strollers.

There have been devastating collisions on the bike path already. There will be more if these bigger, heavier and faster e-bikes are given a green light.

The new law sets two more important standards. First, it stipulates that any e-bike rider under the age of 21 must wear a helmet. Secondly, it gives the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (DEM) the authority to regulate these bikes on state properties.

Despite the great benefits of the new law, enforcement will be a challenge. These regulations are just words on paper if DEM is unable to actually police Rhode Island’s bike paths. Thousands of local residents already own these e-bikes, and many are accustomed to riding them along the East Bay Bike Path.

For now, kudos to the legislators who sponsored and supported this bill. It is in the best interests of everyone living in these communities. Hopefully it begins to calm things down and provide a safer environment for everyone using this community treasure.

2024 by East Bay Media Group

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Meet our staff
Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.