E-bike advocates lobby Woodlands for pathway access Leave a comment

Advocates of electric bicycles, stand-up scooters and skateboard-like vehicles want The Woodlands to change a policy that bans motorized vehicles on the more than 200 miles of walking and bicycling paths.

Two men spoke about “e-bikes” at the last two meetings of the township Board of Directors, telling directors that the ban on the electrical vehicles was unfair and needed to be changed.

According to the township’s website, the rules prohibiting the electric vehicles are allowed because the township is not a county and not a city, rather a special purpose district.

“While Texas legislation provides that electric scooters and gas scooters with engines less than 40cc may be ridden on public thoroughfares, this law only extends to counties and municipalities,” officials state on the website. “The pathways in The Woodlands do not fall into this category; they are owned by The Woodlands. Therefore, motorized vehicles are prohibited from using the pathways. The only exceptions are motorized wheelchairs and the pathway maintenance vehicles.”

The township policy for walkways and pathways lists the three types of users on pathways as pedestrians — walkers or runners — as well as bicyclists and roller blade users.

‘E-bikes’ rise in popularity

Although the “e-vehicles” are banned, in recent months there has been an increase in both electric bicycles and motorized skateboard-like devices on both the pathways as well as along The Woodlands Waterway.

The two men both said “e-bikes” are growing in popularity and also are environmentally friendly. They claimed the vehicles cannot exceed 10 mph, which is the maximum allowed speed limit on pathways in the community for bicycles.

‘E-bikes’ have become popular in the past decade, with many models available for sale online ranging from $198 to $12,000 in cost. The common trait of the varied vehicles is an electric motor assist the rider with propulsion.

One speaker at the April 22 meeting noted he felt it ironic that electric wheelchairs are allowed on the paths despite having a motor; he also said the township should allow one-person electrical vehicles that have a motor power of no more than 1,000 watts.

The ‘e-bikes’ referenced by the speakers are not the same as the former ride-share bicycles from MoBike, which ceased operation in November 2018 after 10 months in the township. Those bikes had technology that merely unlocked the bicycles pedals so renters could use them with an app.

Another man, a 34-year resident of the township named Jack Siegler, spoke at the April 28 board meeting, saying the township needs to update it standards to keep up with technology.

“I think our community lacks in ‘e-bike’ policies. An ‘e-bike’ is a bicycle that has an electric battery attached to subsidize pedaling. Currently the policy states any kind of motorized vehicle are not allowed on the shared bike trails,” Siegler said. “Under the the true definition of these ‘e-bikes,’ they are not considered a motorized vehicle under the (government) definition. What I’d like to propose is that the policy be revised and updated to permit ‘e-bikes’ of certain classes. It is a coming trend, just in the last year there has been a 24 percent increase in sales of ‘e-bikes.’ Lots of residents have them now.”

Because both men spoke in public comment, township directors were prohibited from replying to their questions or responding to them under state open meetings laws.

Possible changes

‘E-bikes’ are not new to The Woodlands, said Robert Solana, owner of ECO EZ-Riders bike rental in The Woodlands. Solana said he stopped renting the ‘e-bikes’ four to five years ago due to low demand. He now rents traditional mountain bikes.

Solana said he would welcome a change in policy from The Woodlands, noting that in 2011 when he founded his company, he was told by township officials the vehicles were not allowed due to the speeds of 20 mph that could be attained.

Now, with new technology, Solana said the ‘e-bikes’ are slower with more control over speed and come in several legal classes allowed across Texas.

“When I had my electric bike back then, we only had a throttle. Now they have pedal assist. You have to get going to 2-3 mph to get the (electric) motor working.,” Solana said. “Now, times have changed so I totally understand people wanting (’e-bikes’). But, you do not want to go 20 mph on a trail where people are walking.”

While no changes are in the immediate future, during the April 28 meeting of the board, Arthur Bredehoft, the chairman of the township’s Development Standards Committee, discussed the issue and said he believes the “e-vehicles” have value to residents.

Bredehoft said any process to legalize ‘e-bikes’ or any other motorized device on the pathways in the township would begin at the DSC level, which would be the entity that approves possible changes.

“I made some notes on the (Siegler) presentation, we are going to work with staff and (Chris) Nunes from the parks department. we have to study it, see what the issues are, see what the vehicles (requested) are,” Bredehoft said. “I think it is something we have to look at. I think it is an amenity that benefits our community. We’ll look at it and hopefully have some updated information in our next report.”


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