After a lengthy and spirited debate, the Ocean City Council voted 4-3 Tuesday to prohibit all electric bikes on the Boardwalk.
E-bikes have been a hot topic for the council over the last few months. Back in August, the council voted 4-3 in favor of allowing Class 1 e-bikes only. Shortly thereafter, they backpedaled and decided that the issue needed to be reviewed further.
At the Police Commission meeting on September 14, Sgt. Allen Hawk, on behalf of the Ocean City Police Department, made the recommendation to not allow any motorized bicycles on the Boardwalk. This proved effective with swaying the council.
Sgt. Hawk’s Presentation
On September 29, the council entertained a presentation from Sgt. Hawk, in which he explained the differences between the three e-bike classes as well as impacts to consider.
o Class 1 – Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling. Can use a speed of 20 mph.
o Class 2 – Bicycle equipped with a throttle-actuated motor, which ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.
o Class 3 – Bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and can reach 28 mph.
Source: Ocean City Council Work Session Agenda Packet – September 29, 2020
Despite the variations between each class, Sgt. Hawk made clear that officers would have difficulty identifying a bicycle as Class 1 or 3 because neither has a throttle, unlike Class 2 bicycles. This assertion shows a stark contrast from previous discussions.
When speaking about the bicycles in August, Councilman Tony DeLuca claimed that he did not see an issue with distinguishing between one class or the other. “We heard from the OCPD, and they said they can easily distinguish between the two types,” DeLuca told his colleagues at the time. However, after talking more with the OCPD and getting a firsthand look, he changed his mind. DeLuca said that he tested a Class 1 and a Class 3 bicycle last week, and that between himself and all the others present, no one was able to tell the difference.
Regardless of concerns over enforcement, Sgt. Hawk expressed that his biggest worries are congestion on the Boardwalk, the need for additional safety measures, and personnel, along with the varied abilities of riders. He noted that many people riding in Ocean City have not used a bike for an extended period of time and lack experience. While that is understandable and expected for a tourist destination, members of the council agreed that it could lead to a dangerous situation.
Sgt. Hawk also pointed to similar restrictions on e-bikes in Rehoboth Beach and Virginia Beach.
4-3 Yea to 4-3 Nay?
How did the council go from supporting the use of Class 1 bikes to none at all? The decisive vote on this matter was Councilman Tony DeLuca. Seeing different types of e-bikes and testing them out was enough to make him switch his vote. Despite his earlier stance, he was rooted in his beliefs Tuesday, similar to the rest of the councilmembers.
In the end, Council President Lloyd Martin, Council Secretary Mary Knight, Councilman Tony DeLuca, and Councilman Dennis Dare all supported the full electric bicycle ban. Councilman John Gehrig, Councilman Matt James, and Councilman Mark Paddack found themselves in the minority.
Council Secretary Knight has been an outspoken critic of motorized bicycles on the Boardwalk since discussions began this summer. “I have a hard time with anything motorized on the Boardwalk,” Knight said. “Motorized bikes have no place on the Boardwalk. It’s an accident waiting to happen.” She reiterated her concerns on Tuesday and added that many tourists rent electric bikes and are given specific instructions for riding on the Boardwalk, though those instructions are too often ignored.
E-bikes are still relatively new to Ocean City, but the town lacks any evidence that they cause significant issues on the Boardwalk. Councilman Paddack asked Sgt. Hawk about the department’s experience with electric bikes. “How many crashes have the Ocean City Police Department investigated on the Boardwalk involving a Class 1 electric bicycle?” Sgt. Hawk responded with a simple zero.
Paddack also raised concerns about potential issues for disabled and recovering people who might use e-bikes for travel, exercise, and rehabilitation. He even suggested limiting the use of bikes to owners only, preventing inexperienced renters from riding on the Boardwalk.
Council President Martin reminded the council that the major issue is congestion. However, there is little to no foot traffic in the offseason. He said that no one would even know if people were to ride electric bikes on the Boardwalk in the winter. Councilman James went on to criticize those remarks. He said that there is no point in enacting an ordinance that will not be enforced.
To propel the conversation forward, Councilman DeLuca once again made his position crystal clear. He even poked fun at the contentious debate. “All this discussion and drama is really cute. Especially the drama,” he said. “But the bottom line is this: every single one of you did not want a Class 3 bike on the Boardwalk. We had both of them on the parking lot…and you can’t tell the difference between a Class 1 and a Class 3. So, this to me is really a simple decision.”
Offseason Trial Run?
Recognizing that some councilmembers were uninterested in allowing any e-bikes at all, Councilman Gehrig and Councilman James offered to run some type of trial. They questioned why the ordinance cannot be enacted for a trial run and then amended if any issues arise. “We can see how this goes and change our minds if we need to…we don’t need to ban something without seeing problems,” said Gehrig.
Mayor Rick Meehan addressed both sides of the issue. “I have a great concern about the motorized vehicles on the Boardwalk,” he said. “But Matt’s suggestion that possibly we allow the Class 1 bikes as a trial basis for this offseason is something we should consider.”
After all members of the council were heard, Councilman Paddack asked Councilman DeLuca to put forth a new motion. “If Councilman DeLuca will amend his motion to ban Class 2 and Class 3 bicycles but only allow Class 1 bicycles, I will vote for that measure,” Paddack said. “To blanketly ban everything as a result of fear and not one fact, is ridiculous. That’s like banning every gun…It’s the person’s job to act responsibly, and when they don’t, they get slapped by the police.”
Councilman DeLuca wanted no part of his colleagues’ proposed changes. He responded, “Absolutely not. You’re obviously not listening. Why would I do that if an officer can’t tell the difference between a Class 1 and Class 3?”
For now, there will be no trial run, and electric bicycles are officially banned. Nonetheless, this may not be the last time the issue comes before the council.
To watch the council work session, click here.
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