Footloose, for e-bikes? The US town that banned all electric bicycles

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As electric bicycles skyrocket in popularity and adoption rates soar, nearly everywhere in the US is seeing a higher number of e-bikes used for transportation. That is, except for one town that banned e-bikes and e-scooters devices altogether.

The Village of Key Biscayne, an island community in south Florida, has permanently implemented an emergency ban on electric bikes and e-scooters that was first implemented several months ago.

Key Biscayne is known as a hub of car alternatives, most popularly golf carts, which cruise the streets just as commonly as larger vehicles. Electric bikes have also become a popular form of transportation on the island, at least until they were banned this year after a local tragedy.

The original emergency ban was rushed into place back in February, just two days after the death of admired local tutor Megan Andrews, 66.

Andrews was riding a pedal bicycle at night when she was involved in a fatal collision with an electric bike rider. The twelve-year-old e-bike rider also involved in the collision was on his way to soccer practice and claimed not to see Andrews, who police said was riding a bike without lights and not wearing a helmet. The medical examiner ruled the collision accidental.

The town quickly enacted a temporary ban against all electric bicycles and motorized scooters, which was ultimately amended into a permanent ban on these micromobility vehicles.

Many community members laud the new ban after long bemoaning the high number of young riders traveling the roads and sidewalks on high-speed electric bicycles.

Some locals had already petitioned the city for months, encouraging stronger regulations to rein in such behavior.

On the other hand, many other residents lamented the new ban, which has stifled local use of the country’s fastest-growing form of alternative transportation.

According to the Key Biscayne Independent, local mayoral candidate Charles Collins would like to see micromobility vehicles viewed as a solution for the island instead of as an issue. Collins believes that e-bikes can help reduce traffic and improve transportation, explaining that every trip a child takes on an e-bike saves a parent’s round trip in a car.

Electrek’s Take

I don’t mean to make light of a tragedy, but this entire scenario is eerily similar to Footloose. A fatal road accident in a small community results in longer-serving elders enacting a knee-jerk reaction to ban a perceived threat popular among younger members of the community instead of addressing the root of the issue. It’s textbook. Replace dancing and popular music with e-bikes and e-scooters, and it doesn’t take six degrees of separation to get there.

And as we learned at the end of the movie Footloose, (spoiler alert) the central lesson is about the importance of balance between tradition and change. The story culminates in the realization that while traditions and rules are important for maintaining order and values within a community, they should not stifle the freedom and growth of the younger generation. The story ultimately conveys that open-mindedness, understanding, and compromise can lead to a harmonious and vibrant community where different generations can coexist and thrive.

Look, every cycling death is tragic and no one disputes this. But I’m not sure that banning electric bikes and e-scooters is the answer. In fact, if we want a quick and simple solution to cycling deaths, it would make more sense to ban cars, since more cyclists are killed by car drivers than e-bike riders.

But the better answer is a compromise built around education and enforcement. When cars became popular a century ago, they were quite dangerous. Drivers drove them dangerously and many people suffered for it. So traffic enforcement increased along with driver’s education. That’s the answer here. The helpful new technology of e-bikes shouldn’t be banned, it should be regulated in order to benefit from its incredible value.

There are instructional classes for e-bike riders who haven’t received a driver’s license. Age limits can be created to keep obviously too-young kids off of e-bikes. Helmets and lighting can be required to help save lives. Just a single one of those policies likely would have changed the outcome of the accident that led to the Key Biscayne e-bike ban.

I know drivers often complain about e-bike riders breaking traffic laws, riding through red lights, etc. We already have a solution for this: traffic police. It’s just as illegal to blow through a red light on a bicycle as it is to do it in an SUV. It’s the same traffic ticket, and it’s an expensive traffic ticket. That ticket, or just the fear of one, makes those brake levers seem like a much better idea. Where I live, sidewalk-riding can get you a hefty fine, and once enough people knew someone who got slammed with that ticket, sidewalk-riding rates plummeted.

So let’s all agree that outright bans aren’t the right answer to a tool that is otherwise so useful and beneficial. Because if we get all ban-happy, there are a lot bigger fish to fry before e-bikes.

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