Lewes discusses e-bikes on trails – CapeGazette.com
A Lewes committee is discussing how to handle the proliferation of e-bikes on local trails.
The city’s bicycle and pedestrian advisory committee has not taken a stance on the issue yet, but the group is considering what action, if any, is needed.
Councilman Tim Ritzert said enforcing any limitations or restrictions could be challenging.
“I think it’s difficult for the city to have rules that are dissimilar to rules that are used in the county portion of the trails,” he said. “I think this would be very onerous for us to enforce and to regulate.”
He recommended the city discuss creating uniform rules with other jurisdictions such as the City of Rehoboth Beach and Sussex County.
Ritzert noted the issue is already somewhat addressed in a memorandum of understanding with the Delaware Department of Transportation regarding the city’s maintenance of the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail. In that document, it says motorized vehicles are prohibited from using the trail, and that the intended use of the trail is for low-speed cycling around 10 mph.
Deputy Mayor Andrew Williams said that conflicts with signage along the trail near Old World Breads in Nassau, where, in small print, it says the speed limit is 12 mph.
Committee member Robert Fischer said the MOU also conflicts with Delaware code, which defines bicycles as two- or three-wheeled vehicles with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts or 1 horsepower with a maximum speed of 20 mph.
“It’s clear as mud,” Fischer said.
Fortunately, he said, there is a bill in the General Assembly that could provide clarity to the whole situation. HB 19 was introduced to the House in December 2020 and received a unanimous vote in April 2021. It’s been reviewed by the Senate’s transportation committee and is still awaiting a vote in the Senate.
The bill would permit local authorities and state agencies to prohibit the operation of any class of electric bicycle on the paths if, after notice and hearing, the authority finds the restriction is necessary for safety reasons.
The bill also further defines e-bikes by assigning three classes. Class 1 is an e-bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and does not exceed 15 mph. Class 2 is an e-bicycle equipped with a motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle and does not exceed 18 mph. Class 3 is an e-bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and does not exceed 28 mph.
The bill allows a municipality to prohibit Class 3 e-bikes without a public hearing; however, restrictions for Class 1 and 2 e-bikes would require a public hearing.
The city’s bike and pedestrian committee plans to reach out to local legislators to find out if the bill is moving forward.
The bicycle and pedestrian committee is working toward establishing a low-stress bike loop throughout the city.
The city has received a $12,500 grant from the Delaware Bicycle Council toward the project, which is planned to be a 3.7-mile loop.
The bikeway begins at the Lewes Public Library and follows the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail to Devries Circle. Bicyclists cross Savannah Road onto Sussex Drive and head into the Highland Acres development, where they use a new path into the Mariner’s Retreat community. From there, riders follow Seagull Drive toward New Road. They stay in the Reserves at Pilottown community until connecting with West Fourth Street, which they take through the Fourth Street forest. Riders then briefly turn onto Burton Avenue before taking West Third Street past the Lewes Historical Society complex. Bicyclists cross Savannah Road, take Kings Highway to Franklin Avenue, then jump back onto the Lewes-to-Georgetown Trail to the library.
The bicycle council grant will be used to add a curb cut in the Mariner’s Retreat development. The grant will not cover the entire estimated cost of $15,000, so the city will pick up the rest. The city is in discussions with the Mariner’s Retreat developer regarding widening the path from Seagull Drive to Sussex Drive, which is currently only a few feet wide.
The city is responsible for any wayfinding signage it will add, but those expenses have not yet been estimated.
Mayor and city council has not provided a fully executed agreement and work will not begin until then, but the project is anticipated to be completed within the year.
The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.