New Paltz expands access to e-bikes

Janelle Peotter was the only person to testify on March 17 when New Paltz voted to approve a new ordinance that will dramatically increase the number of roads pedelecs can access in the city.

Peotter is a big proponent of trendy two-wheelers and describes buying an e-bike as a “transformative experience,” given New Paltz’s hilly terrain, which makes it harder for the elderly or people disabled or injured to use traditional bicycles. Bikes.

“A friend of mine in her 80s told me she had to give up cycling,” says Peotter, “until she got her e-bike.”

Growing interest in e-bikes prompted New York to pass state law in 2020 to provide certain parameters for their use. Statewide law applies to three types of e-bikes, but with the exception of New York City, only two are allowed in New York municipalities: power-assist e-bikes that just give cyclists a boost of energy and e-bikes. which look more like scooters.

The third type of bike, which is only allowed in New York, has its power-assist functionality cut to 28 miles per hour compared to 20 miles per hour for the first two classes.

Even though state law limited e-bikes to roads with a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or less, it also gave municipalities the latitude to pass their own local e-bike ordinances. New Paltz’s ordinance – the first of its kind in the Hudson Valley – extends the permitted range of e-bikes to the entire city, including where the speed limit is 35 miles per hour or more , instead of the single village of New Paltz, which has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour.

“We did this because of state law,” says New Paltz City Supervisor Neil Bettez. The town of New Paltz has 57 miles of roadway, but only nine of those miles are in the village, where the speed limit is 30mph – meaning most roads were inaccessible to e-bikers unless they don’t want to risk a ticket.

The ordinance, which Bettez said will come into effect at the end of April, evens out a situation where e-bikes were not allowed on roads that regular bikes could access. “Wherever a bike is allowed, an e-bike is now allowed,” says Bettez. And anywhere a bike isn’t allowed — like the New York State Thruway — so are e-bikes.

Local police hadn’t enforced restrictions on e-bikes in town, Bettez says, but he’s heard from residents who would like to buy an e-bike but don’t want to break the law. He’s an avid cyclist himself who says he was considering buying one of the bikes, which sell for between $2,000 and $3,000.

“We are seeing more and more of these – people are interested but were nervous” about state law restrictions on where they could be used. E-bikes saw a big boom during the height of the COVID-19 outbreak, to the point that wait times to purchase an e-bike could be up to a year. (New Paltz’s own Bike Depot sells e-bikes and special orders them.)

Bettez points to the various benefits of an increased presence of e-bikes at New Paltz and says the main driver was “greenhouse gases from automobiles.”

“Climate change is at the heart of it all,” acknowledges Peotter, an e-bike owner and former Wisconsinite who moved to New Paltz seven years ago. She had hoped to retire, she says, but the climate crisis has boosted her volunteer spirit, and she now sits on a few city committees, including her Vélo-Piéton committee.

Transportation is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions, she says, and while New Paltz can’t do much about the commercial trucks and tourists driving through the village, she thinks the city should encourage alternative modes of transportation for SUNY New Paltz residents and students. .

Advantages of electric bikes

Critics debate the health benefits of riding an e-bike as opposed to a traditional bike, but Bettez says it’s read the studies and finds the criticism irrelevant.

“You benefit from an e-bike because you use it more frequently,” he says. And they’re great fun too, he adds.

The supervisor notes that New Paltz modeled its ordinance on a similar ordinance in New Rochelle but that to his knowledge, these are only two municipalities in the state that have engaged in the e-bike phenomenon at the hyper-local level.

“I would love for other towns near New Paltz to adopt their own ordinances – they could just copy ours! — but so far, he says, that hasn’t happened.

Bettez also notes that e-bikes aren’t typically used for recreational uses over longer distances, given their range of around 35 miles between charges, and that they’ve found the most favor with people who are concerned about battery life. environment looking to leave the car at home for routine trips. . “Most e-bike trips are very local, one to three miles.”

Peotter says she was already riding her e-bike on restricted roads before New Paltz passed its ordinance and “had no idea it was even illegal – it seemed absurd to me.”

She says the public needs to be educated on what these bikes are and aren’t – they’re not loud mopeds, they’re not gas-powered and they’re generally not going to go at speeds over 20 miles. per hour. “There’s no throttle,” she says of her pedal-assist e-bike, “it’s assist. And I’m a person who needs help.

Bettez echoes Poetter in pointing out the city’s large elderly population and says that “it’s a bit hilly here, and not everyone has the physical shape to get around town.” Electric bikes open it up to everyone.

Before the city passed its ordinance, she says, there was “almost nothing” she could do with her e-bike without breaking state law. “I couldn’t have gone to the library, to the grocery store, to the restaurant, to the place where Xeroxes were made,” she says. Now, the activist says she could turn her attention to towns around New Paltz to spread the word about the untapped potential of e-bikes.

“Once you’ve ridden one,” adds Bettez, “you become a huge fan.”

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