Previous Page
Urban Velo
Next Page

In addition to the newer, lighter, more powerful and cheaper electric bikes that are hitting the market and electric and gas-powered scooters, a new breed of light around town type of electric vehicle is being adopted by eco-conscious urban and suburbanites. All of these vehicles are ending up in the bike lanes—the catch-all for vehicles that planners and regulators deem to be too slow or too fragile to mix it up with larger, faster, heavier traffic. Of course, that’s why we ride in the bike lanes when they’re available. But should we be forced to mix it up with all of these Johnny-Come-Lately invaders?

Are these bike lane snatchers really the enemy? No, they’re not. The truth is that we’re all in this together. Many people who choose to use alternative transportation do so because it’s better for the environment, cheaper, and less impersonal—when you’re traveling at human speed you can really enjoy the world that you live in. Nevertheless, problems do arise when we start forcing all of these vehicles to use the same space.

Neighborhood Electric Vehicles (NEVs) and Bike Lanes

For the past century, the US transportation system has been largely designed to accommodate quick movement of motor vehicles, and up until the 1970’s bicyclists were forced to share the road with all types of traffic in most circumstances. While retaining a right to the roadway is important for bicyclists, transportation engineers have spent the past several decades working on ways to safely retrofit existing roads and provide designs for new roads so that bicyclists have the safest space for sharing the road with motor vehicles. Some of the engineering has resulted in the creation of bike lanes (“Class II” facilities in places like California)—especially along roads where there is a relatively high flow of and/or fast moving traffic.

Bike lanes are treated as protected space for non-motorized vehicles. Mopeds, motor scooters, and small motorcycles are not allowed to use bike lanes in most places, because of safety issues associated with speed and mass. These small, motorized vehicles use the same road space as motor vehicles. Additionally, new electric mopeds and scooters are becoming commercially available; these vehicles are also to use the same portions of the roadway as motor vehicles. Typically, this category of small, motorized vehicles are not allowed on freeways or expressways, as they cannot safely move at the same speed as motor vehicles.

A new type of small electric vehicle has become popular recently, most frequently seen rolling along in retirement communities and/or planned communities in the suburbs—the Neighborhood Electric Vehicle, or “NEV”. These new vehicles are federally restricted to travel no more than 25 miles per hour, and are relatively light compared to traditional motor vehicles. NEVs can seat up to four people, and as they are gaining in popularity, so is the desire to treat them as a special class of vehicle.

Just like bicyclists, NEV users want to feel safe on the road. Some planners and transportation advocates have begun to implement community-wide plans for NEVs, including newer, wider travel lanes to be shared with bicycles. In California several pilot programs have been put in place to test these plans and new facilities. For example, in Lincoln, CA (just north of Sacramento) new 7-foot shared-use bike lanes have been installed. Bicyclists and NEVs share this space.

As of this writing, there are a handful of communities in California that are currently in, or about to embark on