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Levy tells Bend city councilors she will propose tougher, clearer laws for younger e-bike riders in ’24 session

(L to R) Mayor Pro Tem Megan Perkins, Commute Options Executive Director Brian Potwin and state Rep. Emerson Levy discussed e-bike safety issues and regulations with Bend city councilors Wednesday evening
City of Bend
(L to R) Mayor Pro Tem Megan Perkins, Commute Options Executive Director Brian Potwin and state Rep. Emerson Levy discussed e-bike safety issues and regulations with Bend city councilors Wednesday evening

Rules haven't been updated since 1997; workgroup planned to focus on 'electric micro-mobility' issues

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) – Rep. Emerson Levy, D-Bend, told Bend city councilors Wednesday evening she will be proposing legislation in next year’s “short session” of the Oregon Legislature to toughen, clarify and help better enforce the laws regarding young people and e-bikes, a growing issue for many in the community.

Levy, Commute Options Executive Director Brian Potwin and Mayor Pro Tem Megan Perkins spoke with city councilors about the summer’s e-bike safety roundtable and other recent efforts to address the e-bike issues that gained greater attention in the wake of a June crash that killed a 15-year-old Bend teen.

“I want to make it clear that I think kids should be outside, moving and biking,” Levy said. “The goal of these regulations is to put sunlight on our current transportation safety problem, so that we can manage it effectively.”

Levy said a main goal, along with clearer state laws, is to align with recently updated federal law, including a revised definition of e-bikes.

“I will be proposing legislation that prohibits anyone under 16 years of age from using electric bikes with a throttle,” she said. “Those under 16 years of age may use pedal-assist bicycles only. Right now, under Oregon law, anyone under the age of 16 is not permitted to ride an e-bike.”

“We know that’s not being followed, but it’s important to say,” she added.

When we look at many of the issues around safety, speed, and the ability to modify an e-bike to
increase speed, bikes that use a throttle, as opposed to pedal-assist, are more easily modified, and
the throttle mechanism is more difficult for young riders to control," Levy told councilors (her full statement is below).

But Levy also noted there are “plenty of videos” online that explain how to modify the motor by increasing the wattage, at little if any cost. You can also buy an e-bike that, when activated to “off-road” mode, can achieve a top speed of 74 mph, she said.

But tougher penalties for violators also are needed, Levy said, noting that currently, the highest fine is $25, for not wearing a helmet.

"We don’t have the police force to be able to commit the time for enforcement, and pulling over a kid can be really unsafe, and maybe that’s not what we want to do," Levy said. "But I believe the statutory mechanism should be there, and right now it doesn’t exist at all."

Levy also discussed plans to convene a work group on “electric micro-mobility,” to ensure any new or revised regulations help achieve greater safety, reflect the latest technology changes (the rules haven’t been updated since 1997) and remove inconsistencies in the laws around e-bikes, e-scooters and the like.

Bend Police Chief Mike Krantz pointed to a rapid rise this year in e-bike use and enforcement issues, amid limited police resources. The priority for all is safety, he said, but resources for enforcement are limited, and the goal is compliance through education.

"The challenge also comes in the fact that we’ve had a couple times where young riders, early 20s, late teens, have turned a simple violation stop into a felony elude," Krantz said. "We prefer not to chase those folks. We really are going to put them in danger, put our officers in danger." 

Perkins noted there was stepped-up discussion of e-bikes at schools as fall classes began. Potwin spoke of how the organization focuses on education regarding e-bike safety, for both youth and adults. He said they’ve reached out to ODOT about expanding an online e-bike safety course statewide, and the City Club of Central Oregon plans a forum on e-bikes and recently signed a 2-year contract for safety education in more schools.

City Transportation and Mobility Director David Abbas discussed the related infrastructure issues and various efforts to improve safety for bikes, to get to the “Vision Zero” (no fatalities) goal set by many around the country.

Coincidentally, Mayor Melanie Kebler told her colleagues she'd taken part earlier Wednesday in Bear Creek Elementary’s event marking International Walk + Roll to School Day.

Article Topic Follows: Government-politics

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