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What's up with the proposed e-bike and trail ordinance?

The latest bicycling discussion in Albuquerque involves what vehicles should people be allowed to ride on our paved multi-use trails, and how fast should people be allowed to go on them. Understanding the best course forward involves recognizing both what the situation is now, and what legislation can and cannot accomplish. We at BikeABQ want to lay out both the facts of the matter and what we see as the best solution.




Why is this coming up now?


In 2023, New Mexico attempted to pass the PeopleForBikes model e-bike legislation, which puts the standard 3 classes of e-bikes used by some 40 other states into New Mexico law, separating the smaller, lighter vehicles people generally recognize as “e-bikes” from motorcycles, and generally granting them the same rights and privileges as standard bicycles. For those unfamiliar, the class system is as follows:

  • Class 1: Motor operates only while pedaling and when traveling under 20 mph

  • Class 2: Motor operates while pedaling or via a throttle, but only when traveling under 20 mph

  • Class 3: Motor operates only while pedaling and when traveling under 28 mph, and bicycle must have a speedometer


E-bikes of all 3 classes are limited in motor power (maximum 750 watts) and must have functioning pedals.


Unfortunately, the New Mexico Senate made an amendment to the model legislation, with the following effect: whereas the model legislation allows Class 1 and 2 e-bikes to use paved multi-use trails and leaves the decision for Class 3 e-bikes up to local municipalities, the amendment instead allows only Class 1 e-bikes on paved trails, banning Class 2 and 3 from them unless otherwise decided by the local municipality. While the New Mexico House attempted to undo the amendment, there was simply not enough time in the 60 day session to complete the process, and so the flawed amendment made its way into law.


The primary issue right now is restoring access of Class 2 e-bikes to Albuquerque’s paved multi-use trails. There is simply no reason why Class 2 e-bikes should be treated any differently from Class 1, and the motor speed limitation on Class 1 and 2 e-bikes is sufficient to allow them to be ridden anywhere traditional bicycles are. Anyone who has ridden a Class 1 or 2 e-bike can tell a story of being passed by someone on a bicycle using only human power.


What does the proposed ordinance do?


Over the last year, the City of Albuquerque has been looking into how they want to allow Class 2 e-bikes on their paved trails, engaging the public (including BikeABQ!) at various points. Ultimately, they have decided on the following initial text, in ordinance O-24-14:

For all municipal bike trails:

  • All vehicles (including standard bicycles) would be subject to a 20 mph speed limit

  • This speed limit would exist in tandem with the current qualitative speed limit of “reasonable and prudent under the conditions”

  • E-bikes of all 3 classes would be allowed

  • “Powered micromobility vehicles” would also be allowed, aka vehicles satisfying all of the following:

  • Electric-powered motor of at most 750 watts

  • Top speed of at most 30 mph 

  • Weighing less than some weight limit (currently under amendment)


For bike trails in Open Space lands or Regional Preserves (notably including the Bosque Trail and the Paseo de la Mesa)

  • The Parks and Recreation department would decide on a case-by-case basis whether and which e-bikes and powered micromobility vehicles to allow

  • We expect the Bosque Trail and Paseo de la Mesa would have similar rules to the municipal paths


Map of Albuquerque Open Spaces (https://www.cabq.gov/parksandrecreation/open-space/facilities-map)

What does this change?


In practice, this doesn’t change much. Burqueños currently ride Class 2 e-bikes on multi-use trails like the North Diversion Channel Trail, the Hahn Arroyo, and the Paseo de las Montañas, despite it technically being against the law. Similarly, a few people ride their bikes (both electric and non-electric) much too quickly around others on the multi-use trails, despite that violating the current “reasonable and prudent” speed limit on the trail. Just like the current prohibition on Class 2 e-bikes on trails is not enforced, we doubt that a numeric speed limit will be able to be truly enforced, and similarly doubt its effectiveness in curbing the behavior of current speeders.


Ultimately, the primary impact of this ordinance will be on e-bike retailers and on bicycle advocacy organizations, like BikeABQ. Currently, if you ask an e-bike retailer whether the Class 2 e-bike you’re looking to buy is allowed on the multi-use trails, the retailer has to say “no” (although many do not, this is currently a useful shibboleth for whether a retailer is being honest), and has to be careful how they advertise Class 2 e-bikes to make sure they aren’t implying they can be taken on trails. Similarly, when BikeABQ promoted cycling to Balloon Fiesta last year, for example, we had to be careful about not implying that all e-bikes could take the North Diversion Channel Trail to do so.


What does BikeABQ support?


The question of e-bikes on trails is fairly straightforward: class 2 e-bikes should absolutely be allowed on the paved multiuse trails. Class 3 e-bikes are a little different of a story, but ultimately a ban on class 3 e-bikes would be hard to enforce, and they are not particularly common e-bikes. It is likely simpler for everyone if no ban on class 3 e-bikes is enacted.


BikeABQ appreciates the goal of the ordinance; however we cannot support a blanket speed limit on all municipal multi-use paths. Speed limits on multi-use paths are not unheard of—Boulder has 15 mph speed limits on their multi-use paths, as does most of Europe—however in Albuquerque our multi-use paths are our only safe bicycle infrastructure. There are no significant stretches of protected or even separated bike lanes, nor of bicycle-only paths, so if someone’s desired biking speed is above 15 or even 20 mph—which can be done even by non-racers—they have to choose between biking along traffic or breaking the law, which is not a choice we can support forcing cyclists into. In these other cities, cyclists have a much broader variety of safe routes to choose from. We ultimately cannot support what would result in an effective ban on cycling safely above 20 mph across the entire city. The city is currently updating its bike plan, which will call for the creation of a network of protected and separated bike lanes. When that plan is seriously implemented, it may be valuable to revisit the question of speed limits on multiuse paths.


That certain trails suffer from conflicts between the various users is really a reflection of the success Albuquerque has had in developing those trails, and we have to give kudos to the city for creating trails with such popularity. These conflicts are ultimately infrastructure issues, caused by more people wanting to use the trails than the trails can support, and we would prefer to see the city address them as such by building more parallel safe cycling infrastructure and widening existing trails, rather than fiddling with the rules. It might be the case that certain regions of certain trails are currently problematic enough that specific attention is warranted on a timeframe that infrastructure changes are not feasible, we are not opposed to posting speed limits that apply to those areas only. We hope the city will use trail speed limits as a last resort, as infrequently as possible, and that they will endeavor to find solutions that will either allow them to lift the speed limit in the future or minimize their inconvenience.


The Embudo Arroyo Trail along Indian School is a useful route to and from the mountains with minimal pedestrian conflicts; why should it be subject to a speed limit designed to control traffic on the Bosque Trail?

Albuquerque’s multi-use paths serve a variety of purposes. Some of them, like the Bosque Trail and Tramway Sidepath, are popular pedestrian destinations where conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians are common. Others, however, like the University sidepath to Mesa del Sol or the Embudo Arroyo Trail along Indian School, are nearly exclusively used by cyclists. We do not view a blanket speed limit for all multi-use paths as appropriate, given their diverse characteristics. Moreover, needlessly inconveniencing cyclists on these trails will have the ultimate result of causing more of them to decide to drive to reach their destination, which makes Albuquerque less safe for everyone.


(Disclosure: BikeABQ’s Board President, Susan Gautsch, is the owner of an e-bike shop here in Albuquerque. She did not contribute to this blog and abstained from the board vote adopting the position outlined in this post)


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Like any major city with a criminally large population of single-occupant vehicles, Albuquerque could benefit from a massive increase of two-wheeled electric vehicles from class 1 to full on motorcycles. However, they have no place on our open space un-paved trails or backcountry singletrack. Please take a page from our local Forest Service district and treat e-bikes like the motor vehicles they are and restrict them to roads.

J'aime
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