Electric bike rules of the road

Today I was sitting in my mini-van, waiting in a pretty long line of cars for a left-turn signal to change.  As I waited, I was excited to see an electric bicycle pass me.  It wasn’t a cargo bike, but sightings of electric bikes are still rare enough to catch my eye.  I watched as the cyclist moved to the front of the left turn line, and I was a little surprised.  When I ride my bike to that same intersection, I take my place in the line just like any car would.

My surprise quickly turned to dismay.  The rider slowed as he approached the intersection, looked both ways, and then made the turn while the light was still red!

I know that cyclists sometimes bend the rules a bit, and I can understand the temptation.  Coming to a full stop at an intersection requires a lot of gear shifting and loss of precious momentum.  Our leg muscles pay so much more for that momentum than cars do.  But electric motors ameliorate that.  I often execute a full stop/start without shifting at all, because my motor is powerful enough to get me going again in a high gear.

To paraphrase Spiderman (how long have I waited for this opportunity?) – “With great power comes great responsibility.”  I honestly feel this when I’m riding my electric bike.  I take extra care to obey traffic laws, because my life and well-being depends on others obeying those laws.

If the driver of a car flaunted the law so flagrantly, I would be tempted to whip out my iPhone and take a photo of his license plate.  I don’t know what I would do next, but I feel like there might be some recourse.  However, electric bikes exist in this gray area where you can travel almost as fast as a car on residential streets, but you don’t need a license.  As a result, there is no recourse for someone who is annoyed with your behavior.  They might be tempted to yell at you or crowd you with their car.  That doesn’t sound like a recipe for peaceful coexistence on our streets.

Perhaps legal regulations will change as electric bikes become more popular.  Not that I want additional barriers to electric bike adoption, but it may be inevitable.  In the meantime, I want to demonstrate that electric bikers can be good citizens on our shared roadways, and that we deserve respect and consideration from drivers.  As newcomers to streets that have been ruled by automobiles for decades, I think we have to earn it.