Oct 4, 2021

Nashville's brewing e-bike battle

Animated illustration of an ebike with electricity lines emitting from the center.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As e-bikes explode in popularity nationwide, Nashville is struggling with how to regulate them and whether to allow them on the city's beloved greenway system.

Why it matters: The issue has created a low-key bureaucratic battle, roping in influential advocacy groups Walk Bike Nashville and Greenways for Nashville.

The big picture: E-bikes, which are battery-assisted to help a rider pedal, are booming thanks to high-minded environmental concerns and their coolness and fun factor, according to Axios' Jennifer A. Kingson.

  • Bicycles are a $5.3 billion business, up 65% in the 12 months ending July 2021 compared with 2019, per the market research firm NPD Group.
  • E-bike sales are up 240% in that period, way more than mountain bikes (70%) or children’s bikes (57%).

State of play: In July, Metro Council member Bob Mendes and 16 other council members sent a letter to the Parks Board expressing support for e-bikes on greenways. "Encouraging e-bikes on greenways would align Nashville with most other cities and states," Mendes said.

  • An analysis by the city's legal department concluded state law gives Metro the authority to regulate or prohibit e-bikes, but existing ordinances related to no-ride zones and slow-down zones have not "effectively prohibited them at this time."
  • Metro Council passed a new resolution in August calling for city agencies to work together to solicit public comments and study how other cities are handling e-bikes.
  • A survey will be available soon and the public will have until Jan. 2, 2022 to weigh in. In the meantime, there's a moratorium on e-bike related legislation.

What they're saying: In a blog post, Walk Bike Nashville said it believes pedal-assisted bikes are the same as regular bikes and should be allowed on greenways.

  • But Greenways for Nashville, another prominent advocacy group that raises money and supports the city's greenway system, has expressed concerns. The group backed the August legislation allowing for research and public comment.

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