Nov 3, 2022 - Business

Roads aren't equipped to support Phoenix's booming e-bike industry

A man stands next to an electric bike.

Lectric CEO and co-founder Levi Conlow and the company's XP 3.0 e-bike. Photo: Jessica Boehm/Axios

Metro Phoenix is a hotbed for e-bike and other micro-vehicle manufacturing, but we don't yet have the infrastructure to take full advantage of these increasingly popular modes of transportation.

Why it matters: Smaller vehicles decrease congestion on roadways and minimize carbon emissions.

Driving the news: Phoenix-based Lectric, among the biggest e-bike companies in the country, on Tuesday launched its XP 3.0 model, which features a passenger seat.

  • The bike can go up to 28mph, has a range of 45-65 miles, depending on the battery selected, and starts at $999.
  • Meanwhile, Canadian company ElectraMeccanica announced last year it is developing its first U.S. manufacturing site in Mesa, where it will assemble the Solo, a three-wheeled, single-seat electric vehicle.
  • Last month, the company secured a license to start selling the Solo car in Arizona.

Yes, but: ASU urban planning professor David King, who owns multiple e-bikes, tells Axios Phoenix that the Valley needs to standardize its electric vehicle regulations and invest in infrastructure that would make using them safer and more convenient for users.

  • For example: Some Valley cities allow users to ride on sidewalks if there's no bike lane, while other cities prohibit sidewalk riding.

Zoom out: This isn't just a Phoenix problem. Engineers, lawmakers and urban transportation experts across the U.S. are grappling with how to keep up with the popularity of e-bikes on streets that aren't designed for them.

  • E-bikes go faster than traditional bicycles but slower than cars, so they don't necessarily fit on either the street or in a bike lane.

Of note: The Consumer Product Safety Commission found that injuries from e-bikes and e-scooters have increased significantly as they've become more popular.

What he's saying: "If there isn't a safe place to use them, then people aren't going to use them," King says.

  • He says cities should develop dedicated, protected lanes, separate from traditional bike lanes, where e-bikes, scooters, golf carts and other small vehicles could safely operate up to a certain speed.

The other side: Other researchers, including University of Tennessee-Knoxville engineering professor Christopher Cherry, say traditional bike lanes could be shared by e-bikes if there were barriers to protect them from vehicle traffic.

  • He told Bloomberg in May that cities should quickly redevelop some car lanes into protected bike lanes to serve all types of bike users.

By the numbers: This year, Lectric predicts it will sell more than 150,000 bikes, electrifying more Americans than any other company in the country besides Tesla.

  • Lectric CEO and co-founder Levi Conlow told us the company has sold 10,000 bikes to customers in metro Phoenix and continues to see increasing demand here.

What we're watching: Valley cities have been hesitant to reduce vehicle lanes, and are unlikely to do so for small vehicles unless there is overwhelming demand.

  • We might not be too far off from that, though. E-bike sales soared nationally by 145% from 2019-2020 as more people spent time outdoors during the pandemic.
  • The industry has continued to see significant growth since then, according to market research firm NPD Group.

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