[UPDATE: Arizona STATE law was updated to explicitly define ebikes in 2018.
Tempe has updated their ordinances a couple of years ago (2019?) to explicitly include ebikes; and Phoenix did so in March 2022. So the article below, written in 2009 is here more for historical purposes.
HOWEVER many many other cities and towns have this “trap” in their local ordinances]
Original title: Is your motorized bike a play vehicle?
First, see Moped and Motorized Bicycles in Arizona for general background on Motorized Bicycles. Sort of unfortunately, every individual city or jurisdiction can have their own codes further regulating things.
The trouble Arizona moto-bicyclists generally run into revolves around police misunderstanding (or simply not even knowing) the distinction between a moped (which requires insurance, driver license, registration) and a motorized bicycle (which requires none of that. E.g. here is such a report from Phoenix, and of course that figured prominently in the Scottsdale case.
However, a disturbing wrinkle regarding the use of motorized bicycles in Tempe has arisen. Tempe’s codes are all online; bicycles are Chapter 7, and traffic is Chapter19. It appears that it is the official position of the City of Tempe that motorized bicycles (but only when the motor is operating!?) have severe operating restrictions. The story is one of my correspondents reports being stopped twice by Tempe police (“and almost cuffed” once!) sometime around early 2009(?) for, get this, riding in the street. The temerity! This from Bill Amato, Police Legal Advisor for the Tempe Police Department in email dated May ? 2009: “In the case of a motorized bike that has the ability to also be pedaled; 1) that vehicle cannot ride on the sidewalk, 2) that vehicle cannot drive in traffic on a street where there is more than four (4) lanes or the posted speed limit is more than 25 mph, 3) that vehicle cannot operate in the bike path while using the motor portion of the bike”. From that description, it appears that they consider it to be what Tempe calls a motorized play vehicle.
Sec. 19-1(6) Motorized play vehicle means a coaster, scooter, any other alternatively fueled device or other motorized vehicle that is self-propelled by a motor or engine and which is not otherwise defined in Arizona Revised Statutes, Title 28, as a “motor vehicle,” “motor-driven cycle” or “motorized wheelchair.”
Sec.7-1 Bicycle: A device propelled by human power which any person may ride, having two (2) tandem wheels either of which is more than sixteen inches (16) in diameter or having three (3) wheels in contact with the ground any of which is more than sixteen (16) inches in diameter.
Sec. 19-22. Prohibited operation. No person shall operate a motorized play vehicle… (1) On any sidewalk in the city…
(4) On any public roadway consisting of a total of four or more marked traffic lanes, or having an established speed limit of greater than twenty-five miles per hour;
There are no such prohibitions for bicycles, of course.
For those who are unfamiliar with the road layout around here; virtually all streets would be off-limits. Even little collector roads tend to have at least 4 lanes, and certainly practically every through road around here have speed limits above 25mph.
The idea of whether or not the motor is operating seems like one of those unenforceable things, not to mention silly. After all, if bicycles are permitted to ride along any street in Tempe(and they are), why not a motorized bike?
But that is all besides the point; it seems to me that the “self-propelled” clause in play vehicle means that motorized bicycles simply do not fit the description of motorized play vehicle. E.g. here is an explanation from spookytooth cycles (the instigator and probably the largest purveyor of motorized bicycles): “Motorized bicycles gas and electric cannot be started without the use of pedals, therefore they are human powered as well as self-propelled”.
One final point, #3 of Bill Amato’s prohibitions appear to me to be a confusion soley in ARS of mixing up a moped and a motorized bicycle — mopeds are banned from bike facilities, and moto-bikes are explicitly allowed on them. (see definitions linked at Moped and Motorized Bicycles in Arizona)
I also found a claim over at motorbicycling.com that would seem to have cleared all this confusion, an email dated Nov 8, 2008, Tempe city staffer Carlos DeLeon (position?) said “I met with Police Dept and our City Attorney’s Office to discuss your questions regarding motorized bicycles. We determined that motorized bicycles are not covered under the motorized play vehicle code.” and goes on to say the city considers them mopeds (7-55), i.e. that is where the notion of disengaging the motor to use bike lanes. So which is it? moped? “play vehicle”? who knows??
What about other Cities?
And beyond Tempe; the real fun begins. Except for the city of Tucson (see Chapter 5) which has explicit motorized bicycle ordinances, to get to the bottom one would need to comb through the local ordinances of dozens of cities and try to figure out what, if any, laws apply. Ug.
Well, since I live in Phoenix, it turns out that Phoenix has a nearly identical definition as Tempe (see Phoenix’s ordinances at municode.com):
Sec. 36-1 Motorized play vehicle means a coaster, scooter, any other alternatively fueled device, or other motorized vehicle that is self-propelled by a motor or engine, gas or electric, and which is not otherwise defined in A.R.S. tit. 28 as a motor vehicle, motorcycle, motor-driven cycle, motorized wheelchair or electric personal assistive mobility device.
Sec. 36-64(A) No motorized skateboard or motorized play vehicle may be operated on any public sidewalk, roadway, or any other part of a highway or on any bikeway, bicycle path or trail, equestrian trail, or shared-use path.
So, if motorized bicycles are considered play vehicle in Phoenix they can’t be used on any sidewalk or road. Note that I’m not saying Phoenix thinks this; I am just drawing a comparison to Tempe’s ordinances. [as mentioned at the top of this article, Phoenix added explicit ebike codes March 2, 2022, Ordinance G-6967]