Phoenix e-bike Ordinance

e-bike?

City of Phoenix passed an ebike law recently; I was unaware.

Arizona’s state ebike laws, which were passed in 2018, are essentially mum on ebikes vis a vis sidewalks, leaving them in the same somewhat strange boat as bicycles; “what is not prohibited is allowed”. And leads to a lot of confusion as local regulations, if any, regulate sidewalk cycling. See this long discussion of Arizona’s sidewalk laws including selected municipalities.

In any event, the state ebike law has “default” regulations for what they call “bicycle and multiuse paths”; Class 1/2 (“20mph”) allowed, and Class 3 (“28mph”) prohibited. But nothing about sidewalks.

I would have preferred that the city (and all cities) simply treat Class 1/2 in every way as bicycles; Phoenix already has/had bicycle sidewalk regulations. But for whatever reason, they went another way, specifically with regard to sidewalks. So as of 2022 in Phoenix:

PCC Sec. 36-504. Motorized electric bicycles are prohibited on sidewalks.

It is a violation for a person to operate a motorized electric bicycle upon a sidewalk.

Phoenix Ordinance No. G-6967, adopted 3/2/2022

It’s pretty annoying that they, after all these years, decades really, still have the 50 cent bicycle license plate requirement on the books; 36-98.

Here’s the (added) definition:

Sec. 36-1. Definitions
"Motorized electric bicycle" means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts and that meets the requirements of one of the following classes:
1. "Class 1 motorized electric bicycle" means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with an electric motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle or tricycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.
2. "Class 2 motorized electric bicycle" means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with an electric motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle or tricycle and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle or tricycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

This begs the question, what about Class 3 ebikes? I can’t find any definition that fits, e.g. they are notmotorized play vehicles” because they are defined in ARS.

By the way, the same definition as 36-1 also appears in in 23-120 (that’s the chapter on ‘morals and conduct’!). I assume, but did not check, that it’s word-for-word. What’s up with that?

“Stealth” ebike?

It’s not likely police will enforce this law on a routine basis, for a number of reasons, but most obviously is that many many ebikes don’t look motorized; these so-called stealth ebikes have a battery integrated inside the frame, are nearly silent, are pedal-assist (must be pedaled to keep going, no throttle), and the only tell-tale would be a slightly enlarged hub (if a hub motor, or a blob around the crank if a mid-drive). See pic above.

These bikes are being sold in huge quantities.

The real problem (for ebicyclists riding on sidewalks in Phoenix) would come when they — for any reason — are contacted by police, whether that’s because they look “suspicious”, or become involved in a crash. And if it’s a crash, expect trouble collecting from the motorist’s insurance regardless of fault.

Other Cities

Since this is going to be a patchwork; let the patching begin…

Tempe

In Tempe ebikes on the sidewalk must not use the motor (Again, that seems oddly unenforceable), also see this list of documents regarding the new bicycle ordinance, note that city of Tempe helpfully changed their document system since that was written, breaking all their own links. sigh. Looks like 19-212F “No person shall operate an electric vehicle on public sidewalks when the helper motor is engaged”.

How to search for Phoenix Ordinances

I’ve wasted time on this before, to find the actual ordinance in markup format (e .g.  strikethru for deletions and ALL CAPS for additions); must search public records; then do a global search on the ordinance number, in this case 6967… this should lead you to a document called ORD6967 which is , annoyingly, a tif file. (a graphic image, not searchable)

Questions

to recap —

what is the deal with phoenix and class 3 ebikes?

what is the deal with ebikes on shared-use paths?

ebikes on SRP Canal Paths

Although the Arizona state law (ARS) more-or-less treat ebikes as bicycles in a straightforward manner (for example, electric bikes are not motor vehicles in ARS); there’s a confusing patchwork of differing local (city/town) regulations. Unfortunately, there’s yet another layer, federal, to add to the mix…

The entire Phoenix metro area is laced with an extensive system of canals, most (all?) of which are paved and open to the public for use by bicyclists, walkers, and joggers. Motorized vehicles (with specified exceptions, e.g. “authorized” vehicles) are prohibited. Uh oh…

As things turn out — who knew? — SRP only manages the land. It belongs to the federal government, under the jurisdiction of the US Department of Interior,  Bureau of Reclamation. As things further turn out there was new federal rulemaking regarding ebikes that was finalized in 2020. Prior to the new rules, ebikes would have by default fallen into the category of “off road vehicles” and would be broadly prohibited on any Reclamation land “Reclamation lands are closed to off- road vehicle use, except for an area or trail specifically opened to use”. Happily, for ebicyclists, the new rule defines and carves out ebikes from the definition of off-road, and permits their use wherever bicycles (i.e. “mechanized, non-motorized use”) is allowed BUT ONLY IF “the Regional Director has expressly determined” it’s ok. Here are the salient bits from the law CFR Title 43 / Sub B / Chapter I / Part 420:

§420.5(a)(7) Electric bikes as defined by paragraph (h) of this section: While being used on roads and trails upon which mechanized, non-motorized use is allowed, that are not being used in a manner where the motor is being used exclusively to propel the E-bike for an extended period of time, and where the Regional Director has expressly determined, as part of a land-use planning or implementation-level decision, that E-bikes should be treated the same as non-motorized bicycles.

(h) Electric bicycle (also known as an E-bike) means a two- or three-wheeled cycle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of not more than 750 watts (1 horsepower) that meets the requirements of one of the following three classes... [goes on to define the usual 3 classes...

The sign makes reference to two federal  sections, Part 423, and Part 429; and makes no reference to the section 420, where electric bikes are defined, important to our discussion here is the definition of motorized vehicle, which incongruously is called an Off-road vehicle in the CFR even though it includes on-road vehicles!, and is found in this Part 423 definition:

§423.2  Definitions... Off-road vehicle means any motorized vehicle (including the standard automobile) designed for or capable of cross-country travel on or immediately over land, water, sand, snow, ice, marsh, swampland, or natural terrain. The term excludes all of the following: ...  
["authorized" vehicles, military vehicles in time of national emergency, etc. Oddly, disability/mobility devices are NOT excluded from the part 423 definition?]

Which begs the question, what does the Regional Director say? yes or no, or he/she is thinking about it? [the current status from what I understand is the RD has not made any determination; thereby effectively prohibiting ebike use]

The Bureau of Reclamation’s Regional Director of the Lower Colorado region is Jacklynn ‘Jaci’ Gould (as of org chart date May 2022). Within the LC region is the Phoenix-area office; which is the local office for these SRP paths.

There are two nearly identical definitions of off-road vehicle; Part 423 ‘Publc Conduct’ and Part 420 ‘Off-road Vehicle Use’. The definition in 423 excludes powered wheelchairs and not ebikes; whereas in 420 it’s reversed: excludes ebikes but not powered wheelchairs. This seems odd, maybe there’s some explanation?? Why are there two definitions?

5 thoughts on “Phoenix e-bike Ordinance”

  1. Phoenix City Code Sec. 36-1.
    Definitions
    Whenever any words or phrases used in this chapter are not defined but are defined in the Motor Vehicle Laws of Arizona, Title 28, Arizona Revised Statutes, as amended, such definitions shall apply. In this chapter, unless the context otherwise requires:

    “Motorized electric bicycle” means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts and that meets the requirements of one of the following classes:

    1. ”Class 1 motorized electric bicycle” means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with an electric motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle or tricycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

    2. ”Class 2 motorized electric bicycle” means a bicycle or tricycle that is equipped with an electric motor that may be used exclusively to propel the bicycle or tricycle and that is not capable of providing assistance when the bicycle or tricycle reaches the speed of 20 miles per hour.

  2. Yes, there it is, thanks. I must not understand how their search works.
    Anyways, that would mean class 3 ebikes are not “motorized electric bicycles” per PCC, and therefore 36-504 incongruously can’t apply. That’s odd. Hmm.

  3. First of all, I agree that Class 1/2 e-bikes should be treated as bicycles. Unfortunately, too many get hung up on the “motor” and don’t realize the vast majority of e-bike owners in the U.S. are in the age 50 – 70 demographic and ride cautiously. (Of course there are a few exceptions that everyone points too.)

    880,000 e-bikes were sold in the US in 2021 and the forecast for 2022 is to exceed 1 million. (Ref. https://www.bicycling.com/news/a39838840/ebikes-are-outpacing-electric-car-sales-in-the-us/ ) Cities, counties and state authorities are going to be forced to take e-bikes into account.

    “Current” traffic engineering philosophy in developed nations (i.e., Europe and Asia) is that bicycles should NOT be treated as vehicles under the law or in road design – as is currently the law in all states. With the high crash rates for pedestrians and bicyclists in North America, this view – to treat bicycles separate from motor vehicles – is gaining a foothold among urban traffic engineers and road designers in the U.S.

    It is interesting there is very little actual data to base these e-bike laws on. There’s lots of myth and folklore, but few academic studies representing real world conditions. I think a lot more research is needed to support the updates to cycling laws that have become necessary to address the explosion of cycling resulting from e-bikes.

    As someone that commuted into Downtown Seattle for many years (commuting on a bicycle, via bus transit and driving a car), I experienced riding a bike on the sidewalk as both a necessity as a cyclist and a non-issue as a pedestrian.

  4. SRP canal paths at federal land under jurisdiction of the Bureau of Reclamation… And as such their, and not city and not state, rules apply.

    This from Anthony Rios-Gurrola, City of Phoenix Microbility Coordinator (i’m not sure of exact job title):

    The prohibition of motorized vehicles on canal paths has come up a number of times in our department. I have also been told directly from an SRP representative that we need to make it clear to residents that motorized vehicles such as e-scooters and e-bikes are not allowed on canal paths.

    To give you a reference, SRP canals are facilities managed by the Bureau of Reclamation (Phoenix Area Office | Lower Colorado Region | Bureau of Reclamation (usbr.gov)) and considered reclamation lands.

    According to 43 CFR § 420.2, reclamation lands are closed to off-road vehicles. 43 CFR § 420.5(a)(7): E-bikes are NOT considered off-road vehicles when “not being used in a manner where the motor is being used exclusively to propel the E-bike for an extended period of time….” It goes on to say that essentially, the Regional Director would need to determine that e-bikes should be treated the same as regular bikes.

    -Anthony
    ______________________________________________________________________

    This flyer isn’t official, but expresses that sentiment (e.g. the bit about not using the motor):

    https://www.reddit.com/r/phoenix/comments/yznd37/canal_karen_on_the_prowl_coming_for_your_ebikes_i/

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