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A Planner Gets on an Electric Bicycle in Portland

As a Portlander and an urban planner, I’ve been fascinated with electric bicycles and their ability to change how people travel within a city. So, when I recently had the opportunity to test-ride a GenZe e-bicycle I jumped at the chance to experience an electric bicycle. I was not disappointed, riding on one of these was a lot of fun!

electric bicycles

My traveling companion and I set out on Friday late afternoon to climb Mount Tabor. Mt. Tabor is a popular urban park with all kinds of enthusiasts, but its popular with cyclists because of its steep incline and rewarding views. I’ve walked up on numerous occasions, but this time I was able to made it up to the top (no sweat!) on a e-bicycle using a combination of pedal-assist and throttle power. We then took them to a gelato shop in Northeast Portland.

bikes-with-a-viewFor the rest of the weekend, I did what I usually do on a bicycle—only a lot quicker: I took the GenZe e-bicycle out for some grocery shopping errands on Saturday and Sunday, along with a trip to the Sellwood neighborhood via the Springwater Corridor, a bicycle/pedestrian paved pathway along the Willamette River. I also participated in a PedalPalooza evening event on Saturday: a nighttime ride from Northeast Portland to the Eastside Esplanade—a ride that I generally would not have completed with a pedal-powered bicycle, as it was about 10 miles round-trip.

The best part about the GenZe e-bike was how liberating it was to be able to travel and not be concerned about hills or distance as part of the route. It also felt pretty smug to hit the throttle and keep up with or even pass faster riders. I also felt like the e-bicycle worked well with other cycles, especially along the Springwater Corridor and during the PedalPalooza event.

Now that you have heard about what I used the GenZe e-bicycle for, here’s a great info graphic by the Portland State Transportation Research and Education Center about their research on e-bicycle usage.

From a planning perspective, there’s a lot of opportunity for the electric bicycle to really help with of the challenges of non-automobile travel—to extend the distance one is willing to travel solely by bicycle, to help manage hilly terrain as part of a route, to help bridge the gap for that last mile or ½ mile after transit like light rail or commuter train and to help enable bicycle travel for riders of all abilities. For further discussion on this topic, check out this paper by my colleague Derek Chisholm, who co-authored with Justin Healy, on the implications of electric bicycles for planning and urban design.

Based on my personal riding style, I did not find a conflict between the e-bicycle and a fully pedal-powered ride sharing the same bicycle lane/infrastructure. For more on the reguations surrounding e-bicycle, here is one report from the National Institute for Transportation and Communities. Oregon has passed legislation regarding the definition of what an e-bicycle is and where it can be used (no sidewalks) and riders must be over the age of 16.

In addition to the opportunities for electric bicycles in the personal transportation category, there is great opportunity for electric bicycles to revolutionize how we move goods around a city. Consider the current challenges of large trucks delivering goods on neighborhood streets a thing of the past, replaced by small, nimble electric delivery electric vehicles, like Portland Pedal Works. Think of all the idling fuel saved by using electric cargo bicycles as well as the financial savings through reduced delivery costs.

For further information on e-bicycles, check out the research and projects from Portland State University’s Electric bicycle research hub and website.

I think that e-bicycles like GenZe are great to add to the mix of transportation options and I look forward to seeing more of them in Portland and beyond.

Robin Scholetzky is a practicing urban planner and is the Principal of UrbanLens Planning in Portland, Ore.

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