Proposal to restrict e-bikes fails in Nags Head

By on August 4, 2023

Several commissioners expressed reservations about restricting where e-bikes are allowed. (File photo courtesy of Charles Buxton of Outer Banks E-Bikes)

An effort to restrict the use of e-bikes in Nags Head ran into headwinds at the Aug. 2 Board of Commissioners meeting when several town commissioners indicated they had mixed feelings about the idea.

The topic made the agenda of the Aug. 2 meeting after Nags Head Commissioner Renée Cahoon expressed concern at the July 5 board meeting about the use of electronic bikes on the Town’s multi-use paths—with particular concern directed at the multi-use path located on the beach road due to safety concerns over the narrower width of the path and the frequency of driveways and site obstructions.

The ordinance currently in effect in Nags Head allows for the use of any “non-motorized, muscle-powered vehicle or device or an electric-assist vehicle or device on any multi-use pedestrian path, sidewalk, street, or other public area” as long as the rider did not operate them “recklessly or at a speed faster than is reasonably proper, or in a manner so as to endanger the life, limb, or property of the rider or of any other person.”

E-bikes experienced a major boom during the pandemic, with sales increasing 240% from 2019 to 2021 nationally, according to site TheRoundup.org. It projects that the e-bike global market will leap from $27.22 billion in 2021 to $118.6 billion by 2030. The Outer Banks is no exception, with locals and tourists of all ages using the electric assist vehicles to avoid heavy summer traffic, push through our strong tailwinds and opt for a more environmentally friendly way of commuting.

With the uptick in e-bike users across the Outer Banks, Dare County municipalities have taken notice, and are all looking into ways to make the roads safer for e-bike users and others on the roads.

At the Aug. 2 meeting, in response to Commissioner Cahoon’s request to revisit the ordinance, Police Chief Perry Hale proposed an amendment that would limit the use of electric assist vehicles to paths with a width of 10 feet or more, which would eliminate use of the 8-foot multi-use path on the beach road and limit e-bike users to the 10 ft multi-use path on the bypass, which Hale stated “would be more suitable for these devices as there’s less foot traffic and not as many driveways.”

Hale addressed suggestions from the community, including a resident’s suggestion during public comment to instead enact a speed limit. But Hale stated that it would be impossible to clock the speed of an e-bike due to the traffic on the beach road. He also said it would be nearly impossible to distinguish between classes of e-bikes that go faster than others, stating that police would have to stop each cyclist to look at their registration and paperwork, leading him to believe that his amendment was the most logical solution.

Hale proposed that the update to the ordinance go into effect in January to provide time to educate the public. Cahoon agreed with Hale’s proposal, but disagreed with his Jan. 1 start date, pushing instead for October 1.

“The problem is now,” she said at the meeting.  “The comments that we’ve had from the public on their encounters have been negative. People are almost getting hurt and run over by and so I respectfully disagree with your January 1 date.”

But the discussion over amending the ordinance revealed mixed feelings on the board as several commissioners stated that they themselves are avid cyclists.

“I’m a longtime cyclist and I’ve put a lot of miles on the road to Nags Head and I’m really conflicted about this because I love bike culture,” said Mayor Ben Cahoon. “I wish Americans were not so much about their cars and rode their bikes more, walked more, but I had a commissioner say recently that we should treat the world as it is, not as we wish it were. We’re thinking about the behaviors of users of various facilities.”

Cahoon rode his bike to the meeting that morning and explained that he regularly sees pedestrians walking side-by-side taking up most of the path and people wearing headphones and not hearing bikes coming toward them. He also acknowledged the temptation of e-bike users to go faster than they should.

“So we wish everyone would adopt proper behavior,” he added. “Walk to the right, run to the right, pass to the left, go to the appropriate speed, check both directions before you pull out of the driveway—we can wish all those things but they’re not going to happen.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mike Siers seconded that notion.

“This isn’t an e-bike problem. I think it’s a people problem,” he stated. “There’s no respect or courtesy for anyone else.  No matter what rule we put into play, it’s not going to affect any of that. So until people start using common sense and courtesy and respect for others, you’re not going to solve this with any ordinance.”

“I’m very conflicted by this too,” stated Commissioner Bob Sanders. “I mean, I’m an avid cyclist. My wife is an avid cyclist and triathlete, and my son is an avid e-biker.”

In the end, the board couldn’t come to a decision and Commissioner Cahoon’s motion to amend the ordinance died on the floor for lack of a second to the motion from any of her fellow commissioners.

“We will continue to consider this issue,” concluded Mayor Cahoon.


SEE ALSO: The e-bike revolution hits the Outer Banks


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Comments

  • Susan

    Have you considered limiting the use of E-bikes to those that have a drivers license, or implement an age restriction? I am in KDH, and have experienced a bad hit and run (on a sidewalk) with a cyclist a couple of years back.

    Monday, Aug 7 @ 8:32 am
  • disgruntled

    How is an electric bike not a motor vehicle?

    Monday, Aug 7 @ 8:44 pm
  • Charles

    Great exercise. Doesn’t anyone pedal anymore ?

    Tuesday, Aug 8 @ 4:26 pm
  • mike

    E-Bikes are a different creature than peddled Bicycles. Trying to lump them together is a business ploy.

    Tuesday, Aug 8 @ 8:01 pm