Concerns Remain over Sidewalks used as Bike Lanes

Micro e-vehicles have filled a gap in the existing private transport supply providing vehicles faster and less physically challenging than bicycles while slower and more compact and affordable than cars.

Unfortunately, this perfect fit in between the long-established modalities has made them a hazardous disrupter on both sidewalks or cycleways or motorways. Moscow is an example of a city where authorities made an early attempt to fit micro-EVs into traffic by relocating them onto cycle-lanes. That policy is unsafe, thinks Alexander Semenov, president of Association for the Development of Sport Electric Vehicles (ASEV): “It’s not right when a delivery tricycle and a child on a kid’s bike are sharing one lane.”

In summer 2020, 32-year-old Zhenya Sadovnikova was severely injured in Moscow when a multi-part accident happened on a cycle-lane involving several bicycles, a heavy ‘fatbike’ and an electric unicycle. She blames the unicyclist for the accident. Riding at double a bike’s speed, he was unable to escape collision when another cyclist abruptly stopped ahead.

An opposite solution would be to allow micro-EVs onto motorways. Higher-range e-bikes can run up to 62mph and e-wheels up to 43mph, effectively automotive speeds and much more unsafe, said Dr Bert van Wee, professor in transport policy at Delft University of Technology. One takeout in the Netherlands’ immense cycling-centered experience is that stability is a common issue with muscle and electric bikes at speeds higher than 28mph. “In addition, if something goes wrong, the body is not protected. The future of electric micro-vehicles is a concerning issue because legalization is incomplete,” said Semenov.

In the near future, he envisions the coming of more varieties of one-, two- and multi-wheel vehicles and asks: “Which lane would we spare for them?” “In general, the more types of vehicles, the more risky it gets,” said van Wee. “You can expect more accidents if we have more kinds of micro-EVs in cities.”


Back in the 1970s, the Netherlands sparked the cycling trend with the rich cycleway infrastructure. Following that trend, Irina Irbitskaya, consultant at the UN Sevelopment Program and leader at European project Digital Cities, suggested that streets should be redesigned to introduce an additional lane for micro-EVs. “However, some cities may it difficult supporting the upgrade financially while others may lack space for deeper sectioning,” she said. “Older towns where medieval street architecture remains intact will face issues.”

Introducing new lanes is unlikely in most existing urban areas, said van Wee. It is feasible, though, in areas such as the US’s suburbia or newly-designed districts with wider streets. However, those vehicles are presently on roads in too few numbers, making the change economically unreasonable.

Besides, more lanes mean more complexity at junctions and intersections. For example, the Netherlands has hit the limit with traffic separation, said Irbitskaya because using the local infrastructure requires certain skills at a commuter level while foreign visitors can find it challenging.

Multi-purpose lanes

To many cities, the most efficient solution is in redesigning cycle-lanes to accommodate them with a larger variety of vehicles, said van Wee: “Micro-EVs could be allowed to cycleways in the Netherlands because we have lots of fine infrastructure. In some other countries, it would possibly not be a problem but it is an issue in others. Likewise, it’s hardly doable in the very small streets of Rome unless you take cars off such streets.”

In such areas, the solution is sought in changed regulation: “At some times, you have to allow them to be mixed with overall traffic and, because those vehicles generally ride slower than motorized vehicles, you have also to reduce speed in order to align speeds of micro-EVs and motor vehicles. When, say, the maximum speed goes down to 20 or 30 kph, it is more doable to mix those vehicles.”

Back to the roots of traffic ruling

Pavements, cycleways and motorways satisfy our needs of traffic separation, Semenov believes, provided the vehicles are allocated based on two parameters, their speed and size. He recalled that categorizing by speed was among the universal principles of traffic regulation established long before the motorcar and, through years, proved to be a sustainable framework. He said: “That is why it is not right to allow bikes onto bus-lanes, a policy seen in some cities because speeds of buses and bicycles are largely different.”

According to that principle, the wheeled vehicles should be allocated to pavements if they, at all times, move at speeds safe for pedestrians. On the other hand, if they’re able to safely sustain the speed of automotive traffic, their place is on the highway. Any new types of vehicles should be designed to qualify for one of the existing lanes and not vice versa. It is also compulsory that all the motorway riders have a full or provisional driving license, are properly insured and bear all the necessary safeguards, Semenov said.

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