QUEENSBURY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – The Warren County Bikeway is an artery through the woods, from the village of Lake George down through and past the city of Glens Falls, and connects riders to both the Adirondack Park and other parts of the North Country.
And now, county administrators are considering letting another sect of the visiting and local population make use of it.
On Thursday morning, the Warren County Board of Supervisors held a public meeting livestreamed on YouTube, to consider allowing electric bicycles on the bike path, and to gain a better understanding of the benefits and potential risks in doing so.
The meeting was kicked off with words from Connor Morgan, a recent Lake George resident and owner of the Whippoorwill Motel & Campsites in the village of Lake George.
Morgan came as something of an expert on the subject. The campground, which he runs alongside his father, has been renting out bikes for some time. And it came from a need he first saw at his own campground.
“At the campground, you’ll find that bicycles are the main form of transportation for the RV camping industry,” Morgan explained. “They’re compact. They’re small.”
Electric bicycles aren’t completely motorized. An e-bike has a small motor connected to a battery or other power source, usually located in the bike’s rear hub or mid-drive. The point isn’t for the motor to take over for the rider, but rather to lend a hand against steep inclines, or when crossing busy intersections.
Morgan pointed out the benefit of that motor to seniors, including those who have had to give up biking as they age.
Lake George Town Supervisor Dennis Dickinson vouched for that.
“I am at the stage where, without an e-bike, I would not be able to continue biking,” he commented during the meeting.
No, it’s not a motorcycle
Morgan ran down the basics of what types of electric bicycles are out there, and how fast they can go.
At the core of things, there are three types of e-bike. All three run off 750 watts of electricity, equivalent to 1 horsepower.
Type 1 can assist with pedaling, and get the bike going up to 20 miles per hour. After that, the bike is designed to cut off power until speed lowers.
Type 2 works essentially the same way, but with the added bonus of a throttle option, which Morgan suggested can be used for quickly crossing an intersection or making a tight turn.
Type 3 is built the same as type 2, but with the ability to get up to 28 mph in speed.
And before anyone gets too worried about speed demons owning the trail, Morgan was quick to add that Type 3 would most likely not be suitable for Warren County roads.
Supervisor Brad McGowan agreed, but said that in his experience, even getting to the 28-mph marker was a hurdle.
“It raised a breath out of me, because you have to push if you want it to go 28,” he said. “They are an assist.”
Queensbury Supervisor John Strough asked more information on what differentiated an e-bike from a motorcycle.
Morgan made him a list of differences, which included not only the different level of power, but also the lower amount of weight and momentum. Motorcycles are a lot harder to stop.
Besides that, just because the motor can get a bike up to 20 mph, that doesn’t mean it’ll stay that way.
“If you’re riding it for that fast for long, you’re not using it properly and would waste your battery in a short time,” Morgan said.
As for a point of comparison, Warren County DPW Supervisor Kevin Hajos said bikes going 20 miles per hour – and higher – are already not uncommon.
“It’s not e-bikes doing it,” he said, “it’s normal bikes doing it.”
Walkers and riders
Glens Falls Supervisor Peter McDevitt had concerns about what the presence of motorized bikes might do to his part of Glens Falls. His ward contains most of the county bike path’s diagonal slice through the city, across Ridge Street and Dix Avenue.
That includes a popular portion that cuts through local neighborhoods, passing by Cooper’s Cave Ale Company and near the Glens Falls Shirt Factory.
And, he said, a lot of people get to those places by walking along the bike path.
Morgan’s counterpoint to that was that bikers working hard to get to a similar speed level may actually pose more danger, keeping their heads down and potentially paying less attention than a rider getting some electronic assistance.
“I’m not saying electric bikes are free of that,” he said, “but I think that in higher density areas the potential for accidents is always going to be there.”
Dickinson had some thoughts on that as well.
“The bike path is for bikes. That’s its primary use,” he pointed out. “If you want to walk on it, you can, but you’re walking on a bike path.”
Supervisor Doug Beaty chimed in with his own experience walking the downtown Glens Falls stretch of the path, which he estimated having walked as much as 8 to 9 hundred times.
In that time, there have been four incidents he could remember where he feared for his own safety. Only one of those involved a bike. The other three involved dogs.
He also said that, even if some people used the path for walking, he almost never saw it very busy. On his walk on Thursday, he counted eight people.
Looking at models
What all parties agreed on during Thursday morning’s meeting was the need for more education. That includes both educating the public on proper etiquette with bikes in general, and the county learning more about the safety of electric bikes on popular trails elsewhere.
On that latter front, Kevin Hajos had already done some digging.
Leading up to the meeting, he had already learned about PILOT programs introducing e-bikes into Boulder, Colorado; Park City, Utah; and Seattle, Washington. Data was collected for a year in each case, and all three ended up welcoming e-bikes onto their roads.
“These are not different from any normal bike,” Hajos commented. “They’re a bicycle.”
Hajos suggested a similar pilot program could be possible in Warren County. It would likely run for 6 months, due to the seasonal nature of biking in the region.
He and the rest of the board of supervisors agreed on one other front; Morgan was thanked for his insight, and invited to help the members of the board learn more on what to do next.
Morgan said he already helps with that education any time a visitor to Whippoorwill tries out a bike.