Communities across New Jersey are exploring alternative modes of transportation to help residents and visitors get around without adding to congestion. But the addition of electric bicycles and scooters — part of a class of personal vehicles called micromobility — can present some challenges, including safety, parking and regulation.
A panel of experts offered insight and advice to communities interested in implementing micromobility during a Together North Jersey workshop, hosted by the NJTPA on June 16.
Micromobility is a class of lightweight, low-speed vehicles that are either partially or fully motorized, said Aimee Jefferson, a Principal Planner for the NJTPA. Jefferson reviewed regulations that apply to these personal vehicles. For example, helmets and insurance are not required for low speed electric bikes as they are capped at around 15 mph, but both are required for motorized bicycles and scooters with higher speeds. All bikes and scooters are bound by and must adhere to all traffic laws and signals.
Several communities in New Jersey have taken steps to allow and support the use of electric bikes and scooters.
Asbury Park first implemented a bike share program in 2017 and last year added electric scooters, which proved to be much more popular, said Mike Manzella, the city’s Director of Transportation and Deputy City Manager. A key to making the programs a success was ensuring people had access to pick up and return scooters in communities throughout the city, not just around the train station or in the downtown.
“A third of our households don’t have access to a vehicle so it’s really important for us to look at ways to try and provide better access for these households,” he said.
Manzella said one key to getting the programs off the ground in Asbury Park was being able to visit Hoboken, which had already implemented bike share and e-scooter share programs.
Peter Kim, a member of Bike Hoboken, a community group that supported the city’s implementation of the bicycle and e-scooter share programs, said these new travel modes have benefited residents in the busy city, while also helping address congestion and improve air quality. He said other communities with mass transit should consider implementing bike or scooter share programs.
“A lot of New Jersey towns are built around NJ TRANSIT stations and they act as a hub, so it’s really important to have efficient modes of transportation to get to that transportation hub,” he said.
In Newark, the founders of the Newark Bicycle Co-Op and the non-profit Girls on Bikes partnered to launch Food on Bikes, a program that delivers fresh produce from local and urban farmers in Newark to farmers markets and those in need. They also helped deliver water during the Newark water crisis and delivered food to people in need during the pandemic.
“Using electric bicycles has been really a great step for us because with our program alone we were able to reduce the number of cars that were typically used for deliveries,” said Kala La Fortune Reed, founder of Girls on Bikes.
In 2019 they travelled over 200 miles, delivering over 1,000 tons of produce and helped reduce emissions. Another benefit is that the business created jobs for young people of color, La Fortune Reed said.
Marco Germano, founder of the Newark Bicycle Co-Op, said while the deliveries are made using bicycles, they can pull large loads. “Electric bikes are very powerful, we are able to carry over 200 pounds of produce per bike,” he said.
Dr. Michael Smart, Associate Professor at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University said there are a lot of myths and fears surrounding scooter or bike sharing. He said safety remains a top concern, but other issues – like fears over parking the vehicles – are proving to be less of a problem as more cities adopt micromobility.
A recent study of eight cities looked at vehicle parking and scooter parking. “About 1 percent of scooters were parked incorrectly and about 27 percent of cars were parked incorrectly,” he said.
And while studies show an uptick in emergency room visits when these programs are implemented, Smart said there is a lack of data to determine whether the injuries are worse than those caused by automobiles.
Several other speakers also addressed safety. La Fortune Reed said many areas in Newark are not bicycle-friendly, making riders feel unsafe. In Asbury Park, the city has worked to raise awareness about safety and the rules of the road. They also implemented software that requires scooter riders to scan an ID to confirm they are over the age of 18. Their e-scooters are for adult use only.
Despite the safety concerns, the panelists agreed that micromobility has the potential to help North Jersey address issues of congestion, air quality, travel efficiency and more.
Click here to view the webinar.