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Sonoma Clean Power launches “Bike Electric” program

Provides customers with incentives for purchase of eBikes 

According to a statement released March 8, Sonoma Clean Power (SCP) is launching a new program focused on connecting income-qualified customers in need of clean, personal transportation.

Transportation is the leading source of community-wide emissions in SCP’s service territory, and supporting the regional transition from gas-powered vehicles to vehicles fueled by clean electricity is one of SCP’s priorities.

However, tackling emissions from transportation also requires reducing the number of cars on the road. 

According to SCP, the eBike industry has found new recognition in recent years, though various models of eBikes can be traced back as far as the 1890s. With states and countries setting ambitious goals to combat greenhouse gas emissions, eBikes have caught the eye of local governments and public agencies as a solution for short-distance commuters in their communities. 

When compared to traditional bikes, eBikes allow riders to travel longer distances in a shorter amount of time. The extra range and assisted pedaling can help replace car trips, ease commutes to work and solve the “last mile” issue some people face when using public transit.

eBikes are pedal bicycles with a rechargeable electric battery and engine which offer three types of travel — pedal only, like any bicycle, pedal assist (also known as electric assist) in which each pedal push is augmented by the electric motor (and on most eBikes you can modify how much assistance you are receiving) and finally electric only, in which the bike operates entirely in the motor without human power, similar to a moped or electric scooter.

eBike motors come in a wide variety of power ratings, from 200W to 1,000W or more, however the legal limit in the US is 750W,  although different states can set their own limits.

A higher rating means that the bike will be able to pull more weight with greater ease, but at the expense of using more battery capacity while doing so. In other words, a 750W motor will drain the battery much quicker than a 250W one, but it will also be more powerful.

Windsor town council member and SMART board member Debora Fudge has long been a proponent of eBikes being used in conjunction with SMART train travel as a solution to the “last mile.” 

SMART is piloting a bike share program along its entire line, using eBikes to help people move to and from the train.

For those without a vehicle, eBikes may also present a lower-cost alternative to car ownership. 

Starting March 8, SCP customers who qualify for CARE/FERA (state programs that provide discounted electric rates administered by PG&E), CalFresh/SNAP, LIHEAP, Head Start and other income-based assistance programs can apply to receive $1,000 off the purchase of an eBike. 

In the coming weeks, customers whose applications are approved will be mailed a voucher which can be redeemed at a number of local bike retailers that are partnering with SCP. With the voucher, customers will get $1,000 off the eBike’s total cost at the time of purchase. 

"Electric bikes are a great way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and with SCP’s new program, we hope more people have the opportunity to discover their benefits," said Colin Thomas, the owner of Pedego Electric Bikes Santa Rosa. 

“We welcome the chance to show everyone what a delight owning an eBike can be. For a lot of people, eBikes do have the potential to be a viable and cost-effective option for commuting to work, especially given the expansive cycling infrastructure in our area,” he added. 

On SCP’s website, customers can view the list of participating bike retailers, which also includes details on which stores offer payment plan options. Additionally, customers can learn more about the free trainings on eBike safety and best practices that are being offered in partnership with the Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition.

Through the “Bike Electric” program, SCP hopes to stimulate the local eBike market, further support the adoption of clean modes of transportation, and make eBikes accessible to residents who could benefit most from owning one.

House bill would give refundable tax credit for purchase of e-bike

A bill introduced Tuesday in the U.S. House of Representatives would give a refundable tax credit of up to $1,500 on the purchase of a new e-bike.

Authored by Congressmen Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-BIKE) Act supports the use of e-bikes as a zero-carbon transportation mode. Compared to other transportation modes, the bill recommends e-bikes because they are more affordable and accessible.

“E-bikes are not just a fad for a select few; they are a legitimate and practical form of transportation that can help reduce our carbon emissions,” Panetta said. “My legislation will make it easier for more people from all socio-economic levels to own e-bikes and contribute to cutting our carbon output. By incentivizing the use of electric bicycles to replace car trips through a consumer tax credit, we cannot only encourage more Americans to transition to greener modes of transportation, but also help fight the climate crisis.”

If signed into law, the bill would offer individual consumers a refundable 30% tax credit — up to $1,500. The credit is only applicable on purchases of a new e-bike that costs less than $8,000. The credit would be allowed once per individual every three years, or twice for a joint-return couple buying two. The bill also mandates a report from the IRS after two years to understand the distribution of the credit by income tax bracket and adjust for equity in the future. The credit is fully refundable, allowing lower-income workers to claim the credit.

PeopleForBikes, which supports this bill, urged bicycle advocates to send a short letter to their representative, encouraging their support. PFB said studies show that across the U.S. there would be an 11% decrease in carbon emissions with a 15% increase in e-bike mode share. 

“Incentivizing electric bicycles makes them a competitive transportation option for more Americans and supports a national effort to lower carbon emissions,” said PFB's CEO, Jenn Dice. “The E-BIKE Act rightfully positions electric bicycles as a critical part of a larger solution to climate change and equitable mobility. We’re grateful to Congressman Panetta for leading the charge in Congress.”

For more information, contact PeopleForBikes' federal affairs manager, Noa Banayan.

France gears up to promote bike & train intermodality

A new law adopted in France at the beginning of 2021 is set to boost the combination of bikes and trains in the country for decades to come. Developed in parallel to the European Regulation on Rail Passengers’ Rights and Obligations, which was approved on 1st October 2020, the French law will require there to be at least 8 bicycle spaces on most services.

The French requirements generally go beyond what was agreed on the European level (a minimum of 4 bicycles) and should provide inspiration for other countries wanting to do more to encourage the combination of these two sustainable modes of transport.  The Loi d’orientation des mobilités (Mobility Orientation Act) will make sure that the improvements are set in motion “for rolling stock that is being purchased or renovated as of March 2021". While new or renovated trains for which contract notices have been, or will be, issued before March 2021 are technically not covered, SNCF (the French national rail undertaking) has declared that it will put 6-8 spaces in the TGV-M trains that they currently have on order .

© PLUQUET Pierre-Antoine

© PLUQUET Pierre-Antoine

Not only space, but services

In addition to the minimum number of bike spaces, the decree also includes some extra conditions that have to be met by the operators. Minimum information for transporting bicycles on trains will have to be provided ahead of the trip, in order to meet the needs of cyclists when they organise their journey, be it as part of leisure activities or for their daily commuting. This may include information about the location of the bike racks in the train composition or the possibility to book a place in advance when buying the ticket.

Not only 8, but many

Some French regions have gone even further – like Centre-Val de Loire, where the regional authorities decided to give a boost to bike and train intermodality already back in 2018, when a total of 50 new trains were purchased to replace old rolling stock. Since August 2020, 32 new trainsets have been circulating in the region, welcoming 9 bicycles per coach, for a total of 27 racks for a full train!

“This renewal of the Region’s rolling stock is not only intended to facilitate everyday trips for commuters. It also aims at the tourism development of our territory”, said Hugues Hausher, Production and Service Manager at the Region’s Transport and Sustainable Mobility Directorate.

Indeed, the Centre-Val de Loire region is crossed by 2,355 km of cycling routes of national and international scope, including EuroVelo 3 – Pilgrims Route and EuroVelo 6 – Atlantic-Black Sea.

Not only trains, but buses

©Centre-Val de Loire

©Centre-Val de LoireThe Mobility Orientation Act doesn’t only regulate bike and train intermodality. As of 1 July 2021, all new buses used for regular road public transport services, with the exception of urban services, will have to be equipped with a system to transport a minimum of 5 unassembled bicycles. While there are exemptions, the most forward-looking companies have already started.

In the Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis, the mobility operator Transdev is experimenting a new indoor bike rack system that allows for up to 6 bicycles to be loaded on each bus.

“This experiment is the result of a sustained and participatory work of user associations and tourism professionals to develop intermodality in the metropolis Aix-Marseille-Provence. This service is primarily designed for commuting to the Fos-sur-Mer employment area and for cycle tourists on the ViaRhôna [EuroVelo 17 – Rhone Route], which connects the Geneva Lake to the Mediterranean. Port-Saint-Louis is not served by train, so access to the route is not facilitated. With this new service, tourists on bicycles will now be able to reach the ViaRhôna from the train stations as well” said Axelle Astouric, Head of Communication and Innovation at Transdev.

An inspiration for others

France is proving to be the bon élève in the process of combining bicycles with public transport.  The approval of the EU’s Regulation on Rail Passengers’ Rights provides a foundation for national policies that can go above and beyond its requirements, as the French government have shown.

We would like to congratulate the group of organisations that have been advocating for these changes over many years.  Operating under the banner 'My bike on the train', the group was led by CycloTransEurope and the Amis de la Nature and featured both of our French members, FUB and AF3V, and the French National EuroVelo Coordination Centre, V&T.

The ECF will be continuing to lobby on the European level for improved measures for combining bikes and trains through the ongoing review of the Trans-European Transport (TEN-T) Network Guidelines.  More information is available here

Public bike sharing in Chandigarh

In the first month after its introduction in the city, the public bicycle sharing (PBS) has garnered an impressive public response.

Launched on a pilot basis by the Chandigarh Smart City Limited (CSCL) on December 10 with only 225 cycles available at 25 docking stations, the PBS has now around 11,000 regular users. More than 15,000 people have downloaded the mobile app, Smart Bike.

Under the PBS, residents can rent cycles to commute through the city for ₹5- ₹10 for half an hour. They can also avail annual membership with one-time payment.

“We have received a positive response from city residents. People have travelled more than 35,000 km on the cycles of PBS, which has saved 11,617 tonnes in CO2 emissions. The cycles have been used for an aggregate of 4,840 hours,” said NP Sharma, chief general manager, CSCL.

The well-thought out location of docking stations, quality of cycles, city-wide network of cycle tracks, now night lighting being made available on these tracks, and higher awareness levels among residents can be credited for the success of the system, said Sharma.

1,250 cycles, 155 docking stations by May

In the next phase, by May this year, 1,250 cycles will be added and dockets will be increased from 25 to 155.

Currently, the 25 docking stations are spread across prominent locations in the city such as Rock Garden, High Court and Sukhna, PGIMER, Sectors 17, 22, 34, 35 and 43. In addition to these, “we will also introduce docking stations near people’s houses like adjacent vacant spaces near milk booths. This is expected to give further boost to the usage of the cycles,” added Sharma.

Of the 225 bicycles currently available, 100 are pedal-assisted electric bicycles (e-bikes). Learning from the usage pattern in the first month, the number of e-bikes will be increased to 75% in the next phase of installation.

In total, 5,000 bicycles will be provided in the city along with a network of 617 docking Stations spread throughout the city giving last mile connectivity to the users. “This size of the project will make it India’s largest and densest PBS network. The project will be developed in 4 phases of 1,250 cycles and 155 docking stations each, within a time span of 18 months, having the features of pedal assisted e-bikes along with the charging facility at the docking stations,” said Sharma.

All the bicycles are provided with GPS-enabled locking arrangement and will be monitored by a Command and Control Centre having 24x7 facility of helpline for users. The project is being implemented and operated by the concessionaire M/s Smart Bike Tech Private Limited, Hyderabad, for the period of 10 years on public private partnership (PPP) basis.

How the e-bike saved the cycling industry

A few years ago, the notion of Italian-made carbon fibre electric road bikes would have been ridiculous. Today, most legacy Italian road bike brands market a model with batteries on-board and a mid-drive motor. 

The e-bike growth story of 2020 has been exhaustively promoted, but the numbers still make for amazing statistical relevance. Demand for e-bikes surged by nearly 25 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

Many of those sales came as people looked to electric bikes for commuting, as people migrated away from public transport, or embraced active commuting and gentle leisure cycling, as a mindfulness exercise during lockdown.

The cycling industry had long known that electric bikes was a growing market, but could never have anticipated such a sharp increase in demand, with supply struggling to feed the appetite for all configurations of e-bike. For core cycling enthusiasts it has been a time of confronting bias and recognising that cycling is broadly benefitting from greater participation.

Any advocacy group is made more effective by numbers and diversity. With larger numbers of e-bike commuters, the pressure on local government representatives has increased, regarding cycling infrastructure.

Capturing a new demographic

Beyond the commuter numbers, battery-assisted bikes are drawing in a more diverse rider demographic. Older people are keenly discovering (or rediscovering) cycling, as the assistance of e-bikes gives them the confidence to embark on more ambitious rides regarding distance and gradient.

There are odd e-bikes, sure - but those are mostly commuter bikes and their purpose is transport, instead of sport or adventure riding. What has been noticeable, in the last two years, is how many of the esteemed cycling brands, both large and boutique, have introduced agile battery-assisted road and gravel bikes.

LeMond is the most recent, having this week revealed its elegant Prolog e-bike, which is a flat-bar commuter that even the most ardent cycling purist would love to ride.

Ribble’s Endurance SL e uses a Mahle Ebikemotion X35 M5 250w rear hub motor, delivering very natural linearity with its pedal-assistance, whilst retaining an entirely conventional road bike aesthetic. It is credibly light, too, for an e-bike, at only 12kg.

Colnago’s E64 is similarly configured to the Ribble Endurance and shows that classic Italian road bike design values can be reconcilable with modern e-bike technology.

Perhaps the most impressive example of this trend toward highly desirable e-bikes is Specialized’s Turbo Creo SL. It places the mid-drive motor in the bottom bracket, for ideal weight distribution.

In any e-bike design with most of the additional mass centred around the bottom bracket, cornering balance is excellent, thanks to a heavier lateral pivot point within the bike’s overall mass distribution.

As battery energy density has improved, industrial designers have been able to package smaller power units into their e-bikes, whilst still delivering adequate assistance and range. The result has been a new generation of e-bikes that ride with superb agility.

The e-bike has a place in modern society

While the notion of the e-bike's role in road racing or Sportive events is a contentious issue, the UCI mountain e-bike World Championship race suggests there just might be a place for it in the near future. How this is governed or monitored is still up for debate but it would certainly unlock mass-participation events to a broader audience.

That said, the e-bike is an outstanding training asset. This can be especially true for riders who are attempting to recover from injury or wish to break through a plateau after a long period of inactivity. Modern life is pressurised, and those late afternoon or early morning rides are an opportunity for escape and mindfulness. As many cyclists will attest, the further you can go, the better that healthy sense of detachment becomes. 

An unconsidered benefit of lightweight high-performance e-bikes is their ability to allow a greater number of riders the opportunity to get more out of cycling as a sport. For cyclists in older age whose fitness has declined or for those new to the sport whose fitness is yet to be curated, a week in the Pyrenees, Alps or Dolomites becomes a real possibility thanks to the e-bike. 

With the assistance of a motor and advancement in hydraulic disc brakes for descending safety, such riders can keep exploring the splendour of environment that cycling offers whilst remaining active and healthy. 

Perhaps the greatest gift of e-bikes, is the freedom of imagination and richness of experience, that they allow more riders to experience a cycling journey.

Sydney cycling: has the city that 'hates bikes' finally turned the corner?

When the officials charged with making cycling safer and more accessible in Sydney meet their international counterparts, they can expect to be greeted with a mixture of incredulity and sympathy.

“I don’t think anyone has a tougher time than we do,” says the City of Sydney’s executive manager of cycling strategy, Sebastian Smyth.

That has a little to do with Sydney’s hills and a tangled road network that grew without a plan. But the main reason for the tag “the city that hates bikes”, as the Sydney Morning Herald called it in 2010, is the long-running division between the council responsible for the inner city and a state government that has been historically hostile to cycling.

“Most cities around the world have jurisdiction over their own traffic light systems, speed limits, roads,” says Smyth’s colleague Fiona Campbell, the council’s manager of cycling strategy. “It’s really unusual to have a situation like we have, where the city government has so little control.

“I’ve spent a lot of time going to other cities and talking with bike planners and so on, and when I describe the situation we have they’re always astounded that we’ve got anything done.”

But got something done they have.

After adding only about 1.5km of separated cycleways a year over the past decade, the city has put in almost 7km in the last six months of 2020. Its latest and most striking proposal is to run a cycleway down the middle of Oxford Street, the city’s main artery to the eastern suburbs, to link with existing separated paths in the city’s central business district.

Part of the unusual design for the proposed cycleway on Sydney’s Oxford Street.

Part of the unusual design for the proposed cycleway on Sydney’s Oxford Street. Photograph: City of Sydney

As in other cities around the world, Covid shutdowns have stimulated the acceleration of longstanding ideas about refashioning city transport. But the sudden progress in Sydney is also the result of a gradual warming of relations between the council and the New South Wales government since the miserable period when the National party’s Duncan Gay was roads minister.

That reached its peak when Gay authorised the separated cycleway along College Street to be ripped up in 2015, shortly before he proposed regulations requiring cyclists to carry photo ID and massively increased fines for breaching traffic laws.

But Sydney’s reputation as “the city that hates bikes” – a reflection of the aggressive attitudes of drivers as well as its dysfunctional infrastructure – goes back much further.

What has made the difference?

Campbell points to the closure of George Street to car traffic to make way for the light rail as an example of how attitudes can change quickly, challenging “people who say it’s impossible, that you can’t remove road space – the sky will fall”.

The same is true for cycling projects that aroused furious opposition when proposed, such as the “battle of Bourke Street” over the cycleway to the south of the inner city a decade ago. Smyth says 80% of submissions to that proposal were hostile but the project is now “universally loved”.

“People are buying property there, setting up shops and bakeries on that street as a result … people who’ve witnessed this, the shopkeepers on Oxford Street, they do understand what’s killing that place, and that’s the traffic at high volumes and high speeds … They know [the new cycleway] will be good for business. There’ll be some people you can never win over but we are definitely seeing a shift.”

Part of that shift has been a change in political rhetoric, not least from the current state transport minister, Andrew Constance.

“The words coming out of the minister for transport’s mouth now are very enlightened, the conversations we’re having with the executive senior management of Transport for NSW are very enlightened,” Smyth says. “But it takes time for attitudes to change.”

Bastien Wallace from Bicycle NSW suggests one other turning point in the tone of the debate – the death of Cameron Frewer in November 2018. Frewer was a cyclist who had campaigned vociferously for greater road safety before he was killed while riding on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

Wallace says that was “the last time it was acceptable to talk about ‘a war on the roads’” and both the media and politicians have since moved away from “inflammatory language” about the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

And then came the pandemic, which ushered in the concept of “pop-up” or temporary cycleways, which the lord mayor, Clover Moore, called “quick and simple to implement, adaptable and inexpensive”. Six were installed in the City of Sydney in a joint initiative with Transport for NSW that again spoke of a much more positive relationship. They have proved so popular that some may become permanent.

Unlike almost all other forms of transport, cycling showed an increase in traffic through the shutdown. The number of trips using the routes where pop-up cycleways were installed increased by 9% in just 12 weeks from September, according to Transport for NSW.

“We had sustained growth during the Covid shutdown, so when everything else died in the arse, the counters on our cycleways kept going up,” Smyth says. “But driver numbers, driver speed and driver distraction, that’s [now] going up too. So we have to redouble our efforts to keep people cycling safe – that’s where the network of safe, connected, separated cycleways comes in.”

Clover Moore and Andrew Constance

The Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, and NSW transport minister, Andrew Constance, after announcing the new pop-up cycleways in May. Photograph: James Gourley/AAP

To achieve that the council has developed a strategy of working “between the kerbs” – reallocating existing road space wherever possible rather than more extensive reconstruction from building line to building line – which has brought down the cost and time needed to construct separated cycleways.

There is still a long way to go before Sydney becomes a city where it is as safe and welcoming to cycle as many in Europe, or even in the rest of Australia. The City of Sydney collaborates with surrounding councils to link their separated paths and other safe routes into a coherent network but this still accounts for a relatively modest geographical portion of the entire city.

Wallace says her organisation is “incredibly encouraged by the moves to improve safe cycling” but remains critical of the state government for failing to reveal more details of its Principal Bicycle Network, which is supposed to deliver 5,000km of cycling infrastructure over the next decades.

“It would be good if they just made the principal bike network public … so that people can really understand what the network looks like, so that they can connect in their minds all the little bits that get done piece by piece.

“It’s actually good but they treat it as though it’s secret or it’s silly or something to be ashamed of, but it would just really help people support them.”

The Committee for Sydney has also called for the network plan to be drastically accelerated in light of the pandemic.

A spokesperson for Transport for NSW said it had undertaken “extensive consultation with the 33 councils in the Greater Sydney area to propose plans for a connected cycling network” but delivering it was “complex and requires a fundamental rethink to the allocation of road space”.

‘Can’t possibly happen’

Meanwhile, some of the old obstacles to progress remain. While many more dedicated traffic lights for cyclists have been installed in inner Sydney, they are still under the control of Transport for NSW, and offer riders a window of just six seconds on green. Transport for NSW says where possible it is “actively reviewing these traffic lights to determine if we can give more green time to bike riders or ban conflicting vehicular turning movements”.

Frustrating gaps in the network persist, where sometimes tiny changes could unlock much longer safe commutes. Some proposals for better permanent infrastructure or pop-ups have been blocked at council level, including in Manly and Bayside, which covers the area around Sydney airport.

Above all, old habits die hard among officials in the roads bureaucracy.

Smyth says: “It doesn’t matter what the minister or the executives at Transport for NSW are saying, you still have the people who’ve been doing this for 40 years who say, ‘Ah, no mate, can’t possibly happen.’”

It’s historically been a profound philosophical difference, Campbell says: “Their priority has always been to maximise the flow of traffic, which doesn’t sit well with the city’s priority – which is creating a good place for people to be.”

But the response to the “innovative and avant garde” proposal for Oxford Street – also developed in partnership with Transport for NSW – suggests that gulf is nowhere near as wide as it once was.

“We got from in-principle design to consultation in less than five months,” Smyth says. “That’s a really positive indicator that the government’s prepared to say, ‘It’s OK if we lose one lane of traffic heading into the city’.

“We’re not in utopia yet but at least all our strategies are consistent, our plans are consistent, our policies are consistent. There’s still a lot of inertia but I’m optimistic.”

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