Anchorage Assemblyman wants to clarify electric biking laws

An Anchorage Assemblyman trying to clarify city law on where electric-powered bikes can be used is suggesting low-speed electric bikes should be allowed on paved bike paths, sidewalks and recreational trails.

An ordinance expected to be introduced by Assembly Vice Chair Dick Traini on Tuesday would say that electric bikes — powered by a combination of a battery motor and human pedaling and limited to a speed of 20 mph — should be treated as bicycles, not motor vehicles. At this point, city law is vague on the question of e-bikes, which are growing in popularity in Alaska.  

Traini said he has gotten calls from constituents about the issue. A recent Alaska Dispatch News story pointed out confusion over where electric bicycles were allowed.

"We just need to change the definition so you can use a low-speed electric bike," Traini said.  

He said many Anchorage residents are aging and want to use electric bikes to get around.

Traini's ordinance defines a low-speed electric bicycle as a bicycle or tricycle "with fully operable pedals, an electric motor of no more than 750 watts (1 h.p.), and a maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor and when carrying one person weighing 170 pounds, of no more than 20 miles per hour." Anything bigger or faster would be considered a "high-speed bicycle" and would be treated like a motor vehicle.

With the help of a $7,000 grant, the Anchorage Library bought a two-wheeled electric bookmobile from an Alaska-based electric biking company for outdoor events. But officials said the library was holding off on using it, after city attorney Bill Falsey reviewed the code and determined that electric-powered bikes were restricted to roads and streets.

While the ordinance would allow slow e-bikes on paved bike paths, sidewalks and trails, unpaved surfaces — dirt bike paths, for example — would be off-limits.