A proposal to rent electric bicycles at an Edgartown rental car shop met a cool reception Monday from the town selectmen, who voiced concerns about the safety of the two-wheeled vehicles.
Bryan Nelson, who operates A-A Island Auto Rental, already rents his low-speed electric bikes to customers in Vineyard Haven.
But Edgartown selectmen said the bicycles were unsuitable for use on crowded bike paths and worried that those renting them would be inexperienced operators.
“I think it might be dangerous and if somebody was hurt because of this decision that I was a part of, that would be very hard for me to live with,” said selectman and board chairman Arthur Smadbeck.
Mr. Nelson and his attorney Marilyn Vukota countered that the vehicles operate with a low power of 250 watts and do not exceed a speed of 19 miles per hour. The battery can be engaged to get up a hill, or to enable bikers to travel longer distances than they are physically able, but the bikes can also be operated with traditional pedaling, Mr. Nelson explained.
“You can turn it off completely and ride it as you wish,” Mr. Nelson said. Additionally, Mr. Nelson requires customers to wear helmets, and will not rent to anyone under the age of 18.
Ms. Vukota said that under federal and state law, such low-powered vehicles are considered bicycles, and questioned whether the town could forbid her client from renting the bikes, as bicycle rentals are allowed in town already.
“Respectfully I don’t think he can be prevented from renting those bicycles because they are bicycles,” she said.
Mr. Smadbeck said his concerns stemmed from the fact that the vehicles are considered bicycles. “We can’t prevent them from going on the bike path because they are bicycles,” he said.
He said he had spent time on one of the low-speed bikes and had experienced how fast they can travel.
Ms. Vukota said Mr. Nelson was “doing everything he can to put responsible people on those bicycles.”
The other selectmen also joined the chorus of concern.
“I have a trouble with some of the bicycles period, being a walker, and being nearly run over almost every day by a bicycle on the sidewalk,” said selectman Margaret Serpa. “I think it’s just adding to the confusion and the inexperience of some of the operators.”
Highway superintendent Stuart Fuller said 19 miles an hour is fast for a bicycle, and added that the speed approaches 80 per cent of a moped.
“It is really fast,” he said.
Selectman Michael Donoroma said he’d like to poll the town.
“I don’t get the feeling they are looking for more, they are looking for less,” he said. “It’s adding to the speed and the out-of-controlness.”
The town will explore the issue further with town counsel.
In other business Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation was granted permission to put a conservation restriction on a small property adjacent to the Chappaquiddick golf course.