The South Portland City Council has scrapped for now a plan to allow e-bikes on the Greenbelt Walkway.

Councilors in a preliminary vote last month agreed to permit the use of electric bikes, scooters and skateboards on the Greenbelt and other paved trails in the city, but they called off the final vote scheduled for Tuesday, agreeing with residents who urged further study.

“I would prefer to postpone this until we get more information and we have more conversation and have more education first,” said Councilor Jocelyn Leighton, “then come back to council and talk about this again.”

Arguments against e-bikes on South Portland’s Greenbelt Walkway stem from the safety of others on the path. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald

E-bikes are technically barred from the 5.6-mile Greenbelt under a 1979 law that prohibits the operation of “any automobile, truck, bus, snowmobile, motorcycle, minibike or other motorized vehicles on any park, beach, or other property owned by the city.” Since 1979, however, e-bikes, hybrid versions of bicycles that can be pedaled or powered by their electric motors, have become increasingly popular, favored by commuters, seniors and people with physical disabilities.

“One of the benefits of e-bikes is it really allows the older generation, which I am now, to kind of extend their active lifestyle,” said Tony Grande, a member of the Age Friendly South Portland committee.

Arguments against e-bikes on the Greenbelt stem from safety of others on the path, but resident Rick Small said that most bikers and walkers are respectful of each other. E-bikers likely would abide by “well-posted speed limits,” he said.


“I certainly hope you allow the e-bikes. I have a walking disability, it’s my best form of exercise. Without that, I’d be hesitant on most of the roads in the area,” Small said.

The new rule would have permitted two classes of e-bikes that max out with electronic assistance at 20 mph, though city staff noted that does not prevent a rider from going faster by simultaneously pedaling.

City Manager Scott Morelli said although speed limits on the Greenbelt would be hard to enforce with the many other responsibilities of the police and Parks and Rec departments, that could be an option for the council to consider.

The city’s park rangers spent 66 hours last October at 33 points along the Greenbelt to gauge the use and speed of bicycles and the general safety along the paved trail. They recorded the speeds of 542 pedal-bike users and 46 e-bike users. Pedal bike speeds ranged from 2 to 18 mph, with an average speed of 9.4 mph, while e-bike speeds ranged from 5 to 25 mph with an average of 13 mph. Less than 1% of pedal bike users exceeded 15 mph while 15% of e-bikers went over that threshold. Ranger Sydney Raftery told the council last month that bikes were only traveling at the higher speeds when pedestrians were not present.

In a survey of 61 Greenbelt users, 69% said bicyclists “always” and 12.5% said bicyclists “sometimes” pass at appropriate speeds. Over 70% of respondents had no safety concerns, while nearly 15% indicated that bikes or e-bikers were a concern.

Ellen Clancy, and other residents, urged the council to take more time to consider their usage of the Greenbelt.


“I think there’s a big difference between October and the height of the summer,” she said, suggesting that another study be done in the coming months.

Some residents compared the issue to that of dogs on Willard Beach.

“We don’t want kids to get run into or run over, we don’t want older people to be disadvantaged by the speed of e-bikes,” said Jeff Steinbrink. “Those are the same kinds of things that we’ve heard for a long time about unleashed dogs on the beach and I think we still have unleashed dogs on the beach, so that’s sort of a harder argument against e-bikes.”

Barbara Everett said it’s likely easier to enforce rules for dogs on the beach than for e-bikes.

“It’s not about safety, it’s about who’s easy to monitor and who isn’t,” she said, and urged the city to collect data on e-bikes over multiple months this summer, as it did for dog usage at Willard last summer.

Councilors withdrew the item from their agenda, most agreeing that more time for data collection and consideration is necessary.

Comments are not available on this story.