City of Columbia pushes for use of electric bicycles

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COLUMBIA - The City of Columbia wants to encourage residents to use bicycles instead of automobiles to save money, improve health and reduce street congestion. It hosted a seminar Tuesday to promote the use of e-bikes, or electronic bicycles.

E-bikes are bicycles with a battery-driven motor. GetAbout Columbia, an initiative run by Parks and Recreation and Public Works, hosted the seminar.

E-bikes make pedaling easier because a motor automatically works to reduce effort. Certain models even have a throttle which allows for movement without pedaling. 

Those who already use e-bikes say the "pedal assist" feature is especially helpful when it comes to tougher terrain.

"Going up a hill can be very difficult for some people," said Lawrence Simonson, the associate director of the PedNet Coalition. "That electric assist will help take the edge of the hill away and make it a little easier to get up that hill.

Though proponents say there are many perks of the use of e-bikes, price is a big factor that turns some people away. A new e-bike typically ranges from $2-3,000.

"To be able to get one affordable is a little bit difficult, and so it's really a consumer issue, bringing down the cost of some of the electric bikes," Simonson said.

Barbara Buffaloe, the sustainability manager of Columbia, found a way around the high costs by borrowing one from a friend.

"Then I just bought a used one from him. There's a lot more used ones on the market," Buffaloe said.

According to federal regulations, most e-bikes are considered bicycles, not motor vehicles, and are therefore allowed on trails.

Columbia Parks and Recreation is hosting a 13-mile electric bicycle tour of Columbia, including trails and bicycle-friendly neighborhoods. More information can be found at the Parks and Recreation website.