Easthampton council seeks to define ‘bicycle’ amid Pedal N’ Party’s desire to use the rail trail

  • A skateboarder heads north Wednesday on the Manhan Rail Trail in Easthampton past the ValleyBike Share station at Union Street. STAFF PHOTOS/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A bicyclist heads south Wednesday on the Manhan Rail Trail toward Payson Avenue in Easthampton. The City Council has taken up the question of what vehicles should be allowed on the trail.

  • Three boys walk Wednesday on a section of the Manhan Rail Trail between Union Street and Payson Avenue in Easthampton. An ordinance discussed by the City Council would prohibit large vehicles from the trail. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Three boys walk a section of the Manhan Rail Trail between Union Street and Payson Avenue in Easthampton on Wednesday, August 7, 2019. —STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 8/7/2019 11:54:35 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The seemingly esoteric question of what is a bike is being tackled by the Easthampton City Council.

The topic is being discussed in large part because of the ongoing question of whether the Pedal N’ Party vehicle will be able to use the Manhan Rail Trail.

Pedal N’ Party is seeking to use its people-powered, electric-assist vehicle to give tours to people around the city, including to its breweries. However, it has put tours in Easthampton on hold because of a cease and desist letter from Police Chief Robert Alberti forbidding it from using the trail.

City Councilor Owen Zaret has a simple answer to the question of whether or not the four-wheeled Pedal N’ Party vehicle is a bicycle: “It’s not.”

Zaret has filed an ordinance that would define bicycles as having two or three wheels. It would also establish definitions of different types of electric bicycles and how they may interact with the rail trail, and prohibit vehicles whose width exceeds 4.5 feet or length exceeds 15 feet.

Although Zaret maintained he hadn’t filed the ordinance to prevent Pedal N’ Party from using its vehicle on the Rail Trail, he did say he had the vehicle in mind when he put in the width restriction.

Zaret said preserving the use of the electric-assist bicycles of ValleyBike Share on the trail was another reason for the legislation.

Nick Vautrin, the owner of Pedal N’ Party, specifically called out the width restriction.

“I will be too wide,” Vautrin said.

And, he said, the legislation would “end my business.”

Vautrin said the vehicle is a “big pedal bike with an electric motor used only when the driver needs to get safely to and from locations, but not with multiple people aboard.”

Vautrin said his business has gotten a positive reception, and referred to it as a “tourism dollars-producing machine that will make Easthampton known nationwide.”

However, speaking after the meeting, Zaret said that on the one weekend it was operating, “We received numerous complaints from people.”

Although the ordinance was discussed at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, the public hearing was discontinued so that Zaret could work more on the language, having gotten input from the Manhan Rail Trail Committee and the community at large. It may be taken up by the council on Sept. 18.

Legislation that would regulate quadricycles throughout Easthampton was also referred to the public safety committee at the meeting.

Before the meeting, the Gazette reached out to people intimately familiar with bicycles to ask them how they defined one.

Alex Jarrett of Northampton is a worker-owner at Pedal People. The worker cooperative does deliveries, hauls trash and goes to yard work jobs, all via bicycle.

“Anything that is human-powered is clearly in the definition,” said Jarrett, who said that he didn’t believe the number of wheels is relevant.

However, he did say that electric motor assist can complicate things.

“At that point there are legal definitions,” he said.

When it comes to the Pedal N’ Party vehicle — which can carry 14 passenger-pedalers, plus a steering bike driver and a host — Jarrett said width is a concern.

“I’d rather see it regulated from that perspective,” he said.

And he raised the question of whether two of these vehicles could pass each other on the bike path.

Eli Damon of Easthampton is a board member of the American Bicycling Education Association. He’s also taught CyclingSavvy classes for the organization, which teach participants rules of the road, common types of crashes and how to avoid them, and how to control your space while biking, and also gives participants the ability to practice bike handling skills.

How does he define what is or isn’t a bicycle? “That’s complicated,” Damon said, adding that the most important aspect is that it is powered by the human body.

Asked about the number of wheels, he said, “I don’t think that’s a very important aspect of it.”

Damon said electric-assist bikes can cause issues by making it easier for riders to travel at the upper range of a bike’s speed, while also noting that they can allow people to make longer trips and help people who have physical difficulties such as joint problems.

As for Pedal N’ Party, Damon said that he likes the idea of it, as he’s a fan of bicycle-based businesses. However, he expressed concern with the vehicle using the rail trail, given its size.

“I think there are a lot of problems with that,” Damon said.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@ gazettenet.com.

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