Amish people are riding eBikes in Holmes and Wayne counties. There are safety concerns
A single horse and buggy waits in the parking area outside of Keim Lumber in Charm, Ohio while a few hundred eBikes charge near a sign that lists bicycle safety tips. They include: wear a helmet, obey traffic laws and use reflective gear.
It’s common to pass a pedal assist bicycle with a motor on the curvy state roads with steep hilltops in the eastern part of Holmes County.
Jim Smucker, the president of Keim Lumber, said he’s concerned for the safety of those riding eBikes.
“Our state roads are not designed for bikes traveling next to trucks and cars,” Smucker said. “With a buggy, people have to slow, and they have to go out around. They have to wait. With eBikes, they can go by by just going out a little bit.”
About 250 Plain employees, Amish and some conservative Mennonites, ride an eBike to work during the warmer months. It varies in the winter. The charging stations for customers that were installed two years ago have been largely taken over by employees, Smucker said.
The Ohio Department of Transportation doesn't have plans to widen State Route 557 in front of Keim Lumber because the right of way is too narrow, said Lauren Borell in an email. She’s the public information officer for ODOT for Holmes and Tuscarawas Counties.
The state owns and maintains 30-feet of right-of-way from the centerline of the roadway, on each side of the road. To widen the roadway, ODOT would have to purchase additional right-of-way and due to the geometry of the roadway and adjacent homes, it would be costly and difficult to purchase the required right-of-way to widen the roadway for buggy lanes, Borell said. More data on crashes is needed before road improvements can be made.
There has been a steady uptick of eBike accidents related to speed from the motorist and the eBike rider in the last five years, which includes 11 crashes involving eBikes since 2020. This is according to Kevin Buettner, the transportation director from the Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association, which is the regional transportation planning organization for Holmes County.
“I've seen a couple where there, they get over a crest of a hill and they’re kind of flying down the other side of the hill, and they don't have the control that they think they have and they can't stop time,” Buettner said. “And it's been them rear ending cars.”
Some eBikes give a boost when pedaling, and others have a throttle, which tells the motor to dispense power without pedaling.
The Amish Safety Committee holds three training sessions per year for road, bike and pedestrian safety which are geared toward Plain people.
How do Plain community members decide to use eBikes?
Within the 300 different church districts about 65% are allowed to ride eBikes, said Marcus Yoder, the executive director of the Behalt-Amish Mennonite Heritage Center.
“So it’s up to each individual district within the old order on what to do about eBikes,” Yoder added. “Some of them still don't have them. Only the older order have them. But, it was really fascinating. Some of these churches wrestled with it for a year and a half and made the decision Sunday and by Monday people had eBikes.”
The discussion isn't centered around whether or not Amish community members can use an electric bike — those who use electricity get their supply from solar power. It’s about whether this mode of transportation will change family life when people are more mobile and spend less time together, Yoder said.
Abe Troyer is Amish. He works at Keim Lumber as the executive director of sales. He said his eBike gives him more time with family because his commute is 45 minutes shorter.
“[It’s] basically 10 miles a day, but I do a lot more than just work,” Troyer added. “I go different places at different times. So, in the last year and a half, I put 3,400 miles on my bike.”
David Mullett opened eBikes of Holmes County in 2015. His sales are growing, and more than 50% of his customers are Amish.
“The community, local community, is looking more for the range and the power to achieve what they’re trying to do where outside of this community it’s more of a leisure ride,” Mullett said.
Plain people also live in Wayne County. The county received a grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Safe Streets for All program for around $200,000 to perform a safety action plan, said Scott Miller, the Wayne County engineer.
“We can look at not only the buggy traffic but look into the eBike traffic as well,” Miller added. “And hopefully from that study we can come up with a proposal of what potential widenings we would be looking at on county and or township roads and state routes.”
The grant will be paid out from 2022 to 2026.
At Keim Lumber, Smucker said he plans to add about 50 additional charging stations for employees who ride eBikes.