Las Vegas Sun

October 19, 2021

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Investing in electric bicycles would have range of benefits for Nevadans


Elaine Thompson / AP

In this photo taken Wednesday, May 15, 2019, a Rad Power Bikes sales associate stands with an electric bicycle he’s delivering to a customer at the shop in Seattle.

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better domestic investment plan packs several elements that would benefit Las Vegas, and one of them is a tax credit for electric bicycles.

As approved last week by the House Ways and Means Committee, the measure would provide a 15% refundable consumer tax credit on the purchase of a qualifying new electric bicycle.

The credit applies to bicycles costing less than $8,000, and is capped at $750 per individual and $1,500 for a couple filing jointly. It includes phased restrictions on individuals earning more than $73,750 annually.

This incentive would be great for Las Vegas on a number of levels, including by improving our air quality and helping curb climate change. If 10% of our community’s single-occupancy car trips could be replaced by rides on electric bicycles, it would significantly reduce greenhouse gases emissions and wear and tear on our traffic infrastructure.

That’s not a pie-in-the-sky number, either. Las Vegas has made strides in recent years in building bicycle lanes and making other safety improvements for bicyclists and pedestrians, such as better-lighted crosswalks and wider sidewalks.

Downtown Las Vegas is a prime example. Recent streetscape renovations included the addition of miles upon miles of bicycle lanes in the area, where low speed limits also foster a good environment for bicycling.

Granted, there’s a lot of room for improvement in many parts of the valley, where wide roads and speed limits of 45 mph or greater create hazards for two-wheeled traffic. At the moment, several portions of our community are not yet conducive to safely commuting on an e-bike.

The summer heat obviously represents a challenge in fostering more use of electric bicycles, but it’s not a deal-breaker. While those vehicles might be uncomfortable during the heat of the afternoon, they’re a viable option for trips in the morning or evening during the summer months. Besides, plenty of Las Vegas residents ride motorcycles or motor scooters during the summer, often wearing full protective clothing.

And meanwhile, Southern Nevada’s dry and sunny weather makes us a more suitable spot than rainier cities for two-wheeled commuting.

The tax credit also would be a boon to other cities where bicycle commuting has already taken root. In the top 10 U.S. cities for this mode of commuting — including Denver, San Francisco, Oakland and Tucson, Ariz. — per-capita bicycle use ranges from 2.2% to 6.4%. With the tax credit in play, it’s easily feasible that bicycle commuting could grow to 10% or more in those cities.

The bottom line is there’s a tremendous upside to getting more electric bicycles on the road and improving traffic safety for riders. One benefit lies in our community’s attractiveness to younger generations of Americans, who famously are unenthusiastic about car ownership and vastly prefer living in communities where they can bicycle, walk or take public transportation.

Think too about how much it would enhance our visitor experience to make the use of electric bikes safer and more convenient on the Strip. Buzzing up and down Las Vegas Boulevard in a protected lane on an e-bike would be a great alternative to walking, and would beat the heck out of sitting in traffic in a taxi or a ride-share vehicle.

Use of electric bicycles also bears fruit at the household level. They require little upkeep, no overhead costs like insurance, a small amount of storage area and a fraction of the energy costs of fossil-fueled cars. Experts say that with most electric bicycles, which get 25-30 miles per charge, the vehicles pay for themselves within 18 months in terms of savings in fuel, maintenance, etc., compared with the costs of passenger vehicle ownership.

There is also a correlated benefit for businesses along bicycle routes. Well-established data demonstrate that commercial streets with bike infrastructure — primarily dedicated lanes — have much higher spur-of-the-moment consumer traffic. Slower speed travel means riders notice places drivers don’t, and the ease of stopping on a bicycle allows for more exploration of businesses.

In a community where our air quality suffers from ozone, dust and increasingly frequent smoke from wildfires in neighboring states, electric bicycles offer some relief. And anything we can do to reduce global warming — which is plaguing us with heat waves and putting our water supply under tremendous stress — is a step in the right direction.

Congress should approve the tax credit. Better yet, lawmakers should increase it upon final passage.

It’s an environmentally responsible piece of policy that will yield gains for Las Vegas and cities nationwide in combating climate change.

With further development of bicycle safety engineering for our streets in Southern Nevada, which is inexpensive compared with road improvements for passenger vehicles, electric bicycles could be a viable alternative to passenger cars for a significant number of local residents.