The Dutch government has funded a pilot study to test technology that could help cut e-bike fatalities and so help to promote cycling. The pilot involved the testing of a system that could automatically reduce the speed of the fastest electric bikes, the so-called speed-pedelecs or S-pedelecs. These bikes have a maximum assisted speed of 45 km/h, instead of 25 km/h which is the limit for a standard e-bike. Their ability to reach high speeds is considered to pose increased safety risks, especially in urban areas with heavy and mixed traffic.
The pilot was carried out on bike lanes leading to Schiphol Airport, near Amsterdam, as part of an effort to create "cycling superhighways". The system that was tested involves a combination of geofencing and intelligent speed adaption (ISA), similar to the ISA used in cars, to identify and communicate a maximum speed to the S-pedelec so that its speed is automatically adjusted. The platform can be used universally and is therefore not dependent on certain brands of bicycles or on the particular software used by the road authority. Via an interface, communication takes place between the platform and the software of the physical infrastructure and the S-pedelec.
Although there are no specific data available for S-pedelecs, there is a growing concern about road safety and e-bikes. Between 2016 and 2019 the number of road fatalities involving e-bikes increased by 230% in the Netherlands. Research by insurance company Allianz in 2019 based on official German accident statistics, showed that the risks of a fatal accident with an e-bike is three times as high compared to a normal bicycle.
Currently, there are no overarching EU regulations specifically for S-pedelecs. In the Netherlands, riders of S-pedelecs must wear helmets and are forbidden to use bike paths because of the potentially unsafe speed disparity they create. With the new system, road authorities would be able to control the speeds of S-pedelecs within specific areas, such as 30 km/h zones and could eventually allow S-pedelecs to re-join other cyclists on dedicated bike lanes.
The ISA for S-pedelecs is just one of the possibilities offered by the smart technology. For example, it could also be used to the identify when it is best to change traffic lights on major routes, in order to create a "green wave" for cyclists. The combination of real-time data from smart infrastructure, road users and other sources, also opens opportunities for other applications. Cycling commuters could receive relevant information before and during their trip. In this way, they will be able to know the fastest route, when it is best to leave home to arrive at work dry and where their (electric) bicycle can be safely stored and, if desired, charged.
Together, these measures would allow for the creation of interactive cycling superhighways. The creation of these cycling superhighways and the above-mentioned pilot study are part of the development and implementation of a wider plan to test new technology and to promote commuting by bicycle to Schiphol Airport. The airport employs some 66,000 people, of whom only 4,000 cycle to work, which is low compared to Amsterdam where roughly half of people commute by bicycle. In September 2019, Schiphol announced a plan to increase the number of its cycling commuters to 10,000 by the end of 2024.
In the meantime, the first trials with the ISA technology for S-pedelecs have been successful. According to the team in charge of the pilot, the speed-cutting technology and potentially new regulations could be rolled out by 2022.