University of Illinois campus trying to address safety concerns over e-bikes and e-skateboards; Accidents not being tracked

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Veo bikes lay in the grass in Campustown near the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Almost two years ago, Illinois State University administrator Adam Peck was hit by a bicycle.

Four days later, he died of his injuries.

Peck, the assistant vice president for student affairs, was walking through a plaza south of the university’s main quad in Normal when he was struck by the cyclist.

His death spurred Illinois State University to research the dangers of cycling and e-bicycles, leading to a ban on bicycles and electric transportation devices in high-traffic areas.

“Collisions between recreation and transportation devices and pedestrians are often not reported unless there are serious injuries or property damage,” Adam McCrary, the Illinois State University director of environmental health and safety, said in an email. “However, it is understood that there have been numerous near misses.”

Meanwhile, on a typical sunny day at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where heavy restrictions have not been implemented, bikes, e-bicycles and e-skateboards can be seen speeding to class, dodging pedestrians, running stop signs and zooming down sidewalks. 

While the options provide sustainable transportation for students, university police warn of the injury risks when riding in traffic or alongside pedestrians.

“We have fortunately not had anyone pass away following an accident, but we’ve had people injured and taken to the hospital,” Patrick Wade, University of Illinois senior director of strategic communications for public safety, said. “It’s very much within the realm of possibility.”

In the last five years, four e-bike accidents have been documented by the University of Illinois Police Department. However, Wade explained it’s hard for police to document and penalize e-bike misconduct as they have no specific incident code and said state law hasn’t caught up to technology.

E-bikes are a part of the family of micromobility devices. The devices are compact, lightweight and typically electrically powered. Common examples of these devices seen on college campuses are e-bikes, e-scooters and e-skateboards.

Additionally, University of Illinois Police Department data shows 125 personal micromobility devices have been reported stolen from Jan. 1, 2022 through mid April this year. Personal devices have a wide variety of configurations, which adds uncertainty compared with bike-share devices.

“We are trying to form a task force, because e-scooters, e-bikes, [and] e-skateboards are here, so how do we manage that?” Sarthak Prasad, sustainable transportation assistant for the university, said. “How do we make sure that it’s safe for everybody … again these are all under discussion. There is no official word on this yet.”

The university also boasts a partnership with Veo, an e-bike-sharing company, and recently signed a contract to bring a similar service to campus with Bird’s bike-share program. 

Bird bikes are similar to Veo bikes, with both accessible to rent through apps on users’ phones.      

Traffic issues top alcohol, violent crimes for safety risks

“When people ask about how people can get hurt on our campus, a lot of times people would think you know, alcohol is one [or] violent crime, [but] it’s really traffic issues [that are] the biggest risk of injury on our campus,” Wade said. 

Despite the risk of injury that comes from bicycling on campus, Wade said university police has little enforcement power.

“The state law just has not caught up with where the technology is at right now,” Wade said. “We honestly have trouble enforcing some of these things because the state laws aren’t clear, especially when it comes to electric skateboards [and] electric bikes.”

University police and the Facilities and Services department have relied more on communication efforts rather than enforcement to encourage safe riding, according to Wade and Prasad, the sustainable transportation assistant with Facilities and Services.

“We have only issued one ticket to a bicycle in the past couple years,” Wade said. “We do a lot of warnings and just educational conversations.”

The sole ticket issued to a bicyclist in recent years on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. The scan was obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.

The police also do not typically keep track of which accidents involve micromobility devices. 

“When I look at accidents, it’s hard to decipher if any of [them] are micromobility devices,” Wade said. “I’ve seen a lot of really near misses … if you hit a pothole at like 15 [or] 20 miles an hour, you can get really hurt.”

While Veo bikes provide students with an additional transportation option, they also bring challenges for the police.

“[Veo] introduces a challenge where I think we have new bicycle users now in the market,” Wade said. “Maybe you don’t ride bikes that often and you just wanted to ride a bike today. But you don’t know anything about the laws … [or] the safest ways to ride.”

Micromobility devices cause increased hospitalizations, report shows

Injuries from riding micromobility devices can be severe, even leading to hospitalization in many cases. Not using proper safety equipment has shown to be a growing trend for micro-mobility device users.

 “Only 44% of injured e-bicyclists wore helmets, with proportionally fewer wearing helmets each year,” according to a 2024 report published in JAMA Surgery, an international peer-reviewed journal.

There were an estimated 360,800 emergency department visits relating to micromobility devices from 2017 through 2022, the report shows. 

The Champaign-Urbana area has not escaped this upward trend, with bicyclists and other riders visiting local hospitals for micromobility-related injuries. 

“In the past year, patients with injuries related to micromobility devices have been admitted to the Carle Foundation Hospital emergency department,” Holly Cook, the director of the Carle Foundation Hospital emergency department, said. “Common injuries from these devices are head injuries and broken arms, wrists, ankles, and legs when a person falls off. The risk for these injuries increases when e-bike, e-scooters and other micro-mobility devices are ridden without a helmet.”

Carle Foundation Hospital does not keep a record of how many injuries related to micromobility devices have been admitted.

ISU research on safety measures led to cycling ban in some areas

Following Adam Peck’s death in 2022, Illinois State University (ISU) took action.

Adam McCrary, ISU director of environmental health and safety, said the accident was considered work-related and required the notification of the Illinois Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). 

“OSHA communicated that e-bikes and scooters used in pedestrian areas on campus are a recognized hazard and strongly recommended that ISU consider the risk/benefit of allowing continued use of such devices on campus in pedestrian areas,” McCrary said. 

ISU began to research methods to reduce the risk of bikes and micromobility devices on their campus and found that many universities were responding to the same risks.

“During our research, we found that other colleges and universities have adopted dismount zones as a pedestrian safety measure,” McCrary said. “University administration agreed that establishing dismount zones around ISU’s central campus was a step in the right direction.”

Dismount zones are areas on a college campus that are only for pedestrian use. At ISU, these zones include the quad and various other high-traffic pedestrian areas. Numerous other universities also utilize dismount zones, including state colleges such as the University of California Los Angeles, Colorado State University and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s bicycle ordinance states bicycles are allowed on university sidewalks, with “low speed” electric bicycles included in this policy. In further regulation on e-scooters and e-skateboards, it is only added that they must be used in accordance with university policy and used safely. 

There are no dismount zones on the campus, except inside university buildings.

University of Illinois discussing safety task force

Veo bikes first came to campus in 2018, with 500 pedal bikes available to rent. Since then, the bike-share service has switched to only providing class-1 and class-2 e-bikes in the area. Class-1 e-bikes have no throttle and class-2 e-bikes are throttle-assisted, but both can reach speeds of 20 mph. 

A contract has recently been signed to bring 500 class-2 electric Bird bikes to campus throughout early summer this year.

“We want [students] to incorporate sustainable transportation in their lives, so having a bike-share option definitely provides that,” Prasad, the sustainable transportation assistant at the University of Illinois Facilities and Services, said. “We want our students to have access to alternative modes of transportation, we want our students to [move] away from buying a car.”

Some restrictions have been placed on class-2 Veo bikes on campus, which are implemented through GPS tracking. 

“[For class-2 Veo bikes], in the core of campus we have restricted the speed limit to 8 mph, or we have asked Veo to keep it down to 9 miles and they have obliged,” Prasad said.

Despite these safety restrictions, Veo bikes have been seen speeding in those areas.

The University of Illinois Police Department does not enforce these restrictions, and the Facilities and Services department is left to trust Veo to implement these e-bike limitations.

“We’re involved … however, we tend not to get into enforcing university policy, because obviously a police officer’s main priority is enforcing state law,” Wade said.

The bikes’ throttles are not supposed to work on off-street paths, but Prasad said there are some exceptions. 

“I have seen a couple of bike paths where they can still use it and I have it on my list to talk to [Veo] about it,” he said.

The GPS restrictions have also struggled to differentiate a sidewalk from a bike lane, which allows the bikes to speed through high-traffic areas such as Green Street.

“Since the sidewalk and the bike lane on the street are very close, their GPS monitoring has like a 10-foot error,” Prasad said. “That’s why you will see, oftentimes, people are using the throttle even on the sidewalks.”

Within Campustown, Veo bikes have also been configured for users to only be able to end rides when they are parked at or near bike racks, Prasad said. However, in many places, Veo bikes can be seen left in the middle of sidewalks.

A Veo bike parked in the middle of a sidewalk at the intersection of Second Street and E. Healy Street in Champaign.

While efforts to maintain the safety of Veo bikes are inconsistent, it is even harder for the university to regulate personal micromobility devices, which are allowed everywhere besides inside university buildings.

Prasad said Facilities and Services is brainstorming and working with police on how the department “can make the use of e-bike, e-scooters, [and] e-skateboards safe and have less conflict.” 

“Again we are working on these, but there will be some educational campaigns and there may be some policies regarding, like we don’t want any motorized vehicles on sidewalks,” Prasad said. “It’s not official, it’s not final.”

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