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E-bikes: You Gave Input, What Comes Next?

Posted by melanib at Nov 15, 2022 01:14 PM |
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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Department of Natural Resources asked for your opinion on the use of e-bikes. Over 7,000 people responded to the survey, including WTA’s Trail Action Network advocates — thanks for your input! Based on this input, WDFW and DNR recently shared a report of their recommendations for e-bikes going forward. Here are the main takeaways and what happens next.

This summer, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) asked for your opinion on the use of electric-assisted bicycles (e-bikes) on non-motorized, multi-use natural surface trails that are open to mountain bikes and on closed roads that are open to non-motorized recreation. Over 7,000 people responded to the survey, including WTA’s Trail Action Network advocates — thanks for your input!
 
The online public survey was part of a 9-month public engagement process that also included virtual town halls and meetings with 19 federally recognized tribes. Based on this input, WDFW and DNR recently shared a report of their recommendations for e-bikes going forward. A main takeaway is that decisions for e-bike use should happen on a trail-by-trail basis (with expert, public and tribal input) rather than blanket policies that cover all state lands. Highlights of the report recommendations are below, and you can find the report summary and download the full report here.    
 

Report recommendations

Highlights of the WDFW/DNR report to the legislature include:

  • Decisions on e-bike use on trails and roads should be made on the local and regional levels (when developing recreation plans or wildlife area plans) and engage expert, tribal and public input before changing the rules for a specific trail or trail system.
  • Trails and roads that are closed to motorized use should be closed to e-bikes, unless or until specifically opened to that use.
  • On roads or trails where e-bike use is designated, it will be open to all three classes of e-bike.
  • E-bikes should continue to be allowed on trails and roads open to motorized use.
  • E-bikes should be a category of recreation separate from traditional biking.

electric bikePhoto by Himiway Bikes on Unsplash

What does WTA think?

WTA is happy to see WDFW and DNR recommend that decisions for e-bike use on natural surface trails and roads should occur at the local and regional levels. WTA believes that new policies around e-bikes should consider the environmental and social impacts of introducing a new use to a trail and that the public should be engaged before any decisions are made about specific trail systems. We were pleased to see that the agencies shared this sentiment, noting in their report: “Plans should incorporate an understanding of the local natural, cultural and tribal resources, trail design, data on demand and use patterns, analysis of potential impacts from e-bike use, and other relevant scientific data and knowledge.” 

WTA also supports the agencies’ recommendation that trails and roads that are closed to motorized use should be closed to e-bikes, unless or until specifically opened to that use. We feel that this allows space for the planning process highlighted above to occur.

While WTA is generally pleased with the report’s recommendations, we are concerned about the recommendation that decisions to open a trail to e-bikes should include all three classes of e-bike. We would like to see multiuse, nonmotorized natural surface trails limited to class 1 e-bikes. 

What does this mean for trails today?

No rules are changing today. This set of recommendations will guide future policy and planning. Currently, e-bikes are only allowed on WDFW and DNR trails and forest roads that are open to motorized use. Also, individuals with an ADA parking placard can use class 1 or 2 e-bikes on non-motorized trails and roads where traditional (non-motorized) bicycles are already allowed. 

What are the next steps? 

The WDFW/DNR report proposes next steps. One step is for the agencies to update their trails policies to include e-bikes. Another step is to identify areas that are a priority for beginning local trail planning processes for e-bikes. WTA will look for opportunities to keep engaging in this issue so the hiking community will continue to be heard in decisions around e-bike use.

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