By Charles Pekow – You will be able to ride an electric bicycle on federal lands where a regular bike can go. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt issued an order Aug. 30 instructing managers of federal recreational land to allow e-bike use. The order is “intended to increase recreational opportunities for all Americans, especially those with physical limitations…”
The order applies to e-bikes that can only go less than 20 mph, known as Class 1 (without a throttle) and Class 2 (with a throttle so people can ride them without pedaling) bikes, and, additionally Class 3 bikes that can travel up to 28 mph. Bernhardt's memo states that “(u)ncertainty about the regulatory status of e-bikes has led the federal land management agencies to impose restrictive access policies treating e-bikes as motor vehicles, often inconsistent with state and local regulations for adjacent areas.”
The order applies in lands operated by the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation and Bureau of Land Management. It does not apply in national forests or grasslands, which are operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
People for Bikes (PFB), which pushed for the change, lauded the move, issuing a statement saying “(t)his secretarial order will help get public lands visitors out of their cars and beyond congested visitor centers and parking lots and enable better experiences for people of all ages. It will promote health-building physical activity that is non-polluting, quiet and sustainable. Too many Americans see our national parks only with their noses pressed against the windows of their cars. We need to get people outside and moving.” People for Bikes also requested the move in national forests but USDA hasn't responded yet.
A coalition of conservation and recreation organizations, who opposed the idea from the start, issued a statement blasting the decision. “Trail advocates and conservation groups point out that the order undermines agency regulations and management rules, fails to consider impacts to hikers, mountain bikers, horse riders and other recreationists, and may signal the beginning of the end for non-motorized backcountry trails, all while not including the public in the decision-making process,” reads a statement signed by the American Hiking Society, Back Country Horsemen of America, National Parks Conservation Association, Wilderness Society and Pacific Crest Trail Association.
Bernhardt instructed land managers to develop an interim policy within two weeks, consistent with current law and regulations. By the first of October, agencies are instructed to report on any regulations that may inhibit the order and commence a public comment period regarding changing them to comply.
Superintendents can restrict e-bikes from certain areas for reasons such as public health or resource protection. Managers and superintendents of each federal agency can come up with their own rules after considering public input. You're likely to see them allowed on roadways and paved bike trails. “It gets a bit more iffy on single-track dirt trails,” notes PFB Federal Affairs Manager Noa Banayan. “There'll be a diversity of policies. We're not advocating for a top-down policy.”
So check with your local agency about riding and public input opportunities before you zoom out there on an electric vehicle. Each of the four affected Interior agencies will come up with a rulemaking procedure. PFB explains the process here: https://peopleforbikes.org/our-work/e-bikes/department-of-the-interior-e-bike-policy-faq/.
Canyonlands and Arches national parks in Utah, for instance, are working on implementing guidance, Kate Cannon, spokesperson for the parks, said in early September. All bicycles there are allowed on dirt and paved roads but not off-road trails. Park staff plan to put out info via signage, radio, press release, etc. to let people know about the rule, she said.
Meanwhile, as of June, 22 states had developed policies recognizing the three classes of e-bikes, according to PFB. Arizona, for instance, officially allowed local governments to permit e-bikes on trails starting this year.
Subsequently, the Flagstaff City Council passed an ordinance in June allowing Class 1 and 2 bikes on most of the 56-mile Flagstaff Urban Trail System. The council approved it at a late night session after one councilmember who doesn't like e-bikes insisted they not be allowed on the busiest segments. “It was a nonsensical thing a politician did,” says Anthony Quintile, a board member of Flagstaff Biking Organization. “Frankly, there'll probably be no enforcement of the ban.”
Park City, Utah has also started the process to allow ebikes on its trails. A recently passed ordinance will allow those over 65 to use ebikes immediately on the trails, and to begin a pilot program for other trails in 2020.