New E-Bike Policy In National Parks Causing Major Confusion

Mountain bikers in Canyonlands National Park.    Photo: Francisco Kjolseth, The Salt Lake Tribune via AP and The Washington Post

The Washington Post reported that the Trump Administration is having difficulty implementing a policy change it made back in August to allow e-bikes on federal lands — there is confusion regarding whether e-bikes should be allowed on non-motorized trails.  The Secretary of Interior directed his subordinates to “create a clear and consistent e-bike policy on all federal lands managed by the Department.”

Why This Matters:  The Trump Administration argues that it is just following the lead of many states and wanted to allow e-bikes as a way to increase access to parks and recreational lands.  They argue that the population in the U.S. is not getting any younger and this will help particularly those who have physical limitations and need motorized access to more areas.  But there is a downside — if e-bikes are allowed in the backcountry, it will fundamentally change the experience of these wild and natural places.  And for now, the Administration has lifted the restrictions on e-bikes immediately without putting a new policy regarding their use in place, leaving everyone in limbo.

E-Bikes Pros

The Park Service argues that e-bikes belong in National Parks:

“As more Americans are using e-bikes to enjoy the great outdoors, national parks should be responsive to visitors’ interest in using this new technology wherever it is safe and appropriate to do so,” said National Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith. “They make bicycle travel easier and more efficient, and they provide an option for people who want to ride a bicycle but might not otherwise do so because of physical fitness, age, disability, or convenience, especially at high altitudes or in hilly or strenuous terrain.”

They also stated in the policy directive that “Park superintendents can still limit, restrict, or impose conditions of bicycle use and e-bike use in order to ensure visitor safety and resource protection.”  But since they overturned the previous prohibition before Park superintendents could work with their local communities and staff to determine guidance for e-bike use in their parks it is unclear where and when they are allowed.

E-Bikes Cons

Safety is a big concern with respect to e-bikes since they can travel at speeds up to 30 miles per hour.  There is also a question of whether the directive can take precedence over specific federal and state laws and local ordinances that might actually prohibit their use on these lands.

“As BLM develops its policy guidance to the field, managers familiar with specific conditions on the ground will consider whether e-bike use is consistent with relevant laws, regulations, and policies,” Interior senior adviser Carol Danko said by email.




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