Last summer we threw a bit of cold water on the very hot trend of electric-assisted bicycles when we reported on the little-known fact that e-bikes were prohibited on paths and trails managed by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department (OPRD).
At the time, OPRD acknowledged that they never intended to exclude e-bike riders from popular paths like the Historic Columbia River Highway and Banks-Vernonia Trail. The situation, they felt, was a matter of the law not keeping up with the times. Oregon’s vehicle code recognizes e-bikes as bicycles; but OPRD facilities are managed with Oregon Administrative Rules (OAR) which didn’t mention e-bikes at all. This meant they fell into the category of “motor vehicles” and were managed as such.
In response to public pressure to address the issue, OPRD began the process to amend their rules last September. Today we confirmed with agency staff that the State Parks Commission has approved a rule change that explicitly allows electric-assisted bicycles on all paths and trails eight-feet and wider unless otherwise posted.
More significant changes and amendments have been made to OAR 736-010-0026, the rule that governs the use of bicycles and other “similar devices” on OPRD facilities. The title of the rule has been changed from, “Non-Motorized Vehicles, Cycles or Similar Devices,” to “Operator-Propelled Vehicles, Cycles or Similar Devices.”
And the major addition is subsections (3) and (4):
(3) A person may operate an electric assisted bicycle on roads and trails eight feet or wider unless otherwise posted to restrict or permit such activity.
(4) The director or designee may open or close roads and trails to the operation of non-motorized cycles, electric assisted bicycles or similar devices, based on an evaluation of factors related to the use of these devices including, but not limited to, the degree of conflict with other users, public safety, or damage to park resources.
The rule was written in a way that allows individual park managers to allow e-bikes on narrower trails if and when appropriate.
OPRD also proposed to amend the rules to that e-bikes could be used on the ocean shore in all places where standard, non-motorized bicycles are currently allowed. The commission did not approve that proposal and instead chose to allow e-bikes only on sections of the coast where people are currently allowed to drive cars and trucks.
At their June 13th meeting Parks Commissioners heard a report from OPRD staff on how the public reacted to the proposals. OPRD received 332 comments with 201 people “generally opposed” to any rule changes and 127 people in support of more e-bike access on trails. Here’s a summary of the public feedback (taken from the meeting packet):
201 commenters were generally opposed to a rule change. Of those75 specifically were opposed to increasing use of electric bicycles on the beach.
56 commenters identified as equestrians concerned about increased user conflict with additional bicycles on trails.
There were 127 comments in support of adding electric bicycles to trails and/or the ocean shore. Commenters often described how electric bicycle allow them to continue to enjoy riding bicycles after an injury or illness.
In general, those opposed to the rule change expressed concern over safety, user conflict and lack of enforcement. Those in support generally feel electric bicycles should be seen as any other bicycle and would like to see OPRD regulate behavior, not the type of bicycle a person chooses to ride.
Themes of the comments:
• Numerous equestrian riders expressed concern over safety on our trails. They described fear over the encounters with bicycles currently and did not want to see additional users on already
crowded trails. Specifically, the often cited fears of a quiet e-bike coming up behind them at a fast rate of speed and spooking their horse.
• Many Oregonians were concerned with the peace and tranquility of the beach being disrupted by fast moving electric bicycles on the beach. They were concerned about the safety for kids and dogs if bicycles were riding fast. There were also a number of people concerned about the habitat impacts on the beach if more bicycles were riding faster and further. A number of people said they were comfortable with electric bicycles on motorized sections of the beach, but did not want
to see that expanded to all sections of the beach.
• Many of the commenters in support of electric bicycles describe themselves as part of the baby boomer generation. They describe how as they have aged the move to an electric bicycle as allowed them to keep active. Some describe how the electric bicycle gives them the opportunity to keep up with younger family members or see new areas of the state.
• Commenters expressed concern over lack of enforcement. Commenters expressed concern over whether OPRD had the staffing to enforce types of equipment covered under the definition or limits on speed and other safety requirements included in the rules.
• We received many comments from the Hood River area where electric bicycle riders would like to ride along the Historic Columbia River Highway State Trail and enjoy the scenery.
• There were a number of comments expressing concern over whether a move toward acceptance of electric bicycles was a slippery slope toward allowing additional electric or gas powered devices on trails or the beach.
The rule is currently in effect and new signage is expected to start showing up in State Parks and other facilities by October.
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