On Thursday evening, the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners unanimously voted to approve a pilot program that would allow certain kinds of electric-assist bikes on five multi-use trails—but with some restrictions, including a speed limit. The new, temporary rules start August 1.
Under the pilot, which will last for one year, e-bikes with a top speed of 20 miles per hour would be allowed on the Burke-Gilman Trail, Elliott Bay Trail, Mountains to Sound Trail, Melrose Connector Trail, and Duwamish Trail, provided they stick to a speed limit of 15 miles per hour. (That speed limit is often clocked by non-electric bikes, too.)
A recent change in Washington State law paved the way for this pilot by laying out three categories for electric bikes: “Class 1” electric bikes, which pedal-assist up to 20 miles per hour; “Class 2” electric bikes, which can be motor-propelled up to 20 miles per hour; and “Class 3,” which can be assisted above 20 miles per hour. Class 1 and Class 2 will be allowed on trails—and for those curious, with a top speed of just under 15 miles per hour, the shared e-bikes operated by bike-share company Lime are Class 1.
During the pilot period, Seattle Parks and Recreation will work with the city and state departments of transportation to gather data on trail use and safety A large part of this data collection is the installation of trail counters, but it could also include speed trackers to see how closely people are following the rules. Data will also be collected on one trail not in the pilot, the Alki Trail, as a control.
Online and in-person surveys will capture self-reported use and opinion data. Toward the end of the pilot, Parks will conduct focus groups and open another public comment period. After a year of data collection and trail use, Parks will evaluate the program and present a more permanent recommendation to the board.
Speaking with Curbed Seattle in advance of the vote, Blake Trask, senior policy director for Cascade Bicycle Club, praised the program: “This really opens up possibilities for people who would otherwise like to be on a bike but feel intimidated to do so.”
“Transportation demand and options are changing in Seattle,” Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes co-founder Mike Radenbaugh told us before the vote. “This project is a realistic way for the city to adapt to the needs of all residents.”
Radenbaugh argued that e-bikes don’t make trails less safe: “It is just another great version of a bicycle that is accessible to more people—people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to ride without the electric assist.”
There has been some fear surrounding increased access for e-bikes on trails, though, however slow the bicycles may be going; former Washington State Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald, for example, referred to the rule change as an invasion. (“Invade all the bike lanes they like,” MacDonald later followed up to Curbed Seattle via email.)
Originally, the pilot was scheduled to begin on Memorial Day, but at April’s board meeting the pilot was delayed and pushed to a July vote.