Lawsuit Filed to Reinstate Ban on E-Bikes in National Parks

e-bikes trails
Photo: Brian Melley/AP/Shutterstock

This past summer, the Department of the Interior signed a policy granting access to low-speed electric bikes (e-bikes) in national parks—giving them the same rules and regulations as non-motorized bikes. Naturally, in recent months, there has been much debate over whether or not this is a good idea.

On Thursday, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)—along with co-plaintiffs Wilderness Watch, Marin Conservation League, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, and Save Our Seashore—filed a lawsuit to rescind the National Park Service (NPS) order allowing electric bicycles in national parks, stating it “violates several federal laws.”

Back in August, a Secretarial Order by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt directed that all Interior Department agencies (which includes the National Park Service) immediately allow e-bikes “where other types of bicycles are allowed.” Human-powered bikes are currently allowed in roughly 40 national parks, but they’re almost exclusively limited to dirt roads or a small number of singletrack trails, according to BIKE Magazine. (What’s more, bikes were only permitted in select parks in 2010).

The latest PEER lawsuit cites several legal impediments to the NPS order. It violated NPS’s own regulations, evaded legally required environmental reviews, and reportedly came from an official who lacked the authority to issue such an order.

“This e-bikes order illustrates an improper and destructive way to manage our national parks,” PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse said in a press release. “Concerned groups and individuals are joining PEER in demanding that the Park Service follow the normal regulatory processes and assess the additional impacts that higher speed e-bike riders pose both to other trail users and to wildlife in the parks.”

The federal definition of e-bikes used in the Consumer Product Safety Act, is: “… a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph,” BIKE reports. This includes class 1, 2 and 3 electric bikes. Class 1 means a pedal-assist-only motor with no throttle that will cease to offer assistance at or below 20 mph (this includes most e-mountain bikes). Class 2 has a throttle, but other than that, it’s mostly the same bike as a Class 1. Class 3 has no throttle and the motor will cut out between 20 and 28 mph.

That said, the whole idea behind e-bike access in national parks is to open up more access throughout the parks for elderly or disabled people, as well as providing an alternative to cars. “This policy enhances fun and healthy recreational opportunities for visitors to our national parks and supports active transportation options,” states Chief of Public Affairs and Chief Spokesperson for the NPS Mike Litterst.

On the other hand, according to BIKE, some people fear that if e-bikes and non-motorized bikes are classified under the same definition, if issues with e-bikes ever arose and were proved to be bothersome to national parks, the outcome could theoretically be the loss of access to all bikes.

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