Electric bikes, which looks like traditional bicycles but have a small motor to make pedaling easier, are a relatively new conveyance in the U.S. In the Netherlands, the world’s top bike-owning country, sales of e-bikes have surpassed those of traditional bicycles.
This trend should give policymakers pause as they consider how to regulate e-bikes, especially in our country’s most treasured places, our national parks.
Late last month, Secretary of the Interior David Barnhardt issued an order that equates e-bikes to regular bicycles and gives managers of national parks and public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management 30 days to come up with rules to allow e-bikes where traditional bikes are permitted.
The order was issued without much public input and puts the development of regulations on the fast track. So, it is encouraging that officials at Acadia National Park are taking time to consider where e-bikes should be allowed and what restrictions should be placed on their use in the park.
Acadia has the authority to ban, allow or impose some restrictions on specific activities in areas inside the park to protect public health and safety, natural and cultural resources, or to balance other permitted activities, park spokesman John Kelly told the Bangor Daily News.
With the leeway the park has in amending its management plan, park officials are not considering a draconian approach of banning bicycle use altogether in places where they think e-bikes should not be allowed, he said.
Acadia already allows people with mobility issues to use e-bikes on the carriage roads, Kelly added. Visitors who cannot use conventional bikes are encouraged to contact park rangers about their plans before heading out onto the trails with their e-bikes.
E-bikes are the fastest-growing segment of the bicycle industry, with U.S. sales jumping 72 percent to $144 million last year, according to the NPD Group, which tracks bike sales, The Associated Press reported. The motorized bikes are popular with commuters and aging baby boomers who might not otherwise get out on a bicycle.
Gordon Goodwin, 69, of Bar Harbor is excited about the rule change and said he and his wife look forward to riding the carriage paths that meander throughout Acadia National Park.
“We’re stoked. We’re really stoked,” Goodwin told the AP. “There’s just too much traffic on the main park roads that you can’t enjoy them. It’ll be great to get in the park and see nature and all that stuff.”
Many people who visit the park have expressed concern about the blanket rule change, through Friends of Acadia, a nonprofit group that supports the park. A common concern is that e-bikes will disrupt walkers, horseback riders and bicyclists using the carriage trails. These are important concerns but we offer a caveat — conventional bikes can, in some instances, travel as fast as e-bikes. In this instance, speed limits for both may be in order.
Accommodating visitors with limited mobility is important, but park managers must focus on protecting the park’s landscape and wildlife while also minimizing conflicts among visitors using different means to enjoy the park.