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Facing Lawsuit from Conservationists, NPS Backs Off on E-Bikes

8 Jan, 2020

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

Hold it right there.

The National Parks Service has disbanded its e-bike advisory group. The group, formed to study the potential use of e-bikes in national parks, has been meeting with NPS officials regularly over the years.

According to an article in Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN), the National Park Service disbanded the group in the face of a lawsuit from conservation groups. The groups accused the NPS of holding closed meetings, which amounted to secretive lobbying, in order to give access to the trails to e-bike riders.

The lawsuit was filed in Washington, DC, court in early December, accuses the NPS of staffing its advisory committee with only e-bike and mountain bike advocates, and not with conservationists or others who would seek to address potential problems posed by e-bikes.

BRAIN noted, “The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and a coalition of conservation groups are suing to restore a ban on e-bikes on NPS non-motorized trails. According to the suit, the E-bike Partner & Agency Group's meetings with the staff of Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Deputy NPS Director P. Daniel Smith violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires transparency to prevent secret lobbying.”

"This e-bike call will conclude our 'Partner and Agency' calls. ... This is to ensure that we avoid any conflict with the Federal Advisory Committee Act," said an e-mail from an NPS official to colleagues dated Oct. 9 and obtained by PEER through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In another email obtained by PEER, a U.S. Forest Service official expressed concern about the meetings because they were not open and didn't include anyone outside e-bike and mountain bike advocates.”

BRAIN notes that co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Wilderness Watch, Marin Conservation League, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin and Save Our Seashore, as well as three impacted individuals.

So where does that leave e-bikes where it comes to the NPS? Out in the cold for now, while the legal wrangling continues. And if you’re thinking the terms, e-bike and lawsuit, are sounding familiar, you’re right on the money: this is actually the second suit to be brought. In October, a group of trail and forest advocates sued the U.S. Forest Service  for allowing Class 1 e-bikes (pedal-assist bikes with no throttle and a maximum powered speed of 20 mph on non-motorized trails in the Tahoe National Forest in California. At issue was the fact that there had been no public study prior to allowing the e-bikes in.

While e-bikes have been a contentious issue for traditionalists in the cycling community for years, feelings hit a flash point at the end of the summer when the Department of the Interior ruled that all classes of e-bikes were to be regulated as traditional pedal bicycles on non-motorized federal lands – including the NPS and Bureau of Land Management. That decision allowed agencies to regulate e-bikes as they see fit, just like with traditional bikes.

The growing presence of e-bikes in the market as a whole has led to an uptick in competitive events with special categories for them.

According to the Los Angeles Times
, e-bikes are the fastest-growing segment of the bicycle industry, with U.S. sales jumping 72% to $144 million year over year, according to the NPD Group, which tracks bike sales. The motorized bikes are popular with commuters and baby boomers who might not otherwise be able to get out on a bicycle.

They’re also able to increase the appeal (and revenue) of competitive events, Guillermo Rojas, USA Cycling’s communications officer, told SDM in an article in the September/October 2019 issue.

“When you add e-bikes into your events, you create a way to welcome people who perhaps don’t have the mobility they once did – or who need the assistance an e-bike can provide,” Rojas noted. “If it keeps them cycling (maybe they’re not not even competing, but just going on recreational group rides or touring with their friends), it’s still a win for the sport as a whole (and for us as well).”

USA Cycling doesn’t require races to have special divisions for e-bikes, however.

“At this point, it’s up to individual race directors and event companies whether they want to add in e-bike divisions. We can supply information to race directors who want to learn more, and we encourage them to look into it. We expect this growth to continue as more athletes become aware of e-bikes as a viable option. Particularly now, as cities are adding walking, running and cycling trails to parks, there’s more of an opportunity than ever to remain active in a safe setting.”

Expect there to be at least a push from enthusiasts toward having e-bikes in the Olympics in future years. Could it actually happen? There’s certainly precedent for trying. After all, RideApart noted, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM, or International Motorcycling Federation), lobbied to have Trial-E (trials riding on electric bikes) added as a sport to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. (It didn’t make it, but first-time failure has never stopped any sport from trying again.)

So far, e-bike enthusiasts have not found much to celebrate in 2020, according to an article in BRAIN. In the waning hours of 2019, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo vetoed a bill that would give all classes of e-bikes the same rights of the road as traditional bicycles throughout the state, allowing local municipalities the right to regulate not only e-bikes but e-scotters (also a point of contention among safety advocacy groups). Only Class 1 e-bikes will still be allowed in the state. In a tweet after his decision, Cuomo said he will propose a new e-bike bill in January.

"There is no need for us to choose between legalizing e-bikes and safety, and I will propose a bill that does both on January 8," Cuomo tweeted. Despite the e-bike and e-scooter bill's passing in the state legislature over the summer, Cuomo cited the failure to have a helmet and other safety requirements for killing the bill.

"Failure to include these basic measures renders this legislation fatally flawed," Cuomo said. "Specifically with respect to e-bikes, the throttle motor that allows a rider to increase speed without pedaling renders e-bikes indistinguishable from mopeds, which are already regulated and require license plates and driver's licenses." E-bikes have other issues in New York as well. There has been an uptick in the number of thefts of them, with food delivery workers being some of the most common targets.

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