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Federal Plan To Allow Electric Bikes On National Park Trail Raises Safety Concerns

SAN RAFAEL (KPIX) - Last month, the Trump administration ordered a change in regulations to allow electric bicycles on every national park trail on which regular bikes are permitted. The news has drawn a mixed reaction.

On August 30, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt signed an order that essentially classifies e-bikes as regular bicycles rather than motor driven vehicles. That makes them eligible to ride anywhere bikes are allowed in National Parks, like on trails at the Marin Headlands and the Pt. Reyes National Seashore. That's welcome news to Art Silberman of San Rafael who founded a club for riders in their 70's and 80's called the "North Bay Elder E-bikers."

"We don't all walk steady or fast but the guys can bike," he said. "You can bike even when sometimes you can't walk very well."

That's because most electric bikes sold these days are "Class 1," which means pedaling is assisted by a battery operated motor, but only up to 20 mph. Riders can climb hills faster and easier and Silberman believes any negative distinction between them and regular bikes is merely a cultural bias.

"So, Class 1, there shouldn't even be a question about should it be allowed wherever a bicycle is. It's really the same thing as a bicycle," he said.

And the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, which advocates for more bicycle access, agrees.

"Because they get people of all ages and abilities out on the trail and enjoying our parks," said Executive Director Tarrell Kullaway. "In particular, in Marin County we have an aging population and this is a way for people to continue the sport that they're passionate about into their older years."

But the Marin Conservation League opposes allowing e-bikes on non-paved trails or fire roads due to concerns over higher speeds. In a written statement, they said, "We do not want to see e-bikes on trails such as single-track where conventional mountain bikes currently may be allowed and where enforcement of speed limits by any kind of bike is virtually nonexistent."

But the Bicycle Coalition says it's not just about trails. They believe electric bikes are about to change our entire society.

"This is the whole e-bike movement, the whole revolution that's about to happen on our streets," said Kullaway. "I hope elected officials are going to be ready for it in creating infrastructure that they need to keep people safe because this is coming."

The local office of the National Park Service would not speak on camera Monday, saying they are waiting for more guidance on how the new order will be implemented in Bay Area parks.

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