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Palo Alto bans e-bikes on unpaved paths in open space preserves

Palo Alto bans e-bikes on unpaved paths in open space preserves
Palo Alto bans e-bikes on unpaved paths in open space preserves 02:47

PALO ALTO -- A new state law allowing electric bicycles wherever standard bicycles are permitted has local lawmakers scrambling. 

That new law went into effect this year but local lawmakers can still pass new ordinances to ban e-bikes in certain parts of their cities.

The city of Palo Alto has banned e-bikes on unpaved routes in open space preserves like the Baylands Trails.

"I can't walk this trail. It's too far for me. I'm too old for that," said Paul Trainer who's been riding e-bikes for decades.

He says the ban is a move in the wrong direction.

"A lot of people believe an e-bike scares nature. Wrong! An e-bike is absolutely the best thing in the world for people to see nature with," Trainer said.

For conservationists like Matthew Dodder, who is the executive director of the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, the city ban, keeping open spaces free of e-bikes, is overdue and good for wildlife.

"We have a lot of species that are threatened or endangered -- like Ridgway's rail -- and are very sensitive to disturbance," Dodder said.

He says the boom of e-bikes over the last three years is taking a toll on nature preserves and that motorized transportation doesn't belong on unpaved trails.

"E-bikes are louder and faster. With the proliferation of e-bikes it's quite certain -- if we open it up to e-bikes -- we'll have more and more here putting more strain on the species already at risk here," Dodder said.

City council member Greg Tanaka, who's also an e-bike commuter, was one of only two dissenting votes.

"I see e-bikes as a democratizing tool for a lot of people. There are a lot of people not in great shape and, having an e-bike, this place is a lot more accessible," Tanaka said.

Tanaka believes it's sending the wrong message for cities aiming to cut down on carbon emissions and promote greener commutes.

"I'm hoping my surrounding cities won't ban e-bikes because then it will really shut off the commute trail and it forces people into cars or force bikers to take much longer routes and much more dangerous routes," Tanaka said.

Advocates for the ban say bicyclists will still be able to ride on the paved roads in and around the Baylands.

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