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Electric bikes could soon be joining you on Seattle trails

After state lawmakers relaxed rules for electric bikes this year, Seattle officials are poised to allow them on area trails alongside pedestrians and human-powered bikes. But some argue the trails are already too crowded.

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“The City of Seattle is basically trying to support people getting out of their cars and getting onto electric bikes,” Mike Radenbaugh said. “…. It’s more about providing support for people who want to ride electric bikes and making sure people on electric bicycles are treated like a bicycle and allowed to enjoy the regional trails.”

Radenbaugh is president and CEO of Ballard-based Rad Power Bikes, a manufacturer of electric-assisted bicycles. It’s such electric bikes that Seattle Parks and Recreation is considering for a pilot program beginning May 28.

The pilot program will include the electric-powered bikeshare rides in Seattle, but Radenbaugh says the real target of the new rules is privately-owned ebikes. These bikes are more often used to commute and travel long distances, which is why proponents argue that they should be allowed on park trails.

The pilot would limit all vehicles on the trails to 15 mph. The Seattle Times reports it will affect: the Burke-Gilman Trail; Duwamish Trail; Elliott Bay Trail; Melrose Connector; and the Mountains to Sound Trail.

“It’s really unfair to force electric bikes onto regular streets where you have 4,000-6,000 pound vehicles traveling at very high speeds,” Radenbaugh said. “So anyone who has ridden an electric bike really gets it; that riding on a trial doesn’t make the trail less-safe for regular cyclists or pedestrians. It’s just another great version of a bicycle.”

Electric bikes and the law

“Electric bikes under federal law, and now state law, are treated exactly like regular bikes,” Radenbaugh said. “They are peddle-assisted. You have a small, light-weight electric motor that helps you propel yourself down the sidewalk.”

Earlier this year, state lawmakers modified regulations on electric bikes, allowing most to ride on the sidewalk (unless local law says otherwise). In short, ebikes that travel more than 20 mph are still prohibited from riding on the sidewalk.

It’s such moves that are adding electric bikes to spaces already occupied by walkers, strollers, and human-powered bicycles. The pilot program from the parks and rec department could be Seattle’s first step in allowing the newer electric-powered bikes on sidewalks.

The Seattle Parks and Recreation Committee could vote on the new ebike allowances in May.

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