Trial speed regulations will come to several Seattle trails in August. On Thursday evening, a proposal by Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) was unanimously passed by the Seattle Board of Park Commissioners. The regulations are primarily focused on electric-assist bikes (e-bike), but will affect all bike riders on select trails. Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR) circulated a proposal for a pilot program in response to changes in state law this year that affect when and where e-bikes are allowed to operate in the state. SPR proposed setting a speed limit of 15 mph for all bike riders and allow Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on certain trails. The regulations will apply to a total of five trails:

  • Burke-Gilman Trail;
  • Elliott Bay Trail;
  • Duwamish Trail;
  • Mountains to Sound Trail; and
  • Melrose Connector Trail.

This pilot program will, in essence, target key trails in many geographic areas of the city advancing equity objectives. As another key piece to the proposal, SPR will include an education and outreach campaign to promote safe biking habits and trail use.

SPR plans to launch the pilot program on August 1st and then work through its one-year work program of education, outreach, data collection, and evaluation. Next August, the pilot program is slated to end when hopefully SPR will have formal recommendations for a permanent program.

As a bit of background, Senate Bill 6434 revised state law on e-bikes by adding three classifications of e-bikes, eliminating age restrictions in certain cases, and prohibiting Class 3 e-bikes from generally using sidewalks and trails. Class 1 e-bikes are defined as bikes that have a motor providing assistance up to 20 mph while Class 2 e-bikes are bikes that have a motor propeling the bike up to 20 mph without pedaling. SPR’s proposal addresses these bikes specifically by requiring users to keep to a more measured pace of 15 mph or below. Even for bikes without electric assistance, it’s common for riders to exceed 15 mph, particularly when road biking.

Seattle pedestrian and bike counters. (City of Seattle) Seattle pedestrian and bike counters. (City of Seattle)

SPR’s plan is to collect data of trail use with several partners, including the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) and Washington State Department of Transportation. The goal is to understand the speeds and type of trail use that is experienced on three pilot program trails: Elliott Bay, Burke-Gilman, and the Mountains to Sound Trails. The Alki Trail will be a fourth trail evaluated as a control for comparative analysis purposes. SPR intends to use trail counters, digital speed trackers, online surveys, and in-person surveys to help with data collection.

For the outreach and education campaign, SPR will deploy signage similar to the temporary Vision Zero yard signs that SDOT has posted on trails. Other methods throughout the pilot will be used such as social media, traditional media, and in-person outreach.

The SPR proposal is a bit of a balancing act trying to weigh safety for all users–whether walking, running, kick scootering, or rollerblading–with trails functioning for bike commuting and recreation. Importantly, it doesn’t exclude people using e-bikes from biking on the select trails. E-bikes are often used by less able community members. They also hold the promise to get more people to ride bikes since barriers by geography and personal physicality are removed. Fundamentally, multi-use trails are designed for a wide variety of users, including e-bikes. Speed and behavior on them is where the focus should be.

Update 7/12/18: This article was updated to reflect that the proposal was approved and will go ahead as planned.

How Electric-Assist Bikes Will Make More People Ride

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a non-profit that depends on donations from readers like you.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Lol. They aren’t even capable of regulating car speeds on roads in this city, but they want to regulate bike speeds? What a joke by our ineffectual government

    • I don’t think the problem lies with “they” but with us. Having “big brother” use photo enforcement of speed on every road is an option, but the real problem is with drivers. The city sets speed limits to make the environment safer for all users. When individual drivers, us, decide to speed and to fail to yield right of way, they are deciding to break the law and to endanger other road users. That is the problem.

  2. This seems like a solution in search of a problem.

    1. I’ve been passed by many bespandexed superathlete types on ultra-lightweight bikes going way faster than any E-bike on the Burke many times over the years. I find the speedsters kind of obnoxious, but are they really dangerous? How many collisions happen, really? How many that result in serious injury?

    2. Is this pilot going to come with any actual enforcement? If not, what reasons are there to believe it will matter?

  3. Apparently it’s not worth monitoring the speed of cars that kill people by the thousands every single year. And going 10 MPH over the speed limit is completely fine but yes lets monitor the speed limit on bikes. It seems like the logic is completely mixed up here…sure set a speed limit on the burke around UW but the rest of the trail is fine. If we are going to expect people to switch over to bikes who have longer commutes, then ebikes are the best way to do that but only if they can maintain a quicker speed. I can go 15 mph on a non-electric bike without breaking a sweat.

  4. It makes sense to collect data, but the outcome will depend on one thing: what the vehicles can do. If they can cruise at 20mph, that’s what you can expect to see. Though battery powered, they’re no different than motor vehicles, and they’ll follow the same rules of human behavior: the speed limit will become the lower speed limit. If they can deliver, and eventually they will, either with improvements in batteries or just bigger batteries.

    I’m for recognizing the inevitable, and putting them out on the road, with sufficient power to keep up with traffic. The listed trails are bicycle arterials that allow pedestrian traffic, so maintaining a good pedestrian environment is kind of a lost cause anyway, but sidewalks, and trails like Green Lake, should be off limits for powered vehicles other than wheel chairs.

  5. Electric bicycles with a hand throttle (like a motorcycle), that can maintain speed without pedaling at all, don’t belong on sidewalks or bike paths. They are more akin to electric motorcycles than they are to bicycles.

  6. A question that came to my mind is that with cars, we can blame the drivers who speed too fast, but it actually makes more sense to blame the road design for allowing cars to drive too fast. If people are biking too fast on multi-use trails, should we be blaming the poor infrastructure in a similar way?

    I kind of feel like the Burke is really over capacity for a multi-use trail and is really more like a biking highway. It would be best if it were a two way bike lane next a wide sidewalk for pedestrians and other lower-speed users.

Comments are closed.