Park Service Unveils Wobbly New E-Bike Policy

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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Park Service Unveils Wobbly New E-Bike Policy

Superintendents Told to Figure Out E-Bike Access on Park-by-Park Basis


Washington, DC — In the absence of a new Director and facing an imminent court ruling, the National Park Service is fumbling to fashion a new policy for allowing electric bikes onto park trails, according to agency documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). By September 28, park superintendents will have to decide whether to allow e-bikes on trails under nebulous new guidance issued this week.

In an August 16 system-wide email, the Trump-appointed “acting” NPS Director Shawn Benge distributed a “literature review” summary of 60 studies and ordered individual parks to –

“Apply the relevant information in the literature review, along with any other relevant considerations such as the park’s experience with e-bikes to date, to the specific conditions at the park to reconsider whether, where, and under what conditions e-bikes should be allowed on trails or administrative roads.”

“This is a classic case of a government agency adopting a policy before it had done its basic homework,” stated PEER Executive Director Tim Whitehouse, whose organization is suing NPS over its flawed e-bike policy. “Rather than simply stop and take this ill-considered plan back to the drawing board, the temporary Park Service leadership seems determined to blunder forward.”

Rather than providing clarity, however, the NPS literature review underlines a host of unknowns on issues ranging from adverse impacts on wildlife to wildfires, including:

  • “Further research could clarify the fire risk of e-bike batteries and the possible fire damage in forested environments.” E-bikes use highly combustible lithium-ion batteries;
  • “More research could determine the specific effects of e-bikes on plant life in comparison to traditional bicycles and other forms of outdoor recreation on natural surface trails.”
  • “There is a lack of research documenting the long-term effects, if any, of e-bikes on trail surfaces.

The literature review also points to safety concerns: “Compared to traditional bicycle riders, e-bike users tend to have a higher rate of single-bicycle crashes [and] e-bike crashes have been increasing.” However, the research has yet to identify the reason(s) why.

Another issue is e-bikes’ carbon footprint. The review concludes that e-bikes have “higher emissions than traditional bicycles. Research suggests that e-bikes are most commonly replacing trips taken by traditional bicycles.”

A central issue in the PEER suit is that NPS has never conducted an environmental review as required under NEPA assessing on-the-ground impacts, such as risks of high-speed e-bikes to visitors and wildlife, spooking horses on mixed-use trails, and degrading the quality of the backcountry experience.

“The research clearly shows that not a single aspect of park resources benefits from the introduction of e-bikes, yet the Park Service wants them anyway,” added Whitehouse, noting that the Benges memo instructs superintendents on how to avoid legally required environmental reviews through the use of “categorical exclusion” which also shuts out public involvement. “This e-bikes fiasco illustrates how badly mismanaged National Parks Service planning has become.”


Read the latest NPS e-bike policy memo

See recent NPS backpedaling in response to the PEER lawsuit

View summary of NPS e-bike literature search

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