Image via LimeBike

Seattle Parks and Recreation presented details to the City Council April 17th of a pilot program to allow electric bikes on Seattle’s multi-use trails, like the Burke-Gilman (video of council hearing).  This follows on the heels of state legislation classifying various kinds of e-bike.

The pilot, which runs through Summer of 2019, will allow for Class 1 and 2 e-bikes to ride the trails at speeds of up to 15mph.

Electric bicycles represent a truly revolutionary change in the way we get around the city.  LimeBike’s e-bikes have been in service in Seattle for months and will soon be coming to Bellevue.  You can now purchase an electric bike for around $500 on Amazon.  Cargo models have room for kids and groceries (and the insinuation that e-bikes are only for rich tech bros is frankly insulting to all the families who save money by using an e-bike to get around town).

Around the world, e-bike use is growing astonishingly quickly.   Germans bought 720,000 e-bikes last year (and just 25,000 electric cars).  45% of all bikes sold in Belgium are now e-bikes.  The CEO of Bosch (maker of electric drivetrains), estimated that 65% of all bikes sold will soon be e-bikes.

Unlike electric cars, the bicycle is the only form of wheeled personal transportation that is 100% compatible with good urbanism.  Bikes work in cities and have for a long time.  Knute Berger explained Seattle’s long history of biking going back over 100 years in this video for KCTS:

Given Seattle’s geography and cheap, clean electricity, e-bikes could completely change the way we get around the city.  Already, savvy early adopters are realizing that commuting via e-bike can be faster and less expensive than public transit or driving, especially if your commute happens to coincide with one of Seattle’s protected bike lanes or multi-use trails.

Unfortunately, the rise in e-bikes has been contentious within the biking community.  Some argue that e-bikes lower the barrier to entry, while others maintain that recreational trails were never meant for hordes of e-bike commuters cruising at 20+ MPH.   Fortunately Seattle Parks and Recreation is getting around to studying the issue.

The proper resolution to this dispute is not to ban e-bikes, but rather to give more city right-of-way to bicycles.  It’s long past time for a safe, all-ages bike network connecting all of Seattle’s urban villages.  Some recreational cyclists may be happy with the current state of our bike network, but for those who want more bike-friendly right-of-way throughout the city, welcoming e-bike commuters and errand-runners into the coalition is the most promising path to improving the status quo.   Large numbers of casual riders – as seen in a recent impromptu 35th Ave NE bike ride —  can create political will for safe bike infrastructure.

Cycling advocates are understandably frustrated that bike infrastructure keeps getting back-burnered, despite years of political promises.  While non-electric bike share has increased the number of bikers on the streets, e-bikes could be the catalyst that finally puts bike lanes on the fast track by spurring mass adoption.

45 Replies to “E-bikes Coming to Seattle Multi-Use Trails”

  1. I hope the 15 MPH limit is actually enforced so that ebike riders are not given a bad name by the high powered enthusiasts who build higher speed electric mopeds masquerading as ebikes.

    The hills in my neighborhood make a non-electric bicycle a no go, so I really value the option of electric assist to help with the hills (although even with assist the step hills are still tough.) I’d hate to lose my rights to use a low powered (class1 or 2) ebike on multi-use trails.

    1. It depends on conditions, such as the width of the trail and how crowded it as at the given moment. 20+ mph on sections of the Burke-Gilman could be perfectly safe if nobody else is around. If that same trail is crowded with people, 10 mph becomes the safe top speed.

      1. Agree, BG riders can routinely sustain 20+ on regular bikes, you see it all the time especially among STP trainers.and I’m fine with it because most regular users have good judgement about operating decisions. The key is establishing standards for safe practices in congested areas like UW.

      2. I thought 10 mph was the maximum speed on the Burke-Gilman. I remember seeing a sign like that when I had a bike in the early 2000s. And in the part near Children’s there was a sign, “Faster cyclists use Sand Point Way”. Then at Lake Forest Park there was a sign, “All cyclists use the Burke-Gilman Trail”, apparently because 522 had insufficient shoulders after that or something.

      3. SR-522 doesn’t have a consistent shoulder through Lake Forest Park, but it does have a bus lane, and back when the Burke-Gilman trail was closed for construction, I did ride in it a couple of times, at least in the downhill direction. It worked, but it’s still much better to have the actual trail back.

        15 mph seems like a reasonable general speed limit for trails, as long as the cops give bikes the same lenience that they do cars. That is, if cars can go 40 mph in a 35 mph zone without a ticket, bikes should be able to go 20 mph in a 15 mph zone without a ticket.

      4. asdf2, Um, “No”. Twenty is 133% of 15. Forty is 114% of 35. The tolerance should not be a constant value but rather a percentage. Fifteen percent variance seems reasonable, so 17 mph would be the tolerance.

      5. It’s value difference not percentage that matters for purposes of safety. In an extreme case, suppose you have a walking path with a 3 mph speed limit. A jogger doing 6 mph is not causing danger on the order of driving 100 mph in a 50 mph zone.

      6. If he runs over a little old lady with a walker he might. Or a two year old.

        Or I guess you’d have him running eight miles an hour?

      1. Agreed. I lived in Wallingford for over ten years and used the BG many times both on bike and on foot. I was struck twice by a “speeding” bicycle while on foot and once while on my own bike.

        I also think the study needs to consider the aspect of “distracted” bicycling (the bicyclist who struck me on my bike apparently was fumbling with his ipod at the time).

    2. If we don’t want fast bikes on the “recreational trails” (previously called “bike trails”), then the answer is another network of bike boulevards that are designed for efficient village-to-village commuting rather than woodsy recreation.

      1. The trails we have today were designed for travel — a lot of them are built in the ROW of railroads that were designed for travel, and their continuity and grade make them excellent transportation routes.

        We could spend generations looking for “commuters’ alternatives” to trails like the Burke-Gilman, Interurban, Eastside Rail Corridor, Sammamish River Trail, East Lake Sammamish Trail, etc., but we’ll never find them. The hills that define and constrain their corridors will be here for geological generations.

        There are hundreds of parks and thousands of quiet streets in our region that are just fine for dog walking. There are hundreds of real public places that would be great sites for placemaking. Let the long rail-trails be pathways for sustainable transportation!

      2. Al, they need to be widened and the speed ranges segregated. Walkers on one side, runners on the other and bikes in the middle. If you want to make it a street, it needs to be treated like one.

      3. The treatments on the Burke around UW are pretty good for busier areas. Outside of Seattle that’s probably overkill. Your suggestion is way beyond that, and your implication that we should cut off our regional bike network at the knees with low speed limits until we do hundreds of millions of dollars of infrastructure work all over the region is really impractical.

  2. I’ve ridden the Lime e-bikes on a few occasions, and they’re speed-governed so it’s practically impossible to ride them over the 15 mph limit. They’re motors are quiet, and blend in easily on the Burke-Gilman trail.

    In many areas, blocking e-bikes from multi-use trails would leave no safe place to ride at all. I would not want to ride a bike with a 15 mph speed limit down Montlake Blvd., and if you want to cross Lake Washington at speeds under 60 mph, the multi-use trails are the only option.

    Currently, the people who go fastest on trails are not e-bikes at all, but people with their $5,000 carbon fiber (pedal powered) road bikes and spandex, who treat the crowded Burke-Gilman trail like it’s some kind of a race. If people would consistently yield the right-of-way to oncoming traffic when passing, just like we are accustomed to when we drive a car, that would go a long way.

  3. I ride the Burke-Gilman fairly often, and my e-bike has a speedometer, so I know I’m keeping it at a nice steady 14.9 MPH, and yet I am being passed constantly by standard non-e road bikes.

  4. Second to everything, fnarf. Speed, attitude and all. Especially after dark.I hope SPD can spare some bicycle police to take care of this.

    Mark

  5. With an ebike you can have a speed limiter on the motor. You might need a more powerful one to get up a 20% grade, but even so, it can still be set to stay under 20mph (or 15mph) with any type of assist. You can still pedal faster, but the motor is not helping part the set speed.

  6. Ok, so riddle me this. What happens when a regular commuter on a road bike passes a cop (or an e-bike) going over 15?

    Most regular commuters routinely average over 15 mph. My speedo shows about a 16 mph average on my 8-mile commute to downtown. Any decent road bike is capable of sustaining 18-20 mph on flat terrain. With a tail wind, you’re easily up to 22-24.

    Newsflash. E-bikes are already out there. And most non e-bikes are going 15 or more. The notion of a “pilot”program allowing them is silly, and setting a speed limit like that is going to pile up all sorts of unintended consequences.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but it seems like a focus on establishing safe operating best practices — rules of the road, rider conduct standards, etc — would be more useful than plunking down a speed limit that most people will ignore.

    1. dailyrider, maybe something we can learn from our evil brothers the Harley and those four-wheeled fat-tired bike-killers. Different speeds, different streets and roads. Also, difference between side-streets and pedestrian plazas. Can bike lanes and trails be categorized, and located, same way?

      Mark

  7. I was just wondering where Seattle was going to go with this. I think this is the right move. In Seattle, increasing biking almost necessarily means increasing e-bike usage because of the hills. And I’m seeing more and more e-bikes around my neighborhood. I’ll probably be buying one this year too.

  8. There may be some question about whether this pilot program begins on schedule this summer, based on the discussion at the Board of Park Commissioners meeting on Thursday, April 26. The board had been planning to take a vote at its next meeting on May 11, but I’m not sure if that is still the plan.

    8 people spoke at the public hearing — I counted 3 in favor, 4 opposed and 1 neutral but expressing concerns about trail safety. Board members then had a discussion in which some noted the lack of outreach to the pedestrian and bicycle advisory boards and the Commission for People with DisAbilities, and also about the seemingly low level of community awareness of this public hearing.

    Meeting video:
    http://www.seattlechannel.org/parksBoard?videoid=x91058
    1:29:00 – public comment begins
    1:51:50 – board discussion

  9. Are there any of those neighborhood style “Your Speed is – ” radar signs on the BG?

    It could help with the way everyone interacts on the trail if their actual speed was made obvious.

  10. I go running on the Burke Gilman trail fairly often. In Woodinville, Bothell, and Kenmore there are sign saying speed limit of 15 mph.

    1. I’ve seen bike police pull over cyclists on the BGT north of Seattle, both for speeding and also for passing too closely/without warning. I think that could help in Seattle, though it would be nice if SPD could be bothered to enforce traffic laws for drivers at the same time.

  11. In an ideal world these paths would be split into bike and walk lanes like they are at Green Lake and what is being done in Chicago along Lakeshore Path ( https://chicago.suntimes.com/news/lakefront-path-separate-lanes-bicycles-pedestrian/ ).

    But if the lane is too narrow to be divided it makes sense. I’d say 15MPH with common sense enforcement would fair. Meaning it is tightly enforced when there are pedestrians or curves… but more leniency for a biker going closer to 20 on an open stretch with no pedestrians and good viability. IMO no pedestrian should be passed at 20MPH on a path that is too narrow to be subdivided.

  12. …and the insinuation that e-bikes are only for rich tech bros is frankly insulting to all the families who save money by using an e-bike to get around town.

    Well that makes me feel a lot better about the tech bros riding the fat tired, full throttled bikes on the BGT that can push 30 mph. They’re just a figment of my imagination.

    1. I don’t know if the riders are tech or bros, and I don’t think they’re doing 30, but… yeah, there’s something off about those particular bikes.

      I think what it is is that bikes were always built around the limitations of human power. This is a big part of what’s kept their size and speed in check over the years. Motorcycles are limited by the need for humans to physically control them, but not to power them, and they’ve grown much larger and faster. Bikes, built around limitation, have had to be built light and simple. Even the worst roadie excesses (bar-mounted cellphones reporting to Strava, electronic shifting, cassettes with more than 8 speeds) at least have to be small, light, and useful for an athlete. Even the biggest cargo bikes and kid-haulers have their own kind of practicality: they use tires that roll well on pavement and use every bit of their size and strength to move lots of people and stuff. A bike that needs a powerful motor because its tires are made to ride in sand (or, conversely, that needs ultra-wide tires because to absorb shocks caused by its motor-driven speed) is completely unmoored from practicality. Like driving to work in a lifted Hummer.

      In some ways the aesthetic shock of this annoys me more than seeing electric scooters on the bike paths in Amsterdam — those are obviously practical vehicles serving their purpose as well as they can, even if they’re not really trying to be or look like bikes in the traditional sense. You can even carry a passenger or some luggage on one! Under American faux-rugged individualism (a common thing in the tech crowd) we throw all that out the window for the look of a mountain bike built to handle terrain you couldn’t even get to in a single charge. Unfortunately it’s hard to regulate against dumb cultural trends…

      1. … I don’t think they’re doing 30, but…

        Maybe 29, but they are definitely going well faster than they need to be going on a heavily used multi-use trail. You can usually hear them coming from the high pitched scream the motor makes. But they are there nonetheless.

      2. (And beyond being hard, it’s also bad to regulate against dumb cultural trends. Part of living in a free society is watching people you don’t know making choices that annoy you and looking the other way.)

  13. I ride the Burke every day – in 15 years have never seen any speed enforcement. While I don’t mind the speed, it is the horrible behavior and sense of entitlement of so many cyclists that irk me more. We are entering the “Lance” season with spandex glad, light flashing, logo covered rude speedsters on the trail. They do not announce themselves before passing, they do no stop for pedestrians, and also do not give way in a fair manner at road crossings.

    With all this said, it’s still easier and more fun to get around by bicycle that being stuck in a car.

    E-bikes should be welcome on the Burke as long as they are not borderline electric motorcycles, and limited to 20mph.

  14. I think many of the conflicts on the multi-use trails would be helped by painting a yellow line down the middle. Some sections need more, but this would clarify right of way and would be a cheap way to encourage the majority 15-20mph riders who are generally responsible to give safe distances when passing and to encourage groups of walkers not to take up 2/3 of the trail.

    Just like with cars, there will always be some people who drive unreasonable vehicles sociopathically, but there is no reason to cripple our infrastructure or sacrifice the huge potential benefits of e-bikes (or light road bikes for that matter) just because of the guy who wants to use his 28mph e-mountain bike with aero bars (or a Pinarello with carbon wheels) at full speed on a crowded trail.

    TK76 draws an interesting comparison with the lakefront path in Chicago. I left Chicago in 2008, but rode the path daily to train for racing (since it was the only safe bike facility that you could get a decent length ride in the city since Chicago’s urban sprawl is unmatched) but it also allowed me to do my 20 mile commute between Hyde Park and Northwestern by bike in the same time that it would have taken by public transportation. Some sections of this path were so heavily used that it would become an uncomfortable place to ride at pretty much any speed after about 6:30 am. In my memory, the lakefront path was mostly about 14′ wide with a dirt running track on the side, similar to much of the burke. The big difference was that it had a yellow line down the middle. That meant that when you came up on a slower person on a bike, or a person pushing twins in a stroller, or the all-too-common four-person bike cars that would be rented to tourists on the path (thank goodness Seattle doesn’t have those), you intuitively waited until there was a big enough break in oncoming traffic to pass safely, just as you would when passing a tractor on a two lane road with a dashed yellow line.

    I agree with Al on the general idea that the Burke is a truly unique and critical component of the bicycle transportation network. Its level grade, continuity, and lack of crossings provide a long range connection that enables people to more comfortably and efficiently make longer trips by bike than would be possible with even PBLs. These longer range trips become much less appealing if their speed is restricted to much below 15 mph. The core of the problem seems to be that the Burke is expected to function both as a park and as a (in my opinion crucial) bicycle highway. Low usage allows this to work with an occasional conflict, but as usage increases so do the conflicts. I hope that the city recognizes that these are a result of insufficient infrastructure and that making/enforcing more restrictive rules is not the best answer.

  15. I’m sorry, but our bike lanes should be limited to 100% human powered devices. If yes to e-bikes, then why not mopeds, or motorcycles? I don’t know if a lot of you have even seen an e-bike in full glory going down the Burke, or elsewhere, but it’s definitely closer to an old school moped than a pedal powered bike. ..and they can go shockingly fast. It’s like giving superpowers to a 5 year old, and at least a “Lance” cyclist (insufferable, I know) has a grasp of how to operate fast bicycles. Oh, and we need to ban those baby/kid playpen things that are being dragged behind bicycles…those are ridiculous. On my walk to the UWS, I often pass one on the Montlake Bridge, and it takes up most of the sidewalk. So entitled.

    1. This is complete and utter B.S. Yes, there are a handful of souped-up e-bikes that go fast, but the vast majority are obviously bikes. Many of them, including mine, are just regular bikes with a power kit installed. Mine is a crappy, old-fashioned “Dutch”-style step-through bike that weighs a ton, especially when I’m loaded down with 50 pounds of cargo, and even with a motor is at a serious disadvantage speed-wise to racey bikes. The power allows me to get up hills. Not allowing ANY kind of e-bikes is tantamount to barring half of the bikes on the road.

      Your suggestion that most of us haven’t even seen “an e-bike in full glory” rather cuts down your own argument about how prevalent they are. I think it’s you who can’t see e-bikes, because the fact is, they are everywhere, and you can’t always tell. You obviously can’t. That one guy with the modified one going 30 or 40 is not remotely typical. And if he’s going over 15, he’s ALREADY IN VIOLATION, just like the guy on a regular bike going over 15.

      Your screed against kid trailers…I dunno, man, you seem like you don’t like people very much and you don’t want to share the road/trail/path with anyone who doesn’t fit into your narrow definition of what a cyclist is. The more people who ride bikes for more purposes, the better. And like it or not, e-bikes are the future.

  16. Mine is a crappy, old-fashioned “Dutch”-style step-through bike that weighs a ton…

    This is one of my big fears. It’s not just the speed of e-bikes, it’s the greatly increased mass, combined with increased speed. Getting hit by any bike at speed is not good, but getting hit by a heavier bike at speed is worse.

    Not allowing ANY kind of e-bikes is tantamount to barring half of the bikes on the road.

    In summer 2016, the percentage of e-bikes was approximately 0%. You had the occasional cargo delivery bike, but that was it. Last summer, there was a definite uptick, but maybe 5% at most. This year, it’s definitely pushing 10%, but that’s nowhere near half. Granted, my observations are anecdotal and limited to standard commuting hours and weekends.

    That one guy with the modified one going 30 or 40 is not remotely typical.

    I regularly see three guys, two on the BGT and one on Westlake Cycle Track, who are pushing 30 mph. Again, that’s just in 15 minutes, at very specific times of day, on very specific infrastructures. Not typical, maybe 5% or less of the total amount of bicycles I see, but enough to be concerned about the recent laxing of laws on e-bikes, that are being pushed through with little or no public input.

    And like it or not, e-bikes are the future.

    Cool, slap a license plate on the back and stick to the roads please. Let’s not give away what little safe infrastructure we currently have to enable a bunch of rich, lazy people to get to work quickly, without fighting traffic or sweating (by far the #1 excuse when I ask e-bike riders why they bought one). The legitimate use cargo bikes are just going to get lost in the noise that will happen after a year or two of legalizing e-bikes.

    1. I was riding an e-bike in January 2016. I saw lots of others then, and now I see them every day. The shop I bought that bike at has been in business for 20 years. There are now a dozen shops that sell them around the city. As the original post points out, in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, etc. e-bikes now outsell regular bikes. In a hilly location like this, that pedal assist makes all the difference in the world, and opens up cycling as a reasonable alternative for all kinds of people besides fit young bucks — old people, people with limited mobility, people with kids, people with cargo, people who just want to get from A to B without fuss and worry. We’re already here. You can’t see us, because you think e-bike riders are only the speed demons.

      The dangerous riders you describe are already breaking the law.

      And now you want to limit our mass! Fantastic, will there be a weight limit? Two library books is OK, but not three? What about fat riders, are they allowed? If I’m over 200 pounds, am I only allowed to ride 18 pounds of carbon fiber? Or is it back in the car for me?

      That’s what you’re asking for: more people in cars. The more people of all descriptions who ride bicycles, the easier it gets to ride bicycles in general, because the lanes of bikes will increase and enlarge. Your totalitarian fantasy of copious but unpopulated bike lanes and trails just for you isn’t going to happen. What is going to happen, if we are lucky, is a gradual shift to an Amsterdam- or Copenhagen-style bike infrastructure that makes bikes a practical alternative for lots and lots of people for whom your fantasy is not. You may think it’s a terrible tragedy that you sometimes have to wait behind a mom with a couple of kids in her trailer, but you’re the only one.

      Fortunately you are losing the argument. The city is making intelligent choices (usually) about who can ride where in what manner. The kind of e-bike hogs you are so upset with are already forbidden on the trails, because they’re going faster than 15 — and that restriction is being formalized in a rational manner by people who know what they’re talking about.

      1. …old people, people with limited mobility, people with kids, people with cargo, people who just want to get from A to B without fuss and worry.

        Great! The state recently defined e-bikes. Let’s license them and allow them on the roads. No argument there. Although the e-bike fantasy of all those users you described is just that…a fantasy.

        The dangerous riders you describe are already breaking the law.

        Technically, all e-bikes, including yourself, are breaking the law if you’ve ridden on a multi-use trail within Seattle or King County.

        And now you want to limit our mass! Fantastic, will there be a weight limit? Two library books is OK, but not three? What about fat riders, are they allowed? If I’m over 200 pounds, am I only allowed to ride 18 pounds of carbon fiber? Or is it back in the car for me?

        Strawman, but I’ll help you burn it down: a 200 lb rider made of meat and guts is not the same as a 200 lb steel frame, solid bike. I think you know that.

        Your totalitarian fantasy of copious but unpopulated bike lanes and trails just for you isn’t going to happen.

        The trails I ride have been well populated for a long time. E-bikes are very recent. I don’t want an empty trail, I want a trail free from e-bikes that go 20 mph with no effort.

        Fortunately you are losing the argument.

        That’s my worry.

        You may think it’s a terrible tragedy that you sometimes have to wait behind a mom with a couple of kids in her trailer, but you’re the only one.

        LOL wut?

  17. So much for the rhetoric about the number one priority being pedestrians.

    The second you take cars out of the equation the true colors of the bike lobby comes to the front, and it ain’t pretty.

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