Congress Moves to Push Bikes Off National Park Roads

If you’ve ever ridden a bike on the pavement at Arches National Park or Yellowstone, you know how liberating it can be. Cars are often jammed on roads that weren’t designed for the freeway-like crush that hits parks every summer, but on a bike you can cruise at a comfortable pace. And just like riding anywhere else, you’re more a part of the scenery, not walled off from it. But the current transportation reauthorization bill worming its way through Congress could make it illegal to ride a bike on any federal road that has a pathway running parallel to it, not just those within national parks.

If no parallel, alternative pathway exists, cyclists would have a right to the road. Reassured? Don’t be.

For one thing, as the League of American Bicyclists points out, this sets a pretty rotten precedent: “Why stop at federal land highways? And if roads with higher than 30 mph speed limits are so unsafe for bicyclists to share with motorists, bicyclists shouldn’t be using them, period.”

Says Darren Flusche, a policy analyst with the league, “If you write into federal legislation that bicyclists are somehow unfit — the clause is called ‘bicycle safety’ — it’s a really, really bad message to send that sharing the road with bicyclists is dangerous.” The bipartisan bill is just the latest attempt by GOP congressional members to strip out anything that benefits cyclists and pedestrians.

And while cycling has been permitted on roadways within national parks (there are races up the access roads to Mount Hood and Rainier, both Grand Teton and Yellowstone offer early openings of roads that cyclists can ply before cars, and Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road is on a lot of roadie’s bucket lists), off-road offerings can be summed up in a single word: lame. Or another word: illegal.

Sure, at Cape Cod there’s a great trail network that ties into bike paths in surrounding communities, and Grand Teton recently built a multi-use path to offer cyclists some protection from ponderous RVs and other vehicles.

But that isn’t singletrack. And “multi-use” is just code for a screaming headline, “Mountain Biker Takes out Iowa Mom on Grand Teton Walking Path.” That’s why it was such huge news when Mammoth Caves actually opened up land for singletrack earlier this year.

But that’s the massive exception to the otherwise anti-bike ethos of the NPS. A vibe that will only get worse if this law goes into effect, especially since no matter what kind of bike you ride you might be a scofflaw without even knowing it, since actually knowing which roads on federal lands have paths running parallel to them is rarely easy. There’s no central database, and even park websites often lack this level of granularity.

One ally could come from a place you might not expect: park managers. Quietly, they seem to see this ban of bikes on roads as adding complication and misery to their lives — especially at a time when the feds may slash their budgets to unprecedented levels. Deirdre Gibson, Valley Forge’s chief of planning and resource management, said forcing bikes onto paths could result in a cluster. She said the paved paths in the park are open to bikes now, but because the paths are “multi-use” they tend not to see bike traffic.

Meanwhile, the league has created a petition page on its website to fight the clause in the legislation, which, by the way, saw House Republicans try to cram in another head-scratcher this past Friday: The “American Energy Initiative,” which would lift the ban on new offshore drilling areas, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Environmental coverage made possible in part by support from Patagonia. For information on Patagonia and its environmental efforts, visit Additional reporting by National Parks Traveler.

{ 23 comments…read them below or write one }

  • Casey Greene

    Well, Adventure Cycling Association is definitely working on this. There are quite a number of our bicycle routes which travel through National Parks.

    We are urging folks to sign the petition. Especially those from Montana, since it was one of our senators (Max Baucus) who most likely introduced the language. Why? We don’t know. Maybe he had a agro experience driving through Glacier or something.

  • Bicyclist

    GOP? Lets see, bill introduced by Barbara Boxer (D) from California. Cosponsored by Max Baucus (D) from Montana, James Inhofe (R) from Oklahoma and David Vitter (R) from Louisiana. Looks pretty bipartisan to me. If you live in these states, contact them and tell them how stupid you think they are and that there is a snowballs chance in hell you will be voting for them the next time the run for any office.

  • Joe DeLory

    I can attest from personal experience that traveling by bike enhances the experience and allows the park visitor a much more intimate experience with the park and its environment. One of things that strikes me is one of the purported reasons for this ill-conceived legislation is the freeway like traffic jams and gridlock no seen in the parks. Encouraging people to travel freely through the park by bike can only help to reduce this gridlock. My preference would be to ban private motor vehicles in major areas of the parks and provide shuttle or coach services for those unable or unwilling to bike. If this does become law. The condition of the trails must be taken into account. I have seen far too many trails suitable only for the more skilled mountian bike riders and hikers.

  • Joe DeLory

    While signing the petition is great, it is up to each of us who feel strongly about this to write our own legislators and tell them how we feel about it. Remember address the issue with you comments. Do not resort to personal attacks on the legislators.

  • Will

    Edward Abbey is rolling in his grave. Next thing you know, it’s going to be illegal to get out of your car and take a walk in a national park except at designated “scenic pull-offs.”

  • Mike Williams

    Wondering why the author felt the need to inject the blatantly misleading remark about the GOP. As pointed out earlier, this bill was introduced by none other than Barbara Boxer (D) from California. cosponsored by Max Baucus (D) from Montana among others. This may come as a shock but not all cyclists are left leaning Wall Street Occupiers. I much prefer my cycling news without someone’s personal politics – thanks.

  • Bill Shaneyfelt

    Introduced by a Dem, and cosponsored by another Dem. and two “follow the crowd” Rep. guys more interested in getting re-elected to corrupt positions than doing what is right… More junk politics and more reason to throw them all out and start clean. Been biking on public highways since 1957. Seems to me big Gov wants to control everything. “The land of the free” is slowly being strangled to the point of being less free than many our Gov. considers otherwise.

  • Steve Maloney

    United States needs more bike paths, not just for leisure and recreation, but also for getting to work and running errands. This step is in the wrong direction. My daughter and I spent a month bicycling through Switzerland, Germany and Austria. All three of those countries had nationwide systems much akin to our interstate highway system, for bicycles! In grocery store parking lots, bicycles would outnumber cars by a factor of ten to 1!
    Making it safe for cyclists to run errands and get to work has 3 benefits: 1) less fuel consumption 2) Reduce carbon emissions 3) Decrease obesity (save in medical costs)

  • Joe DeLory

    Unfortunately when more bike paths are built they still won’t get us everywhere we need to go. The streets do. When more more bike paths are built, motorists expect us to use only the bike paths. And when more bike paths are built, they get widely used by by folks walking dogs, rollerblading, families riding with kids who swerve all over the place. All these activities are good and should be encouraged, but these activities often make the paths impractical and even unsafe for transportation purposes. What we need are not more separate facilities is more education and enforcement that would make it safer for motorists and cyclists to share the roads.

  • Kevin Schilt

    Who is really pushing this? I mean really it looks like the insurance industry is doing this. When there are accidents or something of that nature (law suits) what happens, the industry panics and wants stupid laws to protect their profits. They want people to exercise, bicycle and what are they going to do. They are just going to encourage people to just sit around and get fat. Someone ought to contact Mrs. Obama and get her behind bicycling.

  • Ali

    Riding Glacier’s Going to the Sun Road on a road bike is the single most incredible (road) cycling experience I’ve ever had and not once was I even the slightest bit nervous about the cars beside me (going up or down). This is a totally unnecessary piece of legislature that would absolutely piss me off. However, I’d also be rather annoyed if there were laws banning private cars. While I try to use the shuttle system whenever I can, there are also plenty of routes that require personal transportation and the less access, the less backcountry options become available to hikers. Also, mountain bikes are already banned on trails in national parks, no?

  • Ben

    Wow, with a gas crisis and obesity a national concern, lets discourage people actually doing something like riding which is good for the environment and their health. How backwords is this? I wish this article gave better direction on how to sign the ACA petition etc. but I will track down that information.

  • Matt O'Toole

    This is really important to us in Virginia, because it affects our right to the road on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Colonial Parkway, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Shenandoah National Park, and our many National Battlefields, National Monuments, and military bases. Tourism is probably our number one industry outside of government itself, and bicycle tourism is an important part of that. If you live in Virginia, PLEASE sign the petition, and write your Senators too. We’ve put out our own action alert, to encourage everyone to share this with their bike club mailing lists, forums, blogs, whatever.

  • Jo Bish

    I hope this is a minor bill that will die somewhere in the process. There are concerns about noise in National Parks when snowmobiles have the priviledge of “experiencing the out-of doors.” It is really hard to experience anything through a car door or window, but maybe limiting the times cars can drive through NPS would be an answer “NOT”, but it would be cool if that was the legislation instead of limiting bicycling. What next, limit when and where people can walk/hike?

  • Christopher D

    I would agree, except that the article is misleading. The legislation in question states, “The Secretary of the appropriate Federal land management agency shall prohibit the use of bicycles on each federally owned road that has a speed limit of 30 miles per hour or greater and an adjacent paved path for use by bicycles within 100 yards of the road” (page 226, line 8 in Steve Casimiro’s link above).

    This news article fails to mention that last part–an adjacent paved path within 100 yards of the road. The path will be clearly visible from that distance, not difficult for someone to know about as the news article suggests. The article also uses the word “pathway”, which makes the reader think it could be any hiking trail. This is simply not the case. If there is a paved bike path adjacent to the highway, why shouldn’t you be biking on that? To me, the news article is clearly written to entice an uproar based on deception. The way I read it, that’s just poor journalism.

  • Bob

    I completely agree with Ben’s comment. At a time when everyone should be encouraged to get out of their cars and walk or bike, this bill does just the opposite. Does anyone know if this legislation actually has any chance of passing? Lots of bills get proposed and die on the vine. What special interest group is behind this backward thinking idea?

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