Back in August, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt abruptly and without public input, ordered all national park superintendents to consider e-bikes the same as traditional bikes, expanding access for e-bikes throughout the national park system. Public input would come later, Bernhardt explained, and the rule would be law unless it immediately conflicted with existing laws.
“E-bikes shall be allowed where other types of bicycles are allowed;” read the nut graph of the order, “and E-bikes shall not be allowed where other types of bicycles are prohibited.”
Many conservation groups balked at the decision.
We covered the response back in December, writing:
The decision was immediately controversial, and in recent weeks, a lawsuit has been filed against the NPS in hopes of reversing the new policy. The Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is the headlining plaintiff in the case and they argue that Bernhardt and the NPS met in secret with e-bike industry reps before their sudden decision to allow e-bikes on trails. Such behavior, the lawsuit alleges, is a violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, meant to prevent lobbying with no oversight or transparency. The suit also claims that acting Park Service Deputy Director P. Daniel Smith, who helped craft the decision, lacked the authority to make park service rules because he was not appointed by the President, as the law requires.
Thursday, the NPS sent out a press release announcing the public comment period would finally begin (Though until the proposed rule allowing E-bikes is officially entered into the national register, there will be no place to lodge those comments).
“From urban areas to natural landscapes, bicyclists flock to national parks to exercise and soak in the scenery,” said National Park Service Deputy Director David Vela in the release. “Allowing the use of e-bikes expands opportunities, especially to those with disabilities or other limitations, to access and enjoy the great outdoors.”
The common arguments against allowing E-bikes in national parks is that they’ll find their way onto bike accessible trails, and that E-bikes moving faster than traditional bikes can potentially cause problems with wildlife and hikers on the trails. Some also grumble that they may increase crowding in certain areas, as they make pedaling easier.
Advocates say E-bikes make it easier for people who can’t ride traditional bikes at all or as far as an E-bike to access areas in the parks otherwise unavailable to them. E-bikes might also have the potential to limit vehicle traffic in parks. Interestingly, the NPS press release from this week also points out E-bikes would be a valuable transportation tool for park employees, not unlike their urban counterparts zipping along city streets commuting to work.
Either way, Bernhardt’s order was released with apparently little study into the potential impacts of bikes that can move quite fast on trails, though the rule also explicitly makes clear E-bikes, like all bikes, would never be allowed in federally designated wilderness areas. Further only some national park units currently allow bikes to access portions of their trail systems (we have compiled a list, here).
The press release does not give a date for when the order will be publishes, though we can expect it will be soon. Once it does, if you’d like to make a comment, head to regulations.gov and search for case “1024-AE61.” The public comment period will be open for 60 days from the day the rule is published.