eBikes and Pathways in the Valley

By: Forest Dramis
Thanks to Brian Schilling for his contribution to this post

Whether you love the idea of ebikes or think they signal the coming apocalypse, there's no denying it -- they're here to stay.

Conservative figures put 2016 ebike sales between 211,000 and 251,000 units. That's a 50-70% increase in sales from 2015 figures. While overall ebike sales are about ten years behind those in Europe, sales trends in the US have been following Europe's.

What does this mean to us? It means you're going to see more ebikes on the road, on pathways and on trails. So what are the concerns with ebikes?

Most public concern over the safety of ebike use on pathways can be broken into two major categories: Speed and Skill Level of User.

Speed: While it is easy, and common, to think of an ebike as a moped, scooter or motorcycle, that is normally not the case. Ebikes are an assisted means of travel. They have no ability to produce power on their own without pedaling input from the rider. Ebikes simply assist the user to travel at a given speed with less effort. Further, ebikes sold in the United States govern their assistance at 20mph. A commuter on a standard road bike easily achieves this speed.

If we remove the cognitive bias against the motor, it’s clear that speed in and of itself is not so disparate between standard bicycles and ebikes as to warrant a restriction on our pathways.

Skill Level of User: Another area of concern is the skill level required to achieve a certain speed on an ebike versus the skill level required to achieve this level of speed on a standard bicycle. While it is certainly easier to achieve a certain speed on an ebike on a flat road, it’s no easier if one takes into consideration downhills and other road features. Further, studies show that the vast majority of ebike buyers are already bicycle owners; users who are already accustomed to controlling a bicycle.

JHCycling believes the benefits of allowing ebikes on paved pathways far outweighs the perceived associated risks. Ebikes allow users to commute farther with less effort, helping to reduce vehicular traffic. Local retailers have reported purchases from Rafter J residents citing just this ability. Furthermore, making the commute to town from Wilson easier will certainly increase commuter use on the new WY22 pathway. Ebikes also encourage users who are older or not fit to try commuting and ride more. The ability to make hills easier, and longer distances more achievable, encourages potential users of a wider age range and fitness level to experience Jackson by bike. One less car on the road should be everyone’s goal. And if ebikes are banned from pathways they will ride on the road, increasing the likelihood of bicycle/car conflicts.

While the question of ebikes is just arriving in Jackson, ebikes have been popular all over the world for quite some time. Most of the rest of the world: Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, England, Turkey, Japan, Australia, New Zealand etc. have allowed ebike use in bike lanes and paths for a decade. In the United States most states have already adopted definitions of ebikes versus motorcycles and many cities have already moved to allow ebikes
on pathways and in bike lanes. Boulder, CO and Portland, OR are just two examples and last year the state of California passed legislation specifically allowing ebikes on all state pathways.

Currently in Jackson there are no laws or official policy governing ebikes yet. However, the following is the generally accepted approach in the Valley:

Type I (pedal assist up to 20 mph): OK on Town of Jackson/Teton County pathways and bike lanes. Not permitted on Federal pathways (Grand Teton NP and North 89)

Type II (electric up to 20 mph, no pedal assist requirement): same as Type I

Type III (pedal assist above 20 mph): OK on TOJ/TC on-street bike lanes. Not permitted on multi-use (pedestrian and bike) pathways. 

Electric scooters and mopeds: not allowed in bike facilities (pathways or lanes)

Ebike use on USFS land:  ebikes are managed as motor vehicles under USFS Travel Management Rule. EBikes are permitted to travel on all roads open to all vehicles, all trails open to vehicles, all trails open to vehicles 50" or less and all trails designated for motorcycles only.