By Phil Brown
The state legislature has passed a bill that would prohibit e-bikes on trails in the forest preserve, unless otherwise authorized by state agencies, but would allow them on most roads.
The bill differs substantially from legislation proposed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has not decided whether to sign it.
Cuomo’s concerns reportedly pertain to the safe use of e-bikes and electric scooters in cities. In the Adirondacks, however, one of the main issues is whether e-bikes should be treated as mountain bikes and so allowed on trails in wild forest areas of the forest preserve. Mountain bikes are not allowed in wilderness areas.
Under a bill approved by the legislature in June, e-bikes would not be permitted on any public lands (except roadways) unless authorized by the state agency or local government in charge. That’s good enough for the Adirondack Council, which wrote Cuomo earlier this month urging him to sign the bill immediately.
“It is critical that portions of Wild Forest areas managed as motor-free while permitting all-terrain bicycle use continue this policy and tradition, and not degrade this attractive self-powered experience that brings so many mountain bikers to the region,” Kevin Chlad, the council’s director of government relations, said in the letter.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation manages the forest preserve with oversight from the Adirondack Park Agency. Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club, contends that DEC could not permit electric bikes on any trails in the preserve unless the APA amends the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan. The plan now allows e-bikes only on rail trails in the preserve.
Woodworth draws a distinction between ordinary mountain bikes and e-bikes. “While mountain bikes are mechanical, they’re propelled by muscle,” he said.
Peter Bauer, executive director of Protect the Adirondacks, agrees that a master plan amendment would be needed if DEC sought to allow e-bikes on forest preserve trails.
Josh Wilson of the Barkeater Trails Alliance, which has built and maintains a number of mountain-bike trails in the preserve, also supports the legislation. Wilson regards e-bikes as a type of motor vehicle.
Some e-bikes have throttles and can be powered without pedaling. Other e-bike motors assist the rider only when he or she is pedaling and cut out when reaching a certain speed (either 20 or 25 mph). The latter are known as electric-assist bicycles.
Some people argue that e-bikes that merely assist the rider are similar to other bikes and should be permitted on trails. “If a mountain bike is allowed, there should be no reason not to allow a pedal-assist e-bike,” John Dimon, owner of the Human Power Planet Earth bike shop in Saranac Lake, told the Explorer earlier this year.
Another issue is whether e-bikes should be allowed on all roads where regular bicycles are allowed. State law now forbids the use of e-bikes on public roads, even though they are sold and ridden throughout New York.
Under Cuomo’s proposal, e-bikes would be permitted only on roads whose speed limit does not exceed 30 mph. In effect, this would outlaw the riding of e-bikes on most roads in the Adirondacks outside hamlets, impeding the park’s capacity to capitalize on e-bike tourism. The bill passed by the legislature does not contain this restriction. Thus, e-bike tourists would be able to ride from hamlet to hamlet in the Adirondacks.
A provision common to both bills would authorize local governments to further restrict or even ban the use of e-bikes within their boundaries.
The main sponsors of the legislature’s bill hail from New York City, where e-bikes are commonly used by food delivery persons, among others. Electric scooters also are often seen in the city. Bauer predicts the bill’s fate will hinge in part on whether city officials support it.
Cuomo has until the end of the year to decide whether to sign the bill. It is just one of hundreds of pieces of legislation that his office is reviewing.
Click here to read a recent Explorer article on the governor’s proposed e-bike legislation.