A new state law allowing electric bicycles on trails has left the Polly Ann Trail Management Council (PATMC) wondering what to do because that same law has also given it the power to prohibit, authorize or regulate their use locally.
In an effort to learn what citizens and trail users want, the council scheduled a public hearing on the subject for its 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 17 meeting to be held at the Oxford Township Hall, located at 300 Dunlap Rd.
“I’m hoping that we do get some feedback at the meeting, either positive or negative,” said Trail Manager Linda Moran. “It’s always good to know exactly what the public’s thinking. Hopefully, we’ll have a few folks come to our meeting and let us know.”
So far, she’s “heard nothing” from the public on this topic. “Do we want electric bikes on the trail? Do we not?” she said.
Under Public Acts 138 and 139 of 2017, signed by Gov. Rick Snyder on Oct. 29, people “may operate” electric bicycles on linear trails with “an asphalt, crushed limestone, or similar surface, or a rail trail.”
These laws, which take effect Jan. 28, apply to the Polly Ann Trail, a non-motorized trail that winds its way through Addison, Oxford and Orion townships, including the villages of Leonard and Oxford. It’s used for walking, hiking, jogging, cycling, horseback riding and cross country skiing in the winter. Most of the trail is coated with crushed limestone with the exception of certain areas in Oxford and Addison that have asphalt surfaces.
Electric bicycles (also called e-bikes) are defined under the law as devices equipped with a seat or saddle for use by the rider, fully operable pedals for human propulsion and an electric motor of not greater than 750 watts (1 horsepower). State law identifies three classes of electric bicycles.
Class 1 has an electric motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and disengages, or ceases to function, when the bicycle reaches 20 miles per hour.
Class 2 is equipped with an electric motor that propels the bike to a speed of not more than 20 miles per hour, whether the rider is pedaling or not, and disengages when the brakes are applied.
Class 3 has an electric motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and disengages when the bike reaches 28 miles per hour.
As of Jan. 1, manufacturers and distributors of electric bicycles sold in Michigan are required to “permanently affix in a prominent location” on them a label that bears “the classification number, top assisted speed and motor wattage.”
For those who already own e-bikes, there is no requirement to obtain a label, however, the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance stated it’s a “good idea” to get one.
Under PA 138 and 139, people are allowed to operate Class 1 electric bicycles on linear and rail trails, but the local authority or state agency having jurisdiction over the trail has the power to “regulate or prohibit” them. Class 1 bikes can be used on these trails as soon as the law takes effect.
Class 2 and 3 e-bikes are also permitted on linear and rail trails, but only “if authorized” by the local authority or state agency with jurisdiction over the trail. Unlike Class 1 bikes, Classes 2 and 3 require specific action be taken to allow them, otherwise they’re not permitted.
Proponents of electric bikes say they will expand recreation and transportation opportunities for senior citizens, individuals with disabilities, folks who don’t own vehicles and people who cannot legally drive a car. They also claim e-bikes will benefit the environment by giving people a commuting option that helps reduce carbon emissions and reliance on motor vehicles. Other benefits cited by proponents include encouraging healthier lifestyles, increasing trail usage and promoting tourism.
Although it’s now up to the council to decide whether electric bikes will be allowed on the Polly Ann Trail, and if so, what restrictions or conditions would be placed on them, Moran has her own thoughts on the subject.
“Me, personally, I don’t want them on the trail,” she said. To her, “it’s a slippery slope” allowing one type of motorized vehicle on a non-motorized trail.
“What’s next? Maybe it’s a Class 1 today. Maybe it’s a Class 2 tomorrow. Then, it’s a Class 3. Then, it’s mopeds. Then, it’s motorized this. And then, it’s motorized that,” Moran said. “In my opinion, it’s all or nothing.”
Moran believes allowing electric bicycles on the Polly Ann Trail could open up a whole can of worms with regard to enforcement issues.
“We have enough enforcement problems now just trying to keep the ATVs and snowmobiles off the trail,” she said. “I’ve had complaints here recently from cross-country skiers about snowmobiles on the trail.”
One of the enforcement issues Moran is concerned about is speed. Right now, the Polly Ann Trail has a speed limit of 15 miles per hour that must be adhered to by all users.
“It’s a multiuse trail. Fifteen (miles per hour) is fast (enough) when you have small children on little trikes, mommies with strollers and dogs,” she said. “You can’t have somebody doing 28 miles per hour. Now, you’re talking (the speed of) a car. That’s a real safety concern.”
Moran fears allowing electric bicycles could pose a serious hazard to other trail users.
“I would feel horrible, absolutely horrible, if a small child or a baby or somebody, an elderly person, anyone really, was injured by an electric bike going over the speed limit,” she said.
“I just don’t think that it’s a good idea. It’s hard enough to control speed on the trail anyway. We’re not policemen. We can’t issue tickets. We can’t call the police and tell them someone is speeding. It just makes it harder to patrol. The more you let in, the harder it is.”