May 18

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Electric Vehicles on Trails – Revisited

Electric Personal Transportation Vehicles

Are Trikke electric vehicles and other electric transportation vehicles such as electric bikes legal to ride on trails. As most of you already know, the short answer is, “It depends on the trail and/or the vehicle.” However, in a recent email to Fred Welch of the Trikke Corporation, I gave a much lengthier answer. So here’s the long answer to the question, “Is it legal to ride electric Trikkes or any other electric or hybrid personal transportation vehicles on the trails?”

Can Hybrid PTVs Such as Electric Trikkes Ride on Trails?

Trikke electric carving vehicles

Trikke electric carving vehicles

In around 2007/2008, due to some high-profile lawsuits, many of the governing bodies for trails started cracking down on all mechanized vehicles on trails including electrical vehicles. Then, due to some federal rulings in 2009/2010, trail entities made a complete turnaround and started allowing most electrical vehicles due to concerns about violating Americans w/ Disabilities regulations.

Presently, there’s good news & bad news when it comes to Trikke EVs. The good news is that, even though there’s a confusing hodge-podge of rules regarding electrical vehicles on the state, county and city level, the Federal laws trump all of these (“The Federal law shall supersede any State law or requirement…”) and the Federal laws are often more lenient and common-sense than some of the local laws. Any trail that was built w/ Federal $ (even partially funded) is under even more obligation to follow the Federal laws/rules.
The most prominent of the Federal laws is Federal Electric Bicycle Law HR 727. Some of the major electric bicycle distributors that I’ve spoken with recommend that all electric bike riders carry around a laminated copy of this law in case stopped by local officials. It doesn’t necessarily allow for unfettered electric vehicle use, but it is just vague enough to convince local authorities to back down.
The bad news for Trikke is that HR 727 very clearly states, “…the term ‘low-speed electric bicycle’ means a two- or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts…”
Drats, if it wasn’t for the phrase “fully operable pedals,” Trikke would meet the criteria. Now since some of my research dates back as far as 2007 and these rules seem to change on a daily basis, I’m not sure which rules are still in effect. In speaking with local authorities there is still a lot of ambiguity, but some trends seem to be emerging.
  1. Of course, safety is the major concern that drives the decision of whether to allow electric vehicles.
  2. Trail damage is the second concern and this comes out of experience with vehicles such as ATVs and snowmobiles but translates to a much lesser degree to electric vehicles.
  3. Paved/concrete trails are much more likely to allow electric vehicles.
  4. The wider the trail, the more likely they are to allow electric vehicles.
  5. Local advocacies groups make a big difference. If there is a vocal group that advocates for certain trail access policy, then that group often sways trail policy in that area.
I recently (a few months ago) contacted Jay Henke, of Denver Parks & Recreation about the use of electrical/hybrid Trikkes and electric bikes on the Platte River Trail, Colorado’s most heavily used trail and soon to be part of the statewide Colorado Front Range Trail. According to Jay, “Currently the use of any non-motorized vehicle is allowed on trails operated by Denver Parks and Recreation, unless otherwise posted.  Section 39-19 of Denver’s Revised Municipal Code outlines this specific use regulation.
The current guideline as it relates specifically to electric-assist/hybrid  vehicles has not been discussed to date.”

I have had similar results in conversations with the Roaring Forks Transportation District. The Glenwood Springs area has two major trails. One is the Glenwood Canyon Trail and the other is the Rio Grande Trail. They are both administered by the same intergovernmental agency, but the Glenwood Canyon Trail (at least as of last year) seems to have a much more lenient attitude about electric vehicles on the trail. We were allowed to take Segways on the Glenwood Canyon Trail. (In fact, I was in Glenwood Springs last weekend leading a trail tour and was pleasantly surprised to find out that on page 23 of their Glenwood Adventure Guide, there’s a picture of Madi, me, and some family friends riding Segways on the Glenwood Canyon Trail.) However, according to the owner of Pete’s bikes, a chain of electric bike sales and rentals based out of Boulder, they are incredibly strict about not allowing any electric vehicles on the Rio Grande Trail.

So that’s my long-winded answer to the question about allowing EV Trikkes and other electric personal transportation vehicles or hybrid personal transportation vehicles on trails. As I stated, some of my information is at least a couple years old. So if anyone has more updated information or information about the legality of electric vehicles on specific trails, please share your observations and comments below. I’d also like to hear how electric bikes, pedal-assisted bikes, and other hybrid vehicles are perceived and regulated in other countries.

Permanent link to this article: http://trailsnet.com/2012/05/18/electric-vehicles-on-trails-revisited/