E-Bike Use on DNR- and WDFW-Managed Lands: A Report to the Legislature in Response to ESSB 5452


Published: September 30, 2022

Pages: 194

Executive Summary

The Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) convened an interagency public process to collect input from tribal governments, the public, and stakeholders on where electric-assist bicycles (e-bikes) should be allowed on DNR- and WDFW- managed lands, including nonmotorized natural surface trails and roads closed to motorized use. The agencies also performed additional research to gather applicable information from external sources, including literature, webpages, pilot projects, and interviews with staff from other public land management agencies.

This report includes findings from the tribal and public processes, conclusions drawn from the findings, and recommendations from DNR and WDFW regarding the use of e-bikes on lands managed by the two agencies. The report is in response to directives in Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill (ESSB) 5452.

Processes and Findings

To assist in the implementation of the tribal and public processes directed by ESSB 5452, DNR and WDFW contracted Triangle Associates, a neutral third-party consultant. The process engaged 19 representatives of 30 federally recognized tribes, 7,600 people who responded to the public survey, about 250 people who participated in the public town halls, and 8 organizations that took part in the focus group and/or the individual listening sessions.

Tribal Engagement

DNR and WDFW invited representatives of all federally recognized tribes in Washington to participate in two roundtable discussions on the topic of e-bike use on lands managed by DNR and WDFW. Roundtable attendees shared perspectives and particular concerns about e-bike use on these lands.

Tribal representatives who participated in these two roundtables emphasized that they were “speaking in unison” with respect to e-bike use on state lands. Participants highlighted three important points to be communicated on behalf of participating tribes in the report to the Legislature:

  1. Increasing access for e-bikes on state lands will enable more and easier access to sensitive backcountry areas and increase the total numbers of recreationists on the land.
  2. The broader issues of increased recreational use on state-managed public lands and its impacts on natural, cultural, and tribal resources (including treaty-protected) need to be addressed prior to introducing another use, such as e-bikes.
  3. E-bikes should be classified as motor vehicles in the Washington state code and managed as such on state lands.

Public Engagement

To implement the public process, DNR and WDFW contracted Triangle Associates, a neutral third-party consultant, and conducted a series of stakeholder interviews with representatives from the interest groups and communities identified in ESSB 5452. The goal was to gather input on topics of interest, the design of the public process, and suggestions for who (individuals, organizations, and representatives) specifically to involve.

Informed by these interviews, the project team (consisting of staff from DNR, WDFW and Triangle Associates) outlined a plan to gather information from the interest groups and communities referenced in ESSB 5452 and the broader public. The final process included a public survey, two virtual public town halls, a focus group comprised of stakeholders and representatives from a variety of recreation interest groups, and a series of small group listening sessions for the entities specifically mentioned in the legislation.

Triangle identified the following four themes and key takeaways from the public engagement process, which includes both quantitative and qualitative input from the multiple components of the public process. Because the input was not always quantifiable, when there were points or opinions mentioned in a consistent pattern or percentage across the participants in the public meetings and listening sessions, usually in alignment with a quantifiable majority (or minority) in the survey, terms such as “more”, “common”, “strong”, or “less” are used.

  1. There are divergent and polarized opinions on where e-bikes should be allowed and which classes should be allowed.
    • The survey showed that approximately the same percentage of participants indicated that 1) e-bikes should not be allowed on any non-motorized trails, as participants who indicated 2) e-bikes should be allowed on all non-motorized trails.
    • More participants in the survey and public meetings supported allowance for Class 1 e-bikes on non-motorized trails than supported allowance for the other classes.
    • There was more support amongst participants for e-bikes on roads closed to motorized traffic where bicycles are currently allowed than for allowing e-bikes on nonmotorized trails.
  2. E-bikes provide recreational opportunities for people with disabilities or those who have other physical limitations.
    • Disabled participants in the process expressed support for continued consideration of their ability to use e-bikes for recreational access.
    • The majority of participants indicated support for specific e-bike use considerations for riders who qualify as disabled under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) that would otherwise not be able to access certain recreational opportunities without them.1
    • Participants without disabilities, as defined under ADA, but with other permanent physical limitations, shared that e-bikes enable them to recreate more on public lands.
  3. There were common concerns expressed regarding e-bike use.
    • The majority of participants in the survey and the public meetings expressed concern about the speed, safety, and user conflicts brought about by e-bike use, especially on multi-use trails.
    • Other common concerns expressed by participants included the likelihood of increased soil erosion from e-bike use, impacts to trail tread, and the agencies’ ability to enforce any e-bike policy.
  4. Clear public information and education are needed.

    A majority of participants in the public process expressed:
    • A need for a clear and easy to understand policy that aligns with other land managers’ policies.
    • A need for easily accessible education regarding trail etiquette, especially for multi-use trails where e-bikes are allowed.
    • A need for e-bike manufacturers and retailers to support compliance with and ensure transparency for consumers with respect to e-bike classes and access.

Agency Recommendations

To complement the tribal and public processes, WDFW and DNR staff researched the social benefits of e-bike use, demographics and buying behavior of those who ride e-bikes, technology trends that may affect how e-bikes will be used, environmental impacts, social impacts, policies on public lands managed by other agencies, and general management implications. Information was gathered from scientific research, other written sources, and interviews with staff from local and state agencies across the country. The findings from this research are in Appendix 6: Additional Research and Appendix 7: E-bike Policies.

DNR and WDFW took information received from tribal governments, the public, and additional research and evaluated it in the context of their agency missions, the diversity of DNR and WDFW-managed lands, and anticipated staff capacity for managing e-bikes. Based upon this evaluation, the agencies present the following recommendations for e-bike use on lands they manage:

Trails and Roads where E-bikes are Appropriate for Use

  • Decisions about where e-bikes should be allowed on nonmotorized natural surface trails and roads closed to motorized use should be made by each agency as part of local or regional planning processes (such as wildlife area management plans, recreation plans, travel management plans, or trails plans).
  • Local and regional planning processes addressing e-bike use should invite engagement from representatives of affected tribes, local stakeholders and users, and appropriate agency staff. Plans should incorporate an understanding of the local natural, cultural, and tribal resources, trail design, data on demand and use patterns, analysis of potential impacts from e-bike use, and other relevant scientific data and knowledge.
  • All natural surface trails and roads closed to motorized use should be closed to e-bike use unless or until signed open to that use.
  • E-bikes should continue to be allowed on roads and trails open to motorized use.

E-bike Classes Appropriate for Use

  • Any roads or trails open to e-bikes should not be restricted to a specific class or classes, but be open to all three non-motorized classes as defined by the State of Washington (RCW 46.04.169).
  • E-biking (all classes) should be considered a distinct use category separate from traditional biking.

Concluding Remarks

The feedback in response to ESSB 5452 demonstrates that Washingtonians are engaged in how DNR- and WDFW-managed lands are accessed and used by the public. DNR and WDFW are grateful for the participation of the tribal and stakeholder representatives, the public, and agency staff who provided feedback, voiced concerns, highlighted opportunities, and engaged in dialogue with each other and the project team. These diverse perspectives led to insights, conclusions, recommendations, and opportunities for future policy action that would not have emerged otherwise. DNR and WDFW look forward to discussing this report with the Legislature, tribal governments, and members of the public and formulating a path forward.

1 Both DNR and WDFW have a reasonable accommodation process for those with disabilities under ADA.