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Should e-bikes be allowed on Mt. Tam? A forum is planned next week.

Published December 7, 2018

MARIN, Calif. (BRAIN) — The Marin Municipal Water District will hold a public workshop next week regarding e-bike use in the watershed the agency manages on Mt. Tamalpais, widely regarded as the birthplace of mountain biking, and a local retailer is urging e-bike riders and supporters to participate in and speak at the forum.

"The word on the street (and on the trail!) is that the MMWD has heard a lot from a vocal minority that is the anti-ebike crowd, advocating for banning access by e-bikes to MMWD fire roads. Ebike supporters in Marin, make your voices heard!" states an email from The New Wheel, an e-bike retailer with locations in Marin and San Francisco.

The email singles out fire roads since bikes of all kinds are prohibited on MMWD singletrack.

"It's been a struggle here in Marin County. There are already lots of fights about bicycle access, and the e-bike adds another dynamic," Brett Thurber, The New Wheel's co-owner, told BRAIN. "The people who are anti-bicycle generally have swung into action to try to stop e-bikes because they see it as something that would add even more cyclists."

Crystal Yezman, Facilities and Watershed Division manager for the MMWD, said the agency's board of directors and staff have heard several complaints about e-bike use during public comment periods at MMWD board meetings. The district already has a policy banning motorized bicycles, and posted new e-bike-specific signage about six months ago.

Following the sign postings, 50 to 60 e-bike supporters — largely organized by Thurber — showed up to an MMWD board meeting to voice their concerns.

"The rules on MMWD land are pre-2016, when the California (three-class e-bike) law came into effect, but they went ahead and put up signs banning e-bikes without any public comment or changing the laws on their books, which is of dubious legality," Thurber said. "The spirit of the law at least is that you can ban e-bikes if you want to, but you have to make a new code referencing the new law and definition in California, and they didn't do that. They just did this pre-emptively."

The MMWD board subsequently directed the agency's staff to re-examine the issue.

"Our board of directors told the staff we need to look at the policy and figure out what other people are doing, and if it should be revisited," Yezman said. "Then the board of directors went even further and requested that staff hold a public workshop to solicit comments before bringing forward a staff recommendation. Up until now it has just been people coming up during open public comments; it's never been agendized. So we'll have our board of directors there at the workshop."

The forum, set for Tuesday, Dec. 11, will be an interactive session, with presentations, a public comment period and a handful of table discussions addressing topics including:

  • Accommodation of e-bikes under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
  • The three-class e-bike system and e-bike specifications.
  • Trail maintenance issues and an overview of where traditional bikes are allowed on MMWD land.
  • The MMWD's current policy regarding e-bike use.

"Right now our policy reads 'no motorized bicycles,' but that policy actually resides under our motor vehicle code. And as you know, the new state law says that e-bikes aren't motor vehicles. If anything, that's more of a legal technical issue that we need to fix if the board decides to continue prohibiting motorized bicycles of any kind. That prohibition needs to be under our bicycle code rather than our motor vehicle code," Yezman said.

MMWD staff has also drafted a formal ADA policy that would allow use of Class 1 e-bikes with a rider's verbal declaration of a needed accommodation under the law. "If you wanted to try to bring in a higher class of e-bike, there's a variance process where it could be considered," Yezman said.

MMWD staff also may consider whether to conduct an e-bike trial on a single road to measure their impact.

There are compelling arguments for e-bike use among aging populations, Yezman said, adding that Marin County has the highest concentration of senior citizens of any county in California.

"People that have been mountain biking for 30 years now find that they may need the assistance of an e-bike," she said.

Retailer Thurber said he sees next week's workshop as a positive sign, and he believes there is support within the MMWD for e-MTB use on the watershed's fire roads. But he's more concerned about debunking what he sees as misconceptions about e-bikes overall and their status under state law.

"For us, electric mountain bikes aren't the biggest part of our business. The reason we're so involved is we don't want to see any instance where it's understood that electric bicycles are somehow different than bicycles under the law," he said.

The Ebike Public Workshop is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Corte Madera Community Center, 498 Tamalpais Drive in Corte Madera, California.


Topics associated with this article: Electric bike

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