Bellingham will now allow e-bikes in public parks and on trails throughout the city. The regulatory changes, finalized at a city council meeting Monday night, June 21, also set a 15 mph speed limit for vehicles in public parks and on trails.
The speed limit applies to e-bikes as well as bicycles, motorized foot scooters, and cars on roads within city parks. It does not apply to electric wheelchairs.
“It’s a good reflection of what people have been asking for as far as speed limits,” said Nicole Oliver, Parks and Recreation director. The changes were first considered by city council in early May.
The Parks and Recreation Department has identified five study sites where it will install signage indicating speed limits and instructing cyclists to dismount if there is heavy pedestrian traffic. The study sites include Chuckanut Community Forest, Lake Padden, Taylor Dock, Whatcom Falls Park, and Arroyo Park. A 5 mile per hour speed limit may be instated at Taylor Dock, said Oliver, due to the high volume of foot and bike traffic in the area.
The Galbraith Mountain trail system, popular among mountain bikers, is exempt from the new speed limit.
Enforcement of these new rules will hinge on the good faith of the public, Oliver said. The Parks and Recreation Department has two full-time park ambassadors to remind people of the regulations and is hiring six more for the summer season. However, these employees do not have the ability to take punitive action such as issue a ticket. If there is a particularly “egregious” incident with bikes or e-bikes speeding or getting into an accident, Oliver said, the police could get involved.
“The great thing about our community is most people obey the rules,” Oliver said. “You’re always going to have some folks that don’t, but when we say no bikes in this area, the community will see the sign and will help enforce the rules.”
The public can also potentially expect to see more trails that specifically don’t allow bikes or are designated as one-way, Oliver said. Mountain biking in particular has increased during the pandemic, she said, which takes a toll on the natural environment and highlights a need for more guidance on trails.
“At this point, we are starting to recognize that with so many more people and so many more bikes, there are going to be some areas we can’t continue to have bikes all the time,” Oliver said. “It’s too much damage to these sensitive ecosystems and too much conflict.”
People will often create their own trails in public parks, damaging plants and habitat, Oliver explained. Bikes can cause soil erosion when used on dirt paths, especially e-bikes, which are heavier and faster. When trails erode, sediment can make its way into nearby streams and have a negative impact on fish populations.
“We need to try to protect the water quality in our streams for fish habitat,” she said. “Erosion can also be damaging to trees surrounding the trails.”
The new regulations also outlaw smoking, vaping, and overnight camping in public parks, as well as provide guidance on pet leashing.