Overland Park looking at 18-month pilot test of e-bikes on recreational trails

Bicycles that get an extra boost from electric motors may be allowed on Overland Park recreational trails soon in an experiment to see how they coexist with other trail users.

E-bikes let users turn on a motor to provide additional power when the pedals are in motion. Photo credit Ivan Radic. Used under a Creative Commons license.

Bicycles that get an extra boost from electric motors may be allowed on Overland Park recreational trails soon in an experiment to see how they coexist with other trail users.

The city’s Community Development Committee is moving forward with a plan to run an 18-month pilot project that would allow certain types of motorized bikes on trails. If there are no significant problems, they could be allowed permanently.

E bikes, as they are known, are a fast-growing segment of the bicycle market as the population ages. Proponents say they allow more people with mobility issues like bad knees or low physical fitness get out and enjoy the outdoors and a healthier lifestyle.

But currently most trails prohibit motorized vehicles. The pilot program would make an exception for two types of E bikes that can boost speeds as high as 20 or 28 miles an hour. The power boost only happens when the bike is being pedaled. Bikes, scooters and other vehicles that move without the pedal engaged still would not be allowed.

Twenty miles an hour is faster than the typical trail speed, and the test would necessitate some new signs, said Scott Shierk, manager of parks and forestry. Two summers would give the city enough time to observe any problems with allowing them on the trails.

Walter Rausch of Olathe told the committee that the bikes can be good for safety on the trails because they aren’t as hard to get rolling once a cyclist has slowed down. Rausch, a regular E bike rider, said E bike riders may less reluctant than regular cyclists to slow behind a pedestrian because they know they can easily get back up to speed after passing.

Rausch came to the meeting to support E bikes because they have been a help to him and his wife, Marilyn, both of whom are cancer survivors. Rausch said his doctor recommended an electric bike to help with his recovery after cancer surgery a year ago. Now he regularly enjoys the trails and has logged 350 miles, he said.

“Between my knees, my health and my age, I wouldn’t be able to ride if it wasn’t for E bikes,” Rausch said.

The bikes have become so popular that park officials throughout the metro called a task force to study if they should be used on the interconnected trails. Johnson County recently completed such a study and its park and recreation district staff will recommend that E bikes be permanently allowed. The park board will have the final vote.

Missouri currently allows the pedal-assisted E bikes on the Katy Trail and the Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks and Tourism is moving ahead with plans to allow them, according to the metro-wide task force report.

The Kansas City Metropolitan Parks and Recreation Directors Association task force recommended the bikes be allowed with a few regulations. Those would prohibit scooters or electric bikes that do not depend on pedaling. They also recommended a 20-mph maximum trail speed and signs encouraging good trail etiquette. Each jurisdiction would decide upon what types of trails the bikes should be allowed.