A pilot project will test rules for electric-bike riders and others on these five mixed-use trails: the Burke-Gilman, the Duwamish, the Elliott Bay, the Melrose Connector and the Mountains to Sound.

Share story

Seattle’s Parks and Recreation department is proposing a pilot project to help electric bikes coexist with walkers, joggers and other cyclists on popular mixed-used trails, including the Burke-Gilman.

The yearlong project, which if approved would begin Memorial Day weekend, establishes rules for trail users and comes amid a new state law that allows certain e-bikes on shared-use paths unless a local jurisdiction bans them.

The Seattle Board of Park Commissioners will make a recommendation to the interim parks superintendent, who has the authority to approve the program. A public hearing is scheduled Thursday, and the board will vote on the proposal May 10.

Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company, Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.

Learn more about Traffic Lab » | Follow us on Twitter »

Todd Burley, sustainability strategic adviser at the Parks Department, said cyclists complain that pedestrians spread out and take up too much room on trails, while people walking lament that bikers speed by and produce an unsafe environment.

Most Read Local Stories

Sale! Get 90% off digital access.

“The pilot project is trying to address these concerns by establishing a speed limit, by creating some clarity and consistency on the rules and permitting in a limited way the reality of e-bikes in our community right now,” said Burley, who presented the proposal to the board for review last week.

The pilot project will include five trails: the Burke-Gilman, the Duwamish, the Elliott Bay, the Melrose Connector and the Mountains to Sound.

They were chosen for their popularity, distance from each other and geographic spread within the city, Burley said. They are also at least 6 feet or more wide.

Similar e-bike programs have been established in Colorado and California.

The project would:

• Establish a 15-mph speed limit for all bike users on the trails.

• Allow only the class of e-bikes that can travel no faster than 20 mph on battery power alone.

• Install signs with markings such as “Stay Right Except to Pass” and “Bikes, Yield to Pedestrians” to educate riders about the rules of the road.

• Establish a way to monitor and evaluate the impact of e-bikes on trail users.

The program would be funded from existing Parks Department budgets.

Burley said the Seattle Police Department would not patrol the trails looking for violators. Instead, the agency is focusing on education and outreach to create “a culture of etiquette” and to “set expectations” of rules to follow.

Some e-bikes have speedometers, but Burley said SDOT is considering radar-activated signs to tell riders how fast they are going and alert them if they are exceeding the 15-mph limit.

Staff will monitor path usage with bike counters, surveys, focus groups and online forums.

“The idea behind doing a pilot project is to learn,” Burley said. “We’re really hoping that through getting this out in the community that we’re able to see what works and what doesn’t before we implement it across all the trails that we manage.”