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People riding e-bikes and scooters on King County trails are no longer unknowingly breaking the rules

A group of people biking on a trail lined with trees. One person has an electric cargo bike with a kids bike hanging on the side of it.
An outlaw riding an e-bike on a King County trail.

Here’s some good news you didn’t know you needed: The King County Council has legalized riding Class 1 and 2 e-bikes as well as electric scooters on the county’s trails. I’m guessing most of you out there had no idea this was not already legal, and e-bike riders have been happily and safely riding there for many years.

The change came as part of a long-awaited major revision of King County Parks rules. Other changes included adding vapes to the definition of a tobacco product and removing a rule that made it illegal to have a picnic except in designated picnic areas. I bet you didn’t know you’ve been having illegal picnics this whole time. In fact, some of you absolute rebels have been illegally riding e-bikes to your illegal picnics. You got away with it, but just barely.

Everything in this story pertains only to trails operated by King County Parks, so it excludes trails operated by other jurisdictions such as Seattle. Seattle allowed e-bikes and scooters on trails years ago, and Seattle-operated trails do not have a mph-based speed limit or hours of operation.


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The King County Council added language codifying e-bike classes to mirror state law and mesh with Snohomish and Pierce County rules. They also defined a “micromobility device” as “a personal vehicle meant to carry one or two passengers that has an electric motor and includes electric-assisted bicycles, motorized foot scooters, electric skateboards and other relatively small and lightweight electric devices that provide mobility.” They then exempted “micromobility devices” from the definition of a “motor vehicle.” So what this all means is that you can now ride an e-bike or scooter on trails that do not allow motor vehicles unless signage specifies otherwise. The Parks Director can define specific rules for specific trails at their discretion, but these limitations need to be posted.

The Council did add an interesting exception to the 15 mph trail speed limit rule for mountain biking. Instead, mountain bikers “may not travel at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions with regard to the actual and potential hazards then existing.” I wish this were the rule governing bike speeds on all trails. A mph limit feels like such a car-brained idea that doesn’t really make sense for people on bikes since most bikes don’t have speedometers. 15 is way too fast for congested areas, but it is perfectly safe to ride faster than 15 for many long stretches that are not congested. The language “may not travel at a speed greater than is reasonable and prudent under the conditions” is better because it gets at the behavior we are trying to encourage. Too bad they can’t just post “Speed Limit: Don’t be an asshole.”

Trails, like all King County Parks, technically close at sundown, though this is another rule that essentially nobody follows. Unfortunately, the Council did not change the rules to specifically allow people to use regional trails when it is dark out, though they discussed it. Instead, they passed an ordinance requiring the Parks Department to conduct a “feasibility assessment” by next February for extending trail hours. The assessment should include a list of potential trails and should also consider the importance of trails as transportation connections. They also updated the code to allow the Parks Director to extend trail hours without requiring further Council action and specified that if a person is on a trail the passes through a park, the trail’s open hours apply.

It is absurd for trails to close at sundown since they are transportation facilities. We don’t shut down roads at night, do we? Everybody ignores this rule if they even know it exists. Are we really telling people they should bike on the nearby busy street or highway instead of a peaceful trail whenever it gets dark? Absolute nonsense. It seems like yet another rule designed to harass unhoused people, and I have never heard of anyone getting a ticket for biking on a trail at night (if you have, let me know). The more likely implications are about liability. If trail conditions are unsafe and contribute to a serious bike crash, for example, it may be more difficult for a person’s case to succeed since the county can just say that they were there illegally. But the county should absolutely be responsible for maintaining trails to be safe in dark conditions because it is perfectly reasonable for a trail user to expect them to be safe at all hours. These are transportation facilities and need to be treated as such.

But all this does raise a larger question about how trail rules are governed. Trails are transportation facilities that span multiple jurisdictions just like roads, and it is unreasonable to put the onus on trail users to know when they have a crossed a border and how each jurisdiction’s trail rules differ. I don’t know the best way to do it, but it seems like there should be a way to set basic rules that govern an entire trail network regardless of jurisdiction. It’s ridiculous that someone biking along the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle after sundown suddenly becomes an scofflaw as soon as they cross the city limit. From their perspective, nothing has changed.

Nicholas Deshais at the Seattle Times noted one peculiar issue I had never heard of: Trails constructed with federal money cannot allow electric scooters. E-bikes are allowed, but electric scooters will be banned from sections of the East Lake Sammamish and Lake to Sound Trails, at least until the feds update their rules.


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17 responses to “People riding e-bikes and scooters on King County trails are no longer unknowingly breaking the rules”

  1. DOUG.

    Happily, maybe, but “safely”…not necessarily. Too many clueless tech bros weaving their way through the BGT during rush hour.

  2. a g

    The author sure guesses a lot of things wrong about what they incorrectly think I already knew and thought. Have never understood why people write in that sloppy way when addressing a mass audience of individuals they don’t know.

    But more importantly, I agree with Doug above. I don’t know if the problem is “clueless tech bros” but certainly too many ebike riders who ride like they’re entitled to go as fast as their e-motor will let them, whether it’s safe or not.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I guess I can’t please everyone.

    2. Pat

      honestly, I’ll have an e, bike, that goes faster than 25km per hour, but I don’t cycled like a dope,and obey the road traffic rules , the throttle and ever e, bike or anything with a motor needs a throttle, not for speed,to control speed especially low speeds to not hit anyone, the peddle assist, takes off too quickly, it’s ok, when travelling on the road,but throttle is extremely useful for low slow intellect control of your e, bike, not a fan Of scooter’s are too fast,crazy fast, with too small wheels for the public roads,

  3. Al Dimond

    They use the nighttime closures to justify the bad nighttime visibility, then they use the bad nighttime visibility to justify the nighttime closures. The rule imposed on the people serves only the rule and not the people — this is the opposite of the promise of democracy. A rule that goes totally un-followed, and that would make everything worse if it was followed. Nighttime closures don’t deserve any study beyond that.

    In car-world America the states set standards for roads and limit local jurisdictions’ ability to set rules and policies. This often has bad results in a car-dominated world; state-level politics is uninterested in or even actively hostile to good ideas that go against existing standards. But overall it does what it’s supposed to do: provides consistency for drivers and protects them against cities that are hostile to travelers. The state could and should do the same for its bike network. I’m gonna beat on Jay Inslee and Leafline again — if Jay Inslee wanted to do something useful for biking instead of something useless he could use his power of office and as leader of our state’s dominant political party to promote network connectivity and bike-network standards, like what the state does for roads.

    The state isn’t going to do that. Both because our politics are bad and because bad systems make sure pretty much nobody that personally relies on bike infrastructure ever gets decision-making power over it. But we do have some cities where things are a little less bad. Back in car-world, rules are mostly pretty uniform among the states. Some of that is imposed by the feds but a lot of it has happened just because states want to harmonize. Similarly, around the world, road rules are mostly pretty similar between neighboring countries, mostly because countries want to harmonize — some countries have even switched which side of the road they drive on to match their neighbors, a short-term disruptive change for long-term benefit. That’s probably the process we’re going to have to rely on, on a smaller scale, to get good bike policy. Get good standards in a city that wants it, then try to spread them from there.

    In every city the bike network has a multitude of operators, so if the city of Seattle passed bike-network standards it wouldn’t only have the benefit of governing itself, it could also bring other operators into line. Imagine a bike network with standards…
    – Truly public 24-hour access
    – Nighttime visibility standards (every path on the city’s bike map should have reflectors down the center or on the margins and many need lighting)
    – Basic street signage at cross streets (feels dumb to have to say it but pretty much none have it)
    – Uniform rules about e-bikes and scooters
    – Clear notification of closures, disruptions, and dangerous conditions on major routes
    – City-wide coordination around snow/ice-clearance (i.e. I shouldn’t be riding up the Westlake Cycletrack, cleared and covered in de-icer, then continue up the sidewalk toward the Fremont Bridge and run into a sheet of ice)
    – No throwing up 5 MPH speed-limit signs like the Port does (outside of specific places that are congested and confusing)

    SDOT could then work with the various operators to get ’em up to standards? It’s kinda hard to imagine SDOT doing anything near this but easier to imagine SDOT doing it than any other agency in Washington (or maybe the whole west coast).

    1. Mouse

      well said! I wish these things would get done.

  4. TB

    Don’t know why some people think ebikes are some kind of mobile monsters. I almost never see an ebike rider going “too fast” or as someone mentions above “to go as fast as their e-motor will let them”. Are there exceptions as they are for any other type of bike?,,, of course and there will always be.
    More than half of the people I know who ride ebikes use this type of bike as a necesity, not convenience. The help from the motor, helps them get out of the house, the alternative is to stay home. I encourage the people who are so against it to ride an ebike, you will see that it’s all about the joy of riding, NOT the speed.
    I also suggest opening all the roads and trails managed by the BLM.

  5. Jay J

    amazing e bikes can do as they please, but 10 yrs ago riding a gas motorized bike over 10 mph, or on city path would get your bike confiscated, a driving without a motorcycle license and driving without insurance. Sickening, only difference ,so called gas bike rider didn’t have much money, so the law said jail for you, you won’t be making it to your minimum wage job today

  6. Clear conscience

    you can ride you e bike on any trail that bicycles are allowed unless otherwise notified in the state of California.

  7. Chris

    I regular ride from Everett to Totem Lake and back I am consistently amazed how many folks think it’s OK to go as fast as possible with no regard for other people. The ebike riders are a problem but they aren’t alone. There are too many regular bike riders who think they own the trail and blow by other bikers, walkers and kids. They are like the speeding lane changers on the highways. When it gets crowded it sometimes feels like the streets are safer. At least then I know what to expect from car drivers.
    Please slow down when passing and warn others you are passing. Common courtesy will make the trails safer for everyone.

  8. Ty k

    sweet,il be cruisin my onewheel on lots of trails now.
    now I can feel no guilt about the scowls I get from everybody,as if I’m doing something wrong.

    get outside! 🤙

    1. PHILIP APRUZZESE

      Scowls may be due to perception of the pedestrian public that your onewheel can’t stop quickly in a crowded area…perhaps they are not aware that you have not only practiced skid stops but also are riding much slower in multi-user areas. Speed & trick stuff in the wide open spaces…only!!!
      Danger is always there with children, dogs, Cell Phone use, etc.
      Be careful out there.

      1. Rick

        Onewheels are electric motorcycles or electric mopeds with just one wheel. That’s why they wear motorcycle level protective gear. I don’t see how you interpret them as an e-bike or an e-scooter.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        A onewheel is classified by washington state law like a Segway AKA an “electric personal assistive mobility device”: https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.04.1695

        EPAMDs (terrible acronym) are specifically excluded from the definition of “motor vehicle”: https://app.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.04.320

        EPAMD users “have all the rights and duties of a pedestrian” except that they also are subject to speed limits and “shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians and human-powered devices at all times.” https://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=46.61.710

        These are the state laws, but local jurisdictions can put their own limits on EPAMDs as they deem fit.

  9. Charles

    As we get up there in age but love to travel in our RV, we purchased electric scooters to help us get around surrounding areas without having to drive the RV. We ran into several locations where ebikes were allowed but a foldable escooter was not. We have since sold the escooters and bought ebikes. I hope what Kings Country is now doing opens up more for micro mobility devices.

  10. Cam

    Welcome to the land of the free, where you are not free to picnic or ride bikes. 🤦🏻‍♂️

  11. Timothy Ricks

    glad they aee being allowed on trails. i walk tge interurbam trail nearky every day (recovering from stroke and preventing another) Now my wife can walk with me with her new ebike along side. She has bad knees but wants to get out with me and use the trail with me. Now she can!

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