Decision to ban some e-bikes on north end of Rail Trail faces more backlash

E-bike dispute still rolling

Controversy over new rules banning some classes of e-bikes at the north end of the Okanagan Rail Trail continues to dog the Regional District of North Okanagan.

"We are not lawbreakers, I'm a law-abiding citizen and I feel like we have been cut off from an important part of our Rail Trail experience."

Carolyn Bates lives in Vernon and owns a class-2 e-bike that she uses on the Rail Trail for exercise, "during the pandemic, my e-bike was one of the only things that kept me going."

Now, technically at least, she isn't allowed to use her e-bike on that portion of the Rail Trail.

According to BC Parks, Class 1 e-bikes can be ridden on any BC Parks trail where mountain bikes or other cycling is already allowed. People with Class 2 and 3 e-bikes can only ride on trails and/or roads designated for motorized vehicles, depending on the park.

The north end of the Rail Trail from Crystal Waters to Coldstream is now off-limits to all but class 1 e-bikes.

A spokesperson for the Regional District of North Okanagan, Ian Wilson tells Castanet that wasn't necessarily their intention when they brought in the new bylaw and put the new signs up a few weeks ago.

"It's only one tool in the toolbox, we really prefer voluntary compliance and education and that people are being safe. I think that was literally the intent of it."

Wilson admits he has fielded calls and complaints from both sides of this debate. He says the trail tends to get congested on sunny days and the hope was that the new policy would help avoid conflict.

But for people like Bates, who say the motor-assist from their e-bikes allows them to go farther and stay out longer, the new bylaw misses the mark.

"What it literally comes down to is the fact that there's an education process that needs to occur," Bates also says that's not just limited to e-bikes she'd like to see that extended to include trail etiquette.

"There is a lot of tourists that arrive here, as well as a lot of locals and it's kind of a free for all. When we saw those signs I don't remember ever seeing a consensus going out to the public saying, oh, hey, this is what we're thinking," Bates says.

For his part, Wilson also enjoys riding an e-bike, so he knows full well what the benefits and the attraction is.

"I think there's also some confusion, a fair amount of confusion about, what is a class one e-bike? What's a class two e-bike? What's a class three? And so, you know, obviously, we need to do more, I think, and we're looking at updating our website, and inform people."

Wilson made it clear the bylaw is not meant to target people, "if people are out there being safe, and they're using their bikes safely, then we don't anticipate any issues."

Wilson says bylaw officers typically only respond to complaints and there are no plans to add officers to monitor the Rail Trail at this time. But Bates says she and her fellow riders have no intention of letting the issue drop.

"You have people like me and businesses that have invested significant money in class 2 and 3 bikes to say nothing of the significant dollars Vernon Tourism and TOTA (Thompson Okanagan Tourism Association) have invested to promote e-bike riding on the Rail Trail," Bates says.

"What if other jurisdictions along the Rail Trail decide to follow the RDNO's lead, what then?" asked Bates.

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