By C.J. Carnacchio
Oxford Leader Editor
It’s official – use of electric bicycles (or e-bikes) will be permitted on the 16.9-mile Polly Ann Trail.
Last week, the trail’s management council voted 4-2 to allow Class 1 e-bikes and give Trail Manager Linda Moran the authority to permit Class 2 and 3 e-bikes on a case-by-case basis.
Trail officials plan to review their decision after a year.
Voting to allow e-bikes were trail council members Bruce Pearson (Addison Township), Elgin Nichols (Oxford Township), Sue Bossardet (Oxford Village) and Chairman Mike McDonald (Leonard).
“I think it would be a great opportunity to allow more people to use the trail,” Bossardet said.
Voting against the motion were trail council members Donni Steele (Orion Township) and Curtis Wright (Oxford Township).
“The enforcement, to me, is a big issue,” Wright said. “Once you open the door for something, it tends to get bigger.”
The council took action on e-bikes because on Jan. 28, new state laws will take effect that allow electric bicycles on linear trails with “an asphalt, crushed limestone, or similar surface, or a rail trail.”
Electric bicycles are defined under the law as devices equipped with a seat or saddle for use by the rider, fully operable pedals for human propulsion and an electric motor of not greater than 750 watts (1 horsepower). State law identifies three classes of electric bicycles.
The new laws apply to the Polly Ann Trail, a non-motorized, recreational trail that winds its way through Addison, Oxford and Orion townships, including the villages of Leonard and Oxford.
Class 1 bikes can be used on the trail as soon as the law takes effect, however, the PATMC was given the power to “regulate or prohibit” them. Classes 2 and 3 require specific action be taken by the PATMC to allow them, otherwise they’re not permitted under state law.
The council’s vote followed a public hearing during which 10 of the 11 people who spoke expressed their support for allowing e-bikes on the trail (see related story “Public favors allowing e-bikes on trail”).
McDonald said he believes the council was “greatly swayed” by what it heard from citizens.
Nichols admitted he was.
“Originally, I was against this. I thought perhaps it wasn’t a good idea,” he explained.
“Now, I’ve changed my mind to some degree here. I like the idea of Class 1 being (permitted) and also the ability (of) the trail manager to make a change to that, make an exception under certain conditions (to allow Class 2 and 3).”
Giving Moran the “discretion” to review requests to use Class 2 and 3 bikes on the trail, then make a determination as to whether there are special needs or circumstances that merit their approval was McDonald’s suggestion.
“That’s more generous than the state is (being),” he said.
As the owner of two Class 2 e-bikes with 500-watt motors, Pearson was very much in favor of allowing them. He called them “terrific” and said getting that electric-assisted boost is especially helpful if he’s riding uphill because he has “extreme asthma.”
E-bikes are heavily used in Florida, where Pearson spends time.
“Down there, you’ll see these bikes everywhere,” he said. “Everybody’s using them.”
Steele, who also serves on the Paint Creek Trailways Commission, opposed allowing e-bikes on the Polly Ann simply “because it’s the thing to do and it’s new and it’s exciting.”
She favored prohibiting them now while others investigate this issue, then revisiting it once more information is available.
On the heavily-used Paint Creek Trail, Steele said, “Our biggest complaint, problem, safety issue (is) bicycles.”
The Paint Creek Trail is 8.9 miles long and runs through Lake Orion, Orion Township, Oakland Township, Rochester Hills and Rochester.
Steele believes use of the Polly Ann Trail will get heavier over time and it will one day be just as busy as the Paint Creek. So, to her, allowing e-bikes, in addition to traditional pedal bicycles, could potentially create problems given the Polly Ann is “twice the length” of the Paint Creek and there’s only a single manager to patrol it.
Moran was initially opposed to allowing e-bikes, primarily due to their speed capabilities and safety concerns, but she changed her mind.
“I think we’re going to have a lot less problem with (them) than originally I thought,” she said.
“Most of the people that are going to have e-bikes are older. They’re a little more respectful,” Moran explained.
She told the council, “I really don’t see a problem with a Class 1 at all.”
As for the rest, Moran said, “At the end of the day, whether it’s Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3, the speed limit (on the trail) is still 15 (miles per hour).”
Pearson believes it’s up to people to police themselves.
“Everybody’s responsible on that trail for their own actions,” he said.
Jack Curtis, an Oxford Twp. Trustee who attended the meeting as an audience member, pointed out to trail officials that they’re so concerned about e-bikes, yet they have no problem allowing horses that on average weigh about 1,500 pounds and can go 25 to 40 miles per hour.
“You don’t regulate them,” he said.
“Those things can damage the trail more than a bicycle,” Curtis noted.
Oxford resident Larry Kupskey took issue with the one-year trial period that trail officials placed on allowing e-bikes.
If someone spends $1,500 to $3,000 on an e-bike, Kupskey said, “He’s not going to want to find out in a year’s time that he can no longer ride the trail.”
“I think the main point here is a bicycle is a bicycle, no matter what is powering it, whether it’s a young man able to go 40 (mph) on it or whether it’s a 60-year-old man that (doesn’t) want to go over 15 miles an hour,” he noted.