Electronic bicycles, scooters and other motorized vehicles will remain banned from Johnson County park trails for at least the near future.
The county Park & Recreation District’s Board of Commissioners on Wednesday voted against a proposal that would have allowed visitors to use e-bikes and electronic unicycles on the 15-mile Gary L. Haller Trail in Shawnee between March and June of next year as part of a pilot project.
District officials said the pilot would have shown them how much interest there was for people wanting to use motorized vehicles on the park trails and whether allowing the vehicles led to additional accidents or complaints from other trail users.
E-bicycles typically have an electronic motor that supplements the user’s pedaling, allowing the bike to travel faster and farther than a regular one.
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Supporters of the pilot said people are already using motorized vehicles on the trails — either ignoring the rules or unaware of them — and that many other park districts around the country already allow them.
“As mobility options expand for different people we can just keep up,” said Commissioner Paul Snider. “In my view, a trial period is a reasonable way to look at that.”
But the majority of the board expressed concerns about safety, speed and whether even the county’s paved trails are wide enough to carry walkers, regular bikers and motorized vehicles. They also said they warned that allowing e-bikes and e-unicycles on the trails would eventually lead to groups asking for a wider range of even more powerful and disruptive devices.
“I don’t believe in opening the can of worms of allowing motorized vehicles on the trails of any kind,” said Commissioner Jeff Meyers.
Warren Fry, a Shawnee resident who introduced the issue several months ago when he asked to be able to ride his electronic unicycle on the trails, told the board he felt the devices were safe.
“When it comes to safety, we are very cautious because we have nothing surrounding us; if we’re going to hit somebody or something it’s our body hitting them, no handlebars or tires or anything,” Fry said, adding that his unicycle can reach speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.
The board ultimately voted 5-3 against allowing e-bicycles and 6-2 against allowing e-unicycles. Snider and Commissioner Michael Pirner voted for both items with Commissioner George Schlagel voting in favor of the e-bikes.
In other business, the board moved ahead with its plans to start a bike-sharing program in four of its parks.
The district plans to work with Kansas City B-Cycle, which operates a bike share program on the Missouri side of the state line. That program offers bikes for rent throughout Kansas City.
Originally announced in February, the park district’s program has been delayed by paperwork and the initial round of bids for buying 70 bicycles coming in too high, said Jeff Stewart, the district’s deputy director.
He received the board’s blessing Wednesday to put the bikes out for bid again, hoping the new prices are closer to the district’s budget. As part of the renewed bid process, the district no longer plans to buy and install electronic kiosks where users can rent the bikes with a credit card, instead requiring users to pay for the bikes through a mobile app.
A Kansas Department of Transportation grant is helping pay 80 percent of the cost of the bikes, but the district will have to pay ongoing annual maintenance and operation costs, estimated at $1,000 per bike. The county is also expected to spend $43,600 to install the bike stations at the Johnson County Arts and Heritage Center in Overland Park, Shawnee Mission Park, Heritage Park in Olathe and Meadowbrook Park in Prairie Village.
Pirner and Commissioner Leslee Rivarola voted against rebidding the bike purchase, saying they had concerns about the ongoing costs and the district’s obligations to continue the program even if public demand is not there.
Stewart said, assuming the next round of prices are reasonable, the bike share program could be up and running sometime in 2019.
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