One of the ultimate caveats with visiting a National Park, at least in my experience, is the crowds, the traffic, and the parking. That gripping feeling of excitement you feel when driving past the steaming rivers in Yellowstone for the first time can be snuffed out entirely by full parking lots and seas of people. Nowadays, a getaway to Yellowstone includes spending an hour or more doing endless loops on baking tarmac and dodging tour busses dumping people out into the parking lot, all just to find a parking spot to begin your own experience.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's fantastic that so many people are spending time in the public parks, but it's no secret that the increased visitation year after year has put a strain on park infrastructure, especially when not all visitors know that leaving your crap on the ground, or trying to take a selfie with a buffalo is a huge no-no. But we'll save that rant for later...
Towards the end of 2019, the Secretary the Interior, David Bernhardt, signed a policy for electric-bicycle use on Federal Lands. The policy essentially expands the recreational uses of E-bikes to the same standards as regular bike use in National Parks, allowing them on park roads, and paved trails, and like regular bicycles, not in designated wilderness areas.
These new policies mostly address E-Bikes for recreational uses, but after reading the policies, it got me wondering...What if the National Parks could actually promote transportation within the parks via E-Bikes? Certainly the incentive of avoiding traffic-jams and parking lot mayhem would be more than enough to promote using them over a car. Imagine entering the threshold of the woodsy brown entrance stations at every National Park, leaving your car in a lot right from the gate, and hoping on an E-Bike from a shared rack to instantly immerse yourself in the landscape of a National Park. Feeling the breeze, smelling the rich earthy air, hearing the birds, and even making the spotting of wildlife more thrilling from a bike than in a car. It seems like it would be more of an intimate, and immersive way to travel through a National Park. I'd certainly prefer it over sitting in traffic. Plus, most of the speed limits in National Parks range from 10-35mph anyway, a way to prevent endangerment of wildlife crossing the roads. Cut that number in half when you find yourself stuck behind "Lollygag Lou" doing 25 in a 45 in his RV.
Some E-Bikes allow a speed of up to 28mph, meaning you'd get there in almost the same amount of time, but instead, you'd feel like you actually did something in the park already, instead of just driving around. Plus with the assistance of an electric motor, bicycle travel becomes much easier, allowing people to travel farther with less effort.
Now, clearly in Parks as big and massive as Yellowstone or as steep in descent as Yosemite, maybe E-Bikes aren't the best way of getting around. The mere thought of biking back up Big Oak Flat Road after a day of hiking in the Valley makes my legs ache, but I think of cities with bikeshare programs or even in areas like Venice Beach with the Bird electric scooter sharing service, where racks with bikes can be found all over and wonder if E-Bike travel could be promoted if shared bikeracks were placed at every major trail head and attraction, how many people would prefer hoping on a bike instead of battling with traffic. Think of Zion too, for those of you who have been, you can't get anywhere without taking the shuttle, there are simply too many visitors and too narrow of a road. Well, what if people could E-Bike to Canyon Junction rather than spend nearly two hours waiting for and taking the shuttle to it? As with anything, E-Bikes aren't a reductive solution to traffic congestion in the National Parks. Traffic and accessibility is certainly a huge logistical issue the NPS is dealing with. However, I think E-Bikes certainly carry the potential to reduce it, and perhaps their use in National Parks should be considered in a context beyond recreational.