New rules to be determined for River Trail

JANELLE PATTERSON The Marietta Times Frank Mowers, left, and Mike Taylor, are passed on the Marietta River Trail by bicyclists Thursday.

New definitions in state laws took effect this month, and now Marietta City Council must look to update city ordinances concerning both rules of the road and of the River Trail.

“We need to look at how other cities have responded to the changes, after they were enacted in December and took effect March 8,” said Marietta City Law Director Paul Bertram. “Then it’s the perfect opportunity for council to coordinate not only the updates to city ordinances but also an education campaign with schools, downtown and even drivers’ education courses.”

The changes in effect include new definitions for different motorized/electronically-assisted bicycles, scooters and other recreational vehicles.

“And the state’s legislative commission has gone through the Ohio Revised Code and updated every time where those types of vehicles are mentioned from reckless operation or operation under the influence, to what’s allowed on roads, sidewalks and what used to be called multi-use paths,” explained Bertram. “Now even multi-use paths have a different name, they’re now shared-use paths.”

The Marietta River Trail, which currently stretches 3.28 miles between Indian Acres Park upstream on the Muskingum River to behind the city wastewater treatment plant behind South Eighth Street, is considered a shared-use path as outlined by both the state and federal grants used to build the trail.

By the end of the year, an additional 0.84 miles under construction right now with a bridge over Duck Creek will connect the trail out to the Walmart/Lowes shopping complex on the eastern side of Interstate 77.

Bertram explained Tuesday that the restrictions in place with the state and federal grants used to build the trail require room for pedestrians of all ages, paws and wheels on the path, though some home-rule power exists to limit speed and types of vehicles.

“In this instance, rather than giving blanket restrictions or blessing the legislature has allowed statutory cities to consider the areas, or zoning if you will, where different kinds of bikes, scooters and other vehicles are permitted and what kind of use can be limited,” he said.

According to state statute, a shared-use path is defined as a bikeway outside the traveled way and physically separated from motorized vehicular traffic by an open space or barrier and either within the highway right-of-way or within an independent alignment. A shared-use path also may be used by pedestrians, including skaters, joggers, users of manual and motorized wheelchairs and other authorized motorized and non-motorized users. A shared-use path does not include any trail that is intended to be used primarily for mountain biking, hiking, equestrian use or other similar uses, or any other single track or natural surface trail that has historically been reserved for nonmotorized use.

The new definitions were outlined in the 132nd General Assembly’s House Bill 250, passed in September and in effect as of March 8.

They clearly identify the differences between motor and electric propulsion, and different kinds of recreational vehicles and wheeled recreational activity.

Now before the Ohio Senate with the state transportation bill (House Bill 62) are additional parameters for low-speed electric scooters, following in the footsteps of last year’s legislation regulating electric bicycles.

What’s already in effect is the allowance of e-bikes on shared paths, categorizing e-bikes by speed and requiring both responsible operation and clear class identification on the bikes.

What’s pending Ohio Senate approval is the additional allowance of low-speed electric scooters on public streets, highways, sidewalks and paths, and on any portions of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles.

Thursday on the Marietta River Trail, opinions varied concerning what should be allowed on the shared-use path.

Skyler McCombs, 21, of Marietta, brought out-of-town friends Christian Garcia, 23, and Jacob Paschal, 24, to the trail during lunch to enjoy the 70-degree weather.

“As long as nobody is slamming into you, I’m OK with most things on here,” said McCombs. “I don’t expect a motorcycle to come racing through, but I think (e-bikes and electric scooters) would be fine. You’d get more people outside enjoying things.”

The group said they found the trail enjoyable because of the shared use, noting how welcomed they felt.

“With this being my first time ever being here, just walking down this path right now it’s relaxed and pleasant to have a place like this to walk,” said Garcia.

Similar sentiments were shared by Marietta retirees Frank Mowers and Mike Taylor Thursday. They said they use the path differently depending on the time of year.

“I have no problem with electric bikes on here, but those four-wheeled golf carts and gators, definitely not,” said Mowers. “There’s no room and the motor-scooters and motorbikes also go way too fast.”

The pair also ran into a frequent runner and friend on the trail with her dog Thursday who requested that if council is considering changes in regulation to the path in coming months, that they also consider erecting seating and more trash bins past the Ohio River condominiums below the Williamstown Bridge.

“Oh, absolutely we need more seating and more trash cans farther down the trail by Wayne Street,” said Taylor. “The seating especially for those of us who are older, that just need a minute’s rest to sit when riding, and the cans so that as we pick up litter, there’s someplace to put it.”

Taylor also said he hopes to see consistency in signage, requirements and enforcement in whatever regulations are created concerning the river trail.

“Like with helmets, some signs say they’re required, others say only for those under 14 years of age,” he said. “But you know the serious riders all wear them.”

At council’s streets committee Wednesday Chairwoman Kathy Downer said further discussion about the use of the trail and restrictions will be needed to review the new definitions, but that she is against any form of wheels assisted by motor or electricity on the River Trail or on city sidewalks.

Bertram said Thursday that a compromise between allowance of the e-bike and low-speed electronic scooters on the trail and a blanket ban could include operation limits within certain areas of congestion.

“Like where the trail bottlenecks, or where it’s merged onto city sidewalks,” he said.

City Engineer Joe Tucker explained Thursday the River Trail’s asphalt path and its bridges are designed to hold loads as heavy as an ambulance in emergencies or a pickup truck for maintenance.

“But even though it’s structurally designed to hold those, that doesn’t mean the public should be on there with those kinds of vehicles,” he said. “I’d be careful though in prohibiting what’s allowed on other paths financed by the grants we used like those from (Ohio Department of Natural Resources) and from (Ohio Department of Transportation’s) Transportation Alternatives Program.”

Definitions by state statute:

• Vehicles are defined as everything on wheels or runners, including motorized bicycles, but not including electric-personal assistive mobility devices, low-speed scooters or vehicles using tracks or any vehicle belonging to a police or fire department–meaning regardless of restriction for access of any kind of vehicle emergency service operations are exempt from prohibitions.

• Bicycles are every device propelled solely by human power upon which a person may ride, that has two or more wheels, any wheel of which is more than 14 inches in diameter.

• Electric bicycles, also called e-bikes are separated into three classes as defined by the speeds they are capable of reaching with the assistance of an electric motor.

• Class 1 e-bikes will assist the operator until the e-bike reaches 20 mph.

• Class 2 e-bikes will provide assistance to reach 20 mph with or without the rider pedaling.

• Class 3 e-bikes will provide assistance to the rider when pedaling up until the rider reaches 28 mph.

• Motorized bicycles or mopeds are defined as a subset of vehicles, which are equipped with a helper motor to produce propulsion assistance at speeds no greater than 20 mph on a level surface. According to the state, the term does not include electric bicycles.

• Motor-driven cycles or motor scooters are also defined as a subset of vehicles, but those which are equipped with a helper motor to produce propulsion assistance at speeds greater than 20 mph on a level surface.

• Low-speed electric scooters are defined as any device weighing less than 100 pounds which has handlebars and is propelled by an electric motor or human power and is able to reach a speed of not more than 20 mph when propelled by the electric motor.

• Low-speed vehicles are defined as any three- or four-wheeled motor vehicle able to reach on a paved surface between 20 mph and 25 mph, with a gross weight rating of fewer than 3,000 pounds.

• Utility vehicles are defined as any self-propelling vehicle used primarily for the transport of material or cargo in construction, agriculture, forestry, grounds maintenance, lawn and garden, materials handling or similar activities.

• Under-speed vehicles are defined as three- or four-wheeled vehicles including golf carts with an attainable speed on a paved surface of not more than 20 mph.

Source: Ohio Revised Code.