OPINION: E-bikes threaten to ruin the Legacy Trail

Roger Morton Jan 20, 2022     

It is time for Sarasota County to revisit the wide-open, lawless Legacy Trail and ban all motorized vehicles.

First, some definitions: the term “e-bikes” is actually a misnomer. A bicycle is by definition a human-powered vehicle. But “e-bikes” are not bicycles at all; they are electricity-powered motor vehicles. And the flood of these e-bikes on the Legacy Trail is a crime against what should be a place for a quiet, peaceful bicycle ride – or a walk, run, dog ramble, bird watch or stroller push.

Theoretically these motorized electric vehicles should be able to coexist with real bicycles, but they are seemingly getting bigger and faster by the day. Most of the earlier vehicles of this sort were “pedal assist,” meaning the battery and motor did not kick in unless pedaled. But more and more of the newer ones have throttles, so the only effort expended is the putting your thumb on the speed lever. 

The electric-vehicle manufacturers are now marketing e-bikes that can exceed 30 mph, and most go at least 20 mph. It's no wonder then that the 15 mph speed limit on the Legacy Trail is now routinely disregarded by e-bikers. And it isn’t just about their speeds; it is about their attitudes as well.

Showing a disregard for trail regulations is not just about safety and the law. It is also about respecting a recreation ethic that dictates that trails such as the Legacy should offer visitors a peaceful and quiet experience. The Legacy isn't Yosemite National Park or the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, but the goal should always be to keep it as unspoiled as possible.

The goal for the Legacy Trail should not be to add “users” at all costs. It should be to maintain a high-quality experience on the trail, and there is no doubt that electric are lowering the quality of that experience.

There will be howls from the speed-and-power-addicted crowd that my proposal is elitist and would keep people off the trail. Yes, of course, people with physical limitations should be able to use motors; they need to do so. But most of those speeding around the Legacy Trail have no need for batteries. They simply want to travel as fast as possible, and that attitude is incompatible with a recreation park.

I’m 72, I'm still able to ride 25 to 40 miles per day on a steel bicycle – at around 10 to 12 mph – on the Legacy and Venetian Waterway Park trails. I don't share this to brag. I share this to simply point out that if I can do this, most people can, too.

It is time to put the brakes on lazy, speeding motorized “bicyclists” before they ruin the trail. The Legacy Trail is a local treasure. It should remain a trail, and not deteriorate into the Legacy International Raceway.

Roger Morton is a Sarasota journalist with 50 years of experience.      Abbreviated by S.E.