Though West Douglas Pioneer Road might be currently covered in snow and filled with Nordic skiers, come summertime, it could be seeing a lot more traffic as a local company seeks to gain access to provide electric-assisted bicycle tours on the city-owned gravel road.
At the City and Borough of Juneau Assembly’s Monday night meeting, members discussed whether to move forward with considering an application from iRide Alaska that seeks to gain a permit allowing the company to begin its plans to offer guided e-bike tours from May through October.
According to the permit request, the company would offer 90-minute tours on pedal-assist e-bikes three times a day, six days a week barring Sunday, for groups ranging from four to 15 people along with two guides beginning this summer. The company isn’t new to Juneau, and already offers tours at Rainforest Trail, Mayor Bill Overstreet Park and Eaglecrest Cross-country Ski Trail.
James King, a co-owner of iRide Alaska, said the tours would be an opportunity for both residents and tourists and could provide a new source of revenue for the city as a portion of the tour fees will go back to the city.
“We see this as an opportunity to let people enjoy the beauty of our community and have an opportunity to try out these e-bikes that are kind of new in our society,” he said to the Assembly.
Kim Metcalfe, a lifelong Juneau resident and critic of mass cruise tourism, and Paul Desloover, a North Douglas resident, gave public testimony encouraging the Assembly to vote against allowing the company to use the road commercially. The two argued the increase in traffic could become hazardous to other trail users and infringe on local user’s who want the road to remain for individual use.
“The bottom line is, are there no venues in Juneau where locals can recreate in the summer without having to deal with tourists?” Desloover said. “I think as a community we deserve to have somewhere where we aren’t just inundated with tourists and can enjoy our town.”
Assembly members were split about moving forward with the commercial use of the road, as currently, the city has no policy allowing or disallowing the use. There was a discussion about whether e-bikes are considered to be motorized vehicles, which is also a topic being discussed at the Capitol by legislators as Alaska currently does not have a state statute classifying e-bikes.
Two companion bills introduced this year seek to revise state code to separate e-bikes from motor vehicles and allow for any e-bikes a part of the generally recognized three-tier classifications of e-bikes to ride anywhere a regular bike would be allowed such as roads, bike lanes and multi-use trails.
After more than an hour of split discussion on the topic, the Assembly voted to send it back to the Committee of the Whole for even more discussion but did give the OK for the city manager to begin working with applicants on a non-committal level and provide further information to the Assembly before a decision is made.
In an interview with the Empire after the meeting, King said despite the Assembly’s decision to move the topic back for further discussion, he is excited and will continue to work to bring the company’s plans to fruition.
“We just want it to happen, whatever the process is to move it forward, we’ll do it,” he said. “We think it’s a neat opportunity for people to be able to try e-bikes, both for people in the community and people not in the community, and it’s a unique place to do it because it’s a road.”
• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (651)-528-1807. Follow her on Twitter at @clariselarson.