Anyone who’s braved going outside probably has noticed that paths, sidewalks and trails are a bit busy.
Crowd restrictions limited gyms, theaters and the other places and ways we once entertained or distracted ourselves. Pedaling is one of the few activities that didn’t see additional rules or restrictions, beyond wearing a mask.
The Centennial Trail averages 400,000 people who bike, ride horses, scoot, skate and walk it annually, and it has seen abundant use during the coronavirus pandemic. It connects Arlington, Marysville, Lake Stevens and Snohomish.
But people flocking to its flat, pastoral pavement could be causing problems for some users and people living nearby.
“What I think needs to be addressed is the increased motorized vehicles on the non-motorized trail this year,” Robin Thome of Snohomish wrote to The Daily Herald. “Motorized bikes, motorized skateboards, motorized scooters, Segways, (and those vehicles that if you lean forward the wheels go forward), gasoline-powered mini bikes, and even a motorcycle. I have even seen and heard a small motorcycle go back and forth behind our house on the trail. Things seem to be out of control with this virus. Although these are stressful times and people want to get outside I don’t think we will ever be able to go back to non motorized. Some people definitely go faster (than) the 15 mph. Democracy gone wild. No one stops them.”
Electric bikes are allowed on the trail (as well as the Interurban and Whitehorse regional trails) if they abide a 15 mph speed limit and other rules. They’re generally quiet. Gas-powered transportation and other electric mobility, like scooters and skateboards, aren’t supposed to be on the trail, per county rules.
Snohomish County Parks, Recreation and Tourism staff weren’t aware of an increase in problems on the 30-mile trail between Snohomish and the Skagit County line.
“According to park rangers and staff, they have not been aware of a higher percentage of illicit use of the trail by motorized bikes, scooters, skateboards, etc.,” county parks spokesperson Rose Smith said. “… We have seen an increase in e-bikes over the last few years, even prior to the pandemic, as a popular form of recreation.”
E-bikes are sorted into three classes. Types 1 and 2 are allowed on Snohomish County regional trails. They provide assistance when a rider pedals and stops assisting when the bicycle reaches 20 mph; or the motor can propel the bicycle without pedaling but does not assist when the bicycle hits 20 mph.
The electric-motor bicycle business boomed this year. E-bike sales saw a 92% increase from March to April, according to NPD, a research firm. Cycling in general surged during the pandemic as one of the last bastions of outdoor fitness.
“I also expect bike commuting to be a growth opportunity for later this summer,” NPD sports industry analyst Dick Sorenson wrote in a blog post. “Retailers and manufacturers should strongly consider this as a possible emerging trend …”
As fall approaches and winter threatens, the trail could remain in heavy use, especially once a couple of major projects conclude.
Earlier this year, Snohomish County’s public works department had crews in the Machias area, where the trail crosses South Machias Road. The contractor added a traffic signal, widened the road, realigned turn lanes and added shoulders for vehicles, as well as moved the trail crossing to the signal, which has a dedicated pedestrian-crossing phase.
There also are bike rests, warning surfaces, bollards to keep out vehicles and crosswalk push buttons (they may seem high, but that’s because they’re for horseback riders). As part of that work, the county also replaced a culvert to improve fish passage in Williams Creek.
After a two-month shutdown during the state’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order, the Machias project was finished in May.
In Arlington, the trail is set to close Tuesday and Wednesday for work on the railroad crossing at 67th Avenue, where BNSF will replace rails and paneling. Detours will be marked. Northbound vehicle traffic will drop to one lane, so drivers should expect short delays.
Another project could wrap up in early September. A stretch of trail closed in mid-June for culvert repair and replacement between Arlington and Marysville, from Hilltop Road to Wade Road. But there is no marked detour. The county doesn’t recommend using nearby 67th Avenue because of high traffic and narrow lanes, and there is no trail access from 108th Street.
Whether you’re using hoof, foot, pedal or push power, just make sure you’re staying under the 15 mph limit and leave the noisy motors for the road.
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