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March 15th, 2011

Motorized vehicles - used by the disabled

- could be allowed on bicycle, hiking trails

San Gabriel Valley Tribune / Mike Sprague, Staff Writer

You could soon see a Segway or some other electric vehicle - as long as it's used by someone with a physical disability - on bicycle and hiking trails.
The U.S. Department of Justice has issued a rule, which will take effect on March 15, requiring all trails to be accessible for power-driven vehicles used by those with a disability, such as someone who relies on a wheelchair.

Most of these trails now ban motorized vehicles, including Los Angeles County bicycle and hiking trails along the riverbeds or Schabarum Park, the Greenway Trail in Whittier and those in the Whittier hills.

As a result, city and county officials who manage the trails say they are now determining how to comply with the new federal regulation.

"We're taking a hard look at it," said Kaye Michelson, special assistant with the Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation that administers hiking trails in the hills, such as for Schabarum Park in Rowland Heights.

"We have hundreds of trails - most of them non-concrete," Michelson said. "We need to evaluate the rule with the use we have on our trails."

The kinds of vehicles in question include Segways but also scooters to large trucks, according to the website of American Trails, a national advocacy group that works for trails.

"The definition doesn't limit the width, weight, horsepower, or power source of a device when used by a person who has a mobility disability," it stated.

Local agencies can limit use if they do an assessment and show there would be problems, said Xochitl Hinojosa, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice in an e-mail.
Wheelchairs must be permitted on all trails, Hinojosa said.

"Other power-driven mobility devices must be permitted to be used unless the (agency) can demonstrate that such use would fundamentally alter its programs, services, or activities, create a direct threat, or create a safety hazard," he said.

Pam Gluck, executive director for American Trails, a national trails advocacy group, said that while she recognized there are limitations, the new rule should help open up trails.

"It's important for individuals with disabilities to have access to public places," Gluck said. "We completely support that."

But there are concerns.

"I'd be very concerned about a very fast electric bicycle using the same trail as a jogger," said former Whittier Councilman Allan Zolnekoff, who entered the Whittier political scene about 20 years ago in part to push for a bicycle and walking path.

"What I do not want to see is a situation like Huntington Beach where you have (police) with radar guns on the bike path," he said.

The new ruling also poses issues for trails in the Whittier hills, said Andrea Gullo, executive director of the Puente Hills Landfill Native Habitat Preservation Authority.

The use of motor vehicles of any sort currently is not allowed for a variety of reasons, Gullo said.

"One would be fire," Gullo said on the reason these types of uses are banned. "One would be impacts to the natural resources and one would be conflicting uses with trail users."

Still - like other officials - Gullo said she is trying to determine how to come into compliance with the rule.

"We have to assess the trails before we come up with a policy," she said. "I'd like for the environment to be enjoyed by everybody. We're going to have to figure out how to implement this new law."

In Duarte where there is a two-mile multi-purpose trail, city spokeswoman Karen Herrera said the city probably is already in compliance with the rule.

"(The trail) has been open for those types of usage and has been used by the little scooters," Herrera said. "We feel like we're in a good spoke and ready for the (new rule)."

The Los Angeles County Public Works Department, which manages the bikeways on the riverbeds such as the San Gabriel River that goes from Long Beach to the base of the San Gabriel Mountains, is still reviewing the rule just like other cities and counties, said Mike Kaspar, department spokesman.

Motorized vehicles are banned on the bike trails, Kaspar said.

"This is a situation that was unforeseen," Kaspar said. "This is a dramatic change."

mike.sprague@sgvn.com

562-698-0955, ext. 3022

2011-02-19

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