Pitkin County bans e-bikes pending community discussion
August 8, 2017
Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday reaffirmed a ban on electric-assisted bicycles on all county trails.
The emergency ordinance, which took effect immediately, is set to last until May 1. It comes in response to a state law that goes into effect today and allows e-bikes to be used on all trails accessible to bicycles and pedestrians, Pitkin County Manager Jon Peacock said.
"This is designed to give our community time for a more thorough discussion about the issue," Peacock said.
Pitkin County's Open Space and Trails program currently prohibits e-bikes on all the trails it controls, including the popular Rio Grande Trail, he said. People who are "mobility impaired" are the only users allowed to operate the e-bikes on paved trails.
E-bikes are prohibited on all soft-surface and singletrack trails owned by the Open Space Program, said Lindsey Utter, the program's planning and outreach manager.
The public discussion about e-bikes will take a significant amount of time and will have to include numerous other entities, including the Open Space and Trails board and the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board, to ensure e-bike rules don't change when trails cross into other jurisdictions, Peacock said.
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"We're still figuring out who will take the lead on this," he said.
The state law breaks down e-bikes into three categories, board Chairman George Newman said. The first is the standard assist that works only when a rider pedals the bike, he said. The second is an e-bike with a throttle that powers the bike whether or not it is being pedaled. Both of those bikes have a maximum speed of 20 mph, Newman said.
The third classification bike can go up to 28 mph, he said.
The state law opens up all county trails to the e-bikes whether they are paved or not, though it allows individual jurisdictions to regulate use, Utter said.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said she's worried about how the county will enforce rules governing e-bikes as well as what kind of county liability their use creates.
Commissioner Steve Child said he recently purchased an e-bike to understand how they work and to make his commute easier.
"I've totally fallen in love with my electric bike," Child said. "I'm able to bicycle a lot more than in the past."
He said his bike has a throttle, though he disconnected it and prefers to use only the pedal-assist feature. The bicycle has a speedometer and cuts all electrical assistance when it hits 20 mph, he said.
Instead of focusing on e-bikes, Child said all bicyclists need to practice a good safety routine that emphasizes controlling speed and proper trail etiquette. He suggested trail rules establishing a speed limit and a mandatory announcement when passing pedestrians or other riders.
"In the long term, I think e-bikes should be allowed for the community on certain trails," Child said, including the Rio Grande, Owl Creek and Brush Creek trails. "I want more e-bikes to replace cars. It's my goal, actually."
In July, the Snowmass Town Council passed an emergency ordinance banning e-bikes on pedestrian and bike paths.
Michael Dillard, a local resident, said he rides an e-bike and believes it's a good way for everyone in the community to have access to Open Space trails.
"If you want to make them accessible for everybody, this is a good way to do so," Dillard said.
Nancy Dunlap, a part-time resident, attended Tuesday's meeting and said she enjoys the opportunity to be on a bicycle. She said that riding an e-bike gives her a heightened sense of responsibility to control the bike.
"I knew I had to be responsible because of it," she said.
Finally, Michael Wampler, owner of Aspen Velo bike shop, emphasized that e-bikes get people out of their cars and provide an easier commute than a regular bike for people who live in Woody Creek or Snowmass Village. Also, he said 80 percent of his bike rental customers "have white hair" and tend to rent bikes to ride down to, for example, the Woody Creek Tavern.
However, they often call a taxi for the ride back to Aspen because it's uphill.
"They want to ride back if they can," Wampler said. "These bikes are here, [and] they're here to stay."
In Europe, e-bikes make up 80 percent of the market, he said.
"In a few years, regular bikes will be gone," Wampler said.