Maroon Creek Road E-bike reservation system scrapped this summer in favor of voluntary program

Pitkin County hopes ID system will coax compliance

E-bikers stand at the top of Maroon Creek Road to turn into the parking lot for the Maroon Bells day use area in Aspen on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

The Pitkin County commissioners gave a nod of approval Tuesday to a voluntary program designed to coax better behavior from e-bikers on Maroon Creek Road this summer.

No reservations will be required, as the commissioners discussed as a possibility earlier this year.

“It’s a good place to start. We’re not being overbearing on it,” commissioner Steve Child said about the voluntary program.

Companies that rent e-bikes will be asked to install radio frequency identification stickers on each bike in their fleet. The chip on a bike will be scanned whenever it passes through the U.S. Forest Service’s Maroon Bells welcome station. The rental shop will be charged $5 each time a bike from their fleet goes through reader. The funds will be used for “managing” e-bike parking at the Maroon Lake parking lot and for “sustaining” the system, according to a staff memo to the commissioners.

If cyclists are riding two or more abreast, stopping in the middle of a travel lane to rest or snap a photo, or drifting in a travel lane in front of traffic, the new system could potentially help identify them.

“Fleet owners will be held accountable for their customers’ poor bicycling etiquette; if poor etiquette/dangerous behavior is demonstrated on Maroon Creek Road, staff will note where the e-bike is from and will talk to the fleet owner,” the memo said. “Staff will request the fleet owner improve their communications about the importance (of) safety to their customers.”

A group working on e-bike issues had initially hoped to install a reservation system this summer for e-bikes on Maroon Creek Road.

“It became abundantly clear about a month and a half ago we weren’t going to be able to get a reservation system in place for this summer,” said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County public works director.

The “accountability system” was deemed a good alternative at least for this summer, he said. Rental shops have incentive to cooperate because if the voluntary program successfully improves riding behavior, then the reservation system won’t be necessary, Pettet said.

In addition to using technology to identify where e-bikes are coming from, the program will request that rental companies require renters to watch a video titled, “How to E-Bike in Aspen” and read a flyer about “Biking to the Bells.”

Pettet said most rental company representatives that were contacted would prefer no management steps this summer, but they were more accepting of the voluntary bike identification proposal. They said the $5 fee for passing through the Maroon Bells welcome station will be passed on to customers, according to Pettet.

“This system may be onerous at times for the fleet owners, but by keeping it voluntary and without reservation limits, hopefully a mandated limited reservation system will not be needed in future years,” the staff memo said.

In addition to providing accountability, the proposed system will also allow the Maroon Bells working group — comprised of the county, Forest Service, city of Aspen, Aspen Skiing Co., RFTA and Aspen Chamber Resort Association — to track numbers of e-bikers on Maroon Creek Road and the most popular travel times.

“I think this is just a good way to start gathering some information, and it will be helpful in any decisions we want to make in the future,” commissioner Patti Clapper said. “As long as we have the bike rental companies on board, I think we can work together on this.”

Lucas Wampler of Aspen Velo bike shop attended the work session and said some bike renters won’t respond to efforts to get them to ride safely.

“There’s a certain caliber of tourist for which education simply isn’t enough,” Wampler said.

He suggested the county consider issuing a ticket for bad bike etiquette on Maroon Creek Road or at least threaten to issue tickets.

“Even if there’s no way to enforce it, I think it would be a useful tool for the bike shops,” Wampler said. “Because sometimes educating people, it’s really easy for them to blow you off, but saying, ‘Hey, this could cost you and your group a lot of money’ speaks to them on a different level.”

The radio frequency identification system will likely be ready for launch in mid- to late-June, Pettet said.

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