Boulder County Commissioners OK Expansion of E-bikes on Open Space

Electric bikes are coming to Boulder County’s open space trails where regular bikes are already allowed. KGNU’s Roz Brown reports that in a two-to-one favorable vote yesterday, the Boulder County Commissioners accepted staff recommendations on the issue.

 

 

The argument against e-bikes on county open space trails on the plains goes like this: they’re dangerous to hikers, they’re noisy, they damage nature, riders ride too fast and they’re unfriendly in the natural environment. Donna George pleaded with the Commissioners not to change the existing rules.

“Where is the protection of passive recreation of the open space lands? Where is the discussion on the original intent of passive recreation for open space, and the benefits of quiet, slow-paced recreation and wildlife viewing? Where is the talk of the benefits of hiking and bird-watching and not having to constantly step aside for bicycle traffic?”

The argument in favor of e-bikes is mostly about mobility. For decades, city and county goals have stressed getting more people out of their cars and using alternative transportation. That’s why Russ Chandler was there.

“The way I like to describe them is extra muscles for your body,” said Chandler. “They are an equalizer – they make someone who might have some disabilities or some aging issues and essentially return them to the ability to ride a bicycle.”

The hearing followed public outreach about e-bikes in 2018. This year the Commissioners directed staff to allow e-bikes on certain trails on a pilot basis. The trial period included surveys of trail users, a county-wide telephone survey, a bicycle speed observation study, conflict review and studying what other jurisdictions are doing. That effort was enough for Sherry O’Hara.

“My take-away was the data is really showing that so far, in Boulder County, having e-bikes on the trails has been a non-issue,” said O’Hara. “There’s hasn’t been increased conflict, there’s no damage to the trails, they’re quiet, so, that’s my take-away and I think that’s what a lot of people are realizing,” said O’Hara.

But unique users, like Linda Parks pointed out, that surveys don’t necessarily capture everyone.

“Coming from a horse rider, and vice-president of Boulder County Horse Association, our recent survey showed that our membership pointed to high conflicts between bikes and horse users because of speed,” said Parks.

Commissioner Matt Jones voted against the proposal. He argued that voter ballot questions to approve the purchase of open space have consistently emphasized the protection of passive recreation. He worried about setting a precedent, and said a request from people who want to drive gasoline-powered scooters on open space trails may be right behind battery-powered e-bikes.

“My background drives me in the direction of saying that we shouldn’t have e-bikes on open space for two big reasons,” said Jones. “We made public commitments through time that we would have passive recreation which is non-motorized. E-bikes is a fancy name for motorcycles – they are motorized cycles; and the second reason I’m against it is the slippery slope.”

With numerous requests for input and a previous public hearing that drew hundreds, only a handful of people turned out Wednesday. Commissioner Elyse Jones joined Deb Gardner in voting to accept staff recommendations to allow class 1 and class 2 e-bikes on Boulder County trails on the plains where regular bikes are allowed. Gardener says she was voting based on the majority of favorable comments received.

“I know there are some folks who feel very strongly that they absolutely should not be allowed but it’s my feeling, and I think the majority of folks think there isn’t that much difference between an e-bike and a regular bike,” said Gardner. “I think there are some real positives in terms of access it creates for people who are disabled or older who might not be riding if they didn’t have an e-bike.”

There are three exceptions to e-bikes on county open space when they intersect with city trails where motorized uses are prohibited. They include the Boulder Canyon Trail, Coalton and Mayhoffer-Singletree Trails.