BRECKENRIDGE - A recent ruling from the Department of Justice may force local officials to confront the looming question of whether to allow motorized vehicles on Summit County recpaths sooner rather than later.
The ruling requires localities to allow people with disabilities to use wheelchairs and "manually powered mobility aids" in public pedestrian areas and to change local rules to allow power-driven mobility devices by people with disabilities.
The ruling re-launched recent conversations on the use and safety of electric or motor powered vehicles on county recpaths.
"This was definitely an "oh, my god," when it came across our desk," Summit County open space and trails director Brian Lorch said.
County officials expressed concern that the new federal policy does not identify acceptable mobility aids and could therefore be extended to include electrically assisted bicycles or even larger motorized vehicles such as motorcycles.
County commissioners also noted the language of the measure is somewhat vague on what a disability is, potentially leaving room for people to take advantage of the policy.
Motorized vehicles are currently prohibited on county recpaths.
"Having brought my daughter (on the recpaths) and had near collisions, I think we already have some safety issues," Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said at a work session Tuesday. "I think we already have safety issues, with (electrically assisted bicycles) potentially coming in there, I see a lot of liability and safety issues."
County officials tried to address the new federal rules and mitigate safety concerns by crafting a policy that would permit certain vehicles to be on the recpaths, while prohibiting others.
The measure only allows individuals with disabilities to use devices that have a maximum power-driven speed of no more than 20 mph, are no more than 36 inches in width and have proper braking systems on the recpaths. It explicitly prohibits all terrain vehicles, golf carts and motorcycles, but allows wheelchairs and manually powered mobility aids to use the trails.
The measure would prohibit all power-driven vehicles on non-motorized single-track trails and limit the devices allowed on multi-use single-track trails, to avoid damage to the trail or harm the surrounding environment.
The draft county policy is still under consideration. It was supported by the county open space advisory council.
The commissioners and some town officials began looking at the question of allowing motorized vehicles, particularly electric bikes, on local recpaths late last year, but delayed a decision hoping to get more information and ultimately come to a cohesive decision for the entire county.
"I'm very concerned about the slippery-slope aspect of condoning this type of bike," Stiegelmeier said in December. "Once you allow one type of motor, (they) get to be bigger and bigger. Where do you draw the line?"
Electric-assisted bicycles - bikes equipped with small chargeable engines that kick in to assist riders as they pedal - are a rising trend with bicyclists and, in Summit County, with tourists.