E-bikes — coming this summer to a Summit County recpath near you?
E-bikes could hit the Summit County Recpath this summer without any fear of riders running afoul of the county’s rules and regulations.
It’s been a hot debate for years, with electric bicycles permitted on most Summit County routes that regular bicycles can go, with a few key exceptions, such as a ban on the vehicles from the 56-plus miles of paved trails included in the county’s recpath system.
That could soon change, however, with county and town leaders considering side-by-side measures this week that, if approved, would finally allow one specific type of e-bikes on the recpath.
On Tuesday, the Summit Board of County Commissioners and Breckenridge Town Council are poised to consider separate proposals that would amend the town’s and county’s rules to allow Class I e-bike on the recpath.
For reference, a Class I e-bike has an electric motor that helps a rider only when the rider is pedaling, and the motor cuts out when the e-bike reaches speeds of 20 mph or greater. In contrast, Class II e-bikes have motors that are controlled by throttles and assist riders regardless of whether the rider is pedaling or not.
“We feel like it’s the right level of approval for our community, and it certainly matches the direction that the county is taking,” said Scott Reid, Breckenridge’s director of recreation, of the proposed ordinance.
And he is correct: The town’s ordinance mirrors another measure that’s coming before the Summit Board of County Commissioners, who on March 26 asked county staff to prepare such a proposal.
Knowing the county controls the vast majority of the recpath system, Breckenridge has deferred making any decision about e-bikes on the 3.6 miles of recpath in town, opting instead to leave it up to the county commissioners so the rules concerning e-bikes remain consistent countywide.
The county’s open space and trails resource specialist Michael Wurzel said he expects other towns in Summit County to follow suit, too. He’s not sure exactly where each one is at this moment, but he anticipates they will be looking to either clarify or update their rules governing e-bikes on the recpath in the coming months with the county taking the lead.
In Frisco, e-bikes are currently allowed on town-owned sections of the recpath, but dockless bikes and a more general discussion about e-bikes are on Frisco Town Council’s agenda for April 23.
The timing of the county-led update concerning e-bikes coincides with the onset of the busy summer tourist season, when many people will be coming to Summit County to hike, fish or bike the surrounding landscape.
“That’s the intention behind getting this done now,” Wurzel said, explaining that the Memorial Day weekend is typically thought of as the kickoff to summer and he would like to have a consistent set of regulations in place for the season.
It’s important to say that even if the county’s and Breckenridge’s measures are both ultimately approved, as it’s expected they will be, the unpaved, non-motorized trails in Summit County would remain off-limits to e-bikes.
Speaking about the possibility that e-bikes could someday be permitted on these trails, Wurzel said there’s “no political will” at this time to even consider it. Plus, many of these trails in Summit County are actually managed by U.S. Forest Service, which doesn’t allow e-bikes on the trails anyway.
“This policy would only pertain to the recpath system,” Reid said of the proposed ordinance in Breckenridge, adding that e-bikes are currently allowed on town streets; the town’s motorized, designated single-track trails; and on the town’s network of backcountry roads.
Summit County has been blessed with a wealth of open space and trails throughout the area. As Reid explained, some are open to mountain bikes while others have been authorized for motorized vehicles, like all-terrain vehicles, dirt bike motorcycles, off-road Jeeps and trucks, and even e-bikes.
However, allowing e-bikes on the recpath system would represent a significant shift in local policy, as the electric bicycles have been banned from the county’s recpath since at least 2016.
While Breckenridge recently laid down a new set of rules for dockless bike-sharing programs after last summer’s rollout of 25 e-bike rentals in town, those efforts were targeted at bike-sharing programs, not e-bikes in general.
Rather, the move to consider allowing e-bikes on the recpath can actually be traced back to state legislation that took effect in August 2017, when Colorado began permitting Class I and Class II e-bikes on pedestrian pathways where bicycles are also allowed.
While state lawmakers loosened their controls on e-bikes, the Legislature largely left the decision up to local governments by giving them control of where e-bikes are permitted in their individual jurisdictions.
Overall, the county’s recpath system covers over 56 miles, going from Silverthorne and Dillon, around Lake Dillon, up to Frisco and over to Breckenridge in one direction and Copper Mountain and Vail in another.
Unlike Summit County, Vail has already instituted measures to allow for the use of e-bikes on its paved recreational pathways, which were approved in February 2018.
If passed on Tuesday, the proposals before the Summit Board of County Commissioners and Breckenridge Town Council would need to another approval on second reading before they could take effect.
The county has designed a specific webpage to developments regarding e-bikes at Co.Summit.co.Us/1185/ebikes.
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