Silverthorne councilman says allowing e-bikes on Summit recpath is ‘irresponsible’ |

Silverthorne councilman says allowing e-bikes on Summit recpath is ‘irresponsible’

A cyclist on the Dillon Reservoir recpath in Frisco in May 2018. Restrictions on e-bikes on the Summit County Recpath System are being lifted across the county, but one elected official in Silverthorne won’t back the plan.
Hugh Carey /

Restrictions on e-bikes are falling like dominos in Summit County, but not everyone thinks allowing electric bicycles on the county’s paved pathways frequented by walkers, joggers and traditional bicyclists is such a good idea.

One by one, local governments across the county are falling in line and passing new measures to allow Class 1 e-bikes on their pieces of the Summit County Recpath System. At least one elected official, however, is adamantly opposed to the shifting recpath rules.

The local governments’ moves stem from a county-led effort to lift restrictions on e-bikes with motors that assist riders only when they’re peddling and cut out when the bike reaches speeds of 20 mph or greater. Other classes of e-bikes remain banned from the recpath.

The Summit County Recpath System stretches more than 55 miles with sections through the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne, as well as Keystone Resort. The majority of the system falls under the county’s control, and town leaders are taking the county’s lead on e-bikes in an effort to keep recpath regulations consistent countywide.

Leading the way, the Summit Board of County Commissioners approved Class 1 e-bikes on county-controlled portions of the recpath on April 23. The adjustment was celebrated by a number of people who’ve previously been unable to ride their e-bikes on recpath, and it has led a number of local bike shops to start gearing up to offer e-bike rentals.

Proponents of the plan argued that people often confuse e-bikes for something more akin to motorcycles, which have far more power, reach much higher speeds and weigh considerably more than e-bikes do. They also contended the e-bikes are as safe as traditional bicycles and the biggest difference between the two is e-bikes give people who otherwise might not be able to ride a bike — be it because of their age, athletic ability or due to medical issues — the ability to do so.

Breckenridge Town Council passed an ordinance to allow e-bikes on the town-controlled portions of the recpath in tandem with the county. Next up, Silverthorne favored a similar proposal on first reading May 8 and is expected to revisit the measure on second reading this week.

In Frisco, two councilmembers were absent when the town’s e-bikes ordinance passed on first reading May 14, and the town has a vote on second reading scheduled for next week. Meanwhile, Dillon is in discussions about making the change, but has not yet voted on it.

So far, all of these votes have been unanimous with one exception: Silverthorne Councilman Derrick Fowler, who’s the only elected official in the county thus far to vote against allowing e-bikes on the recpath.

Fowler said he believes allowing e-bikes on the recpath will only increase traffic on a system that’s already overwhelmed at certain times.

“I think it’s irresponsible to allow anyone to ride vehicles on the recpath except for maintenance or emergency vehicles,” he said. “The bike path is already overcrowded at times, and this makes a dangerous situation much worse.”

Fowler isn’t alone in his opposition, either. David C. Lee is a longtime Breckenridge resident and avid cyclist who has many of the same concerns as Fowler.

Even though the weather has been less than spring-like throughout the months of April and May, Lee said he’s already ridden about 500 miles on the recpath this year. From his observations, there haven’t been many e-bikes on the recpath yet, and he’s worried about what might happen when the traffic ramps up.

“My biggest concern would be that all of the sudden there’s a population of these e-bikes that is going to dominate the path,” Lee said.

He’s mostly concerned about safety. Lee said he worries about how many e-bike riders will control their speeds, how many riders obey the rules of the road and how those rules will be enforced.

These are some of the same issues facing traditional bicycles, but Lee has been living in Summit County for over three decades now and he has come to believe during that time there will always be a certain percentage of people who are either ignorant of rules or simply won’t follow them.

Lee said he worries about what will happen when more and more people hit the recpath, some of whom he expects will have little to no experience riding a bike, won’t know the rules and will fail to show respect for others.

Fowler added that he believes it will be “a slippery slope” with motorized vehicles being allowed on the recpath, and he openly wonders if a recpath that’s open to motorized vehicles can even be called a recpath anymore.

One of the reasons given for e-bikes being allowed on the recpath has been an anticipated decrease in car traffic, but Fowler sees that as a “weak argument,” as he doesn’t think there will be any measurable difference in automobile traffic with e-bikes on the recpath.

“Our recpaths weren’t designed for motorized activity,” he said. “It’s just not an appropriate use.”

While Fowler is the only elected official to oppose allowing e-bikes on Summit County Recpath System by voting against it, others who’ve supported the measures have expressed similar reservations.

“I don’t like the idea of having motorized vehicles on the recpath,” said JoAnne Nadalin, another Silverthorne council member. “But I do see the benefit of having consistent regulations across the county.”

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