Summit County moves closer to allowing e-bikes on recpath after Tuesday vote

A cyclist rides the Frisco stretch of the Blue River recpath between Breckenridge and Frisco. Glenwood Canyon has opened for the season, giving Summit County residents more options for scenic journeys.
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Summit County is getting set to allow e-bikes on the county recreation path network.

During its regular meeting on Tuesday, the Summit Board of County Commissioners gave initial approval to a staff resolution allowing Class I pedal-assisted e-bikes on paved recpaths in unincorporated areas.

A second reading is scheduled in two weeks, on April 23, to allow members of the public a final opportunity to raise any outstanding objections or concerns about allowing e-bikes on the recpath. The commissioners will then vote to approve the ordinance, which is expected to take effect at the same time the towns finalize their own e-bike regulations.

The draft amendment to county recreation path regulations would remove Class 1 e-bikes, which require pedaling to activate the electric-assist motor and are capped at 20 miles per hour, from the list of vehicles considered to be “motorized.” Class 2, 3 and unclassified e-bikes will still be banned, along with motorized scooters and motorized skateboards, or “hoverboards.”

Brian Lorch, director of Summit County Open Space and Trails, said that he and his staff made the recommendation to the commissioners after a long series of discussions with the public.

“We had a pretty extensive public process and there was a lot of support as well as detractors, and this is the outcome of that process,” Lorch said. “We had meetings, did a survey, had focus groups, an open house, and at all of them we heard concerns on both sides. But there was a lot of strong support to have e-bikes on the bike path.”

The most common reasons offered in support of allowing e-bikes included the convenience and accessibility e-bikes give to a broader population, especially the elderly. The most common reasons to oppose included issues regarding safety and increased bike traffic on the county’s already-busy bike paths.

Frequent visitor Sue Behling, who lives most of the year in Mesa, Arizona, and has been visiting Summit every summer for 11 years, is an e-bike rider herself and has been a vocal supporter of allowing them on the recpaths in the area primarily because she sees it as a safer alternative to regular bikes for older people.

“People like me who visit Summit County for a season, we usually come for two and a half months, and we don’t fully acclimate (to the altitude),” Behling said. “I’m in my 60s and from low altitude. E-bikes make it just a little easier to get over the big hills, and it makes it safer for those of us not used to the conditions. I still have to work and pedal on a Class 1, but I have a lot more enjoyment, get my exercise and my money’s worth from staying here.”

Behling added that the 20-mph speed limit on Class 1 e-bikes mean they are not any riskier to ride than regular bikes. Behling said that competitive and sport cyclists, whom she refers to as “spandex bikers,” are more of a risk on the paths as they often ignore speed limits and safety rules.

“If they want to make safety such a big thing, they should do something with the spandex bikers,” Behling said.

Last year, County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier was among those on the fence and leaning away from allowing e-bikes on the recpaths based on safety concerns.

However, after listening to the public and evaluating staff recommendations, Stiegelmeier has come around. She said her reversal came after being assured that the safety risks for Class 1 e-bikes were not significantly different from regular bikes.

“The concerns people have about speeding aren’t very valid,” Stiegelmeier said. “The speed limit is 25, and we already have people speeding above that.”

Stiegelmeier said she also considered the positive benefit e-bikes would have for certain people, and found they outweighed potential risks concerning traffic volume. In fact, e-bikes might actually help with one of the county’s biggest headaches — car traffic.

“It should encourage more people to commute; especially people who have a little hill up to their house or to work that make a commute by a regular bike less desirable,” Stiegelmeier said. “We’re mostly recreating on the recpath, but I’m sure we’ll have a few more commuters.”

The county commissioners will hold a second reading on the e-bikes amendment on April 23 at the Summit County Courthouse in Breckenridge, with members of the public invited to attend and offer comment. After the second reading, a vote will take place among the commissioners, and, if passed, Class 1 e-bikes that operate on pedal-assist may be allowed on county recpaths as soon as next month. The county will coordinate the e-bike ordinance to begin concurrently with the towns, with a set date to be determined later.

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