Steamboat City Council to vote next week on solidifying e-bike policies Leave a comment

John Russell Macdonald and his daughter Sydney head out for a bike ride at Howelsen Hill in Steamboat Springs. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After passing an ordinance allowing certain electric bikes on the Yampa River Core Trail, Walton Creek Trail and Emerald Mountain, Steamboat Springs City Council will soon vote to solidify a one-year trial period for bikes and their specific rules.

Rules council members will vote on include a 15 mph speed limit on trails, a two-year trial period allowing use of Class 2 e-bikes on the Yampa River Core and Walton Creek trails, a one-year trial period allowing Class 1 e-bikes on specific soft surface trails and a one-year trial period allowing Class 1 e-bikes on Emerald Mountain.

While council voted to allow e-bikes in December, it must vote again to change the city’s municipal code, which is the purpose of Tuesday’s first reading.

Council and city staff have been discussing such a measure since 2019, and Angela Cosby, Steamboat Parks and Recreation director, said the parks and recreation commission and City Council have heard from residents with strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

On one side, Cosby said, many people who cannot participate in traditional mountain biking support the electric bike initiative because it allowed them to participate in a more accessible way.

“We heard a lot of testimony from people who have disabilities or people who are older in age or who suffered an injury and can no longer take part in mountain biking that they used to,” Cosby said. “The boost they get makes it so they can still recreate how they want to.”

Many residents also shared concerns, however, that more traffic on Emerald Mountain would ruin its local charm and create safety hazards.

“Everyone I know has fought tooth and nail to keep Emerald as a pearl in the backyard for people to recreate on in a non-motorized way,” said Sandy Buchanan, who lives in the Fairview neighborhood and said her neighborhood is already clogged with cars belonging to those using the Blackmer Trail.

“There is a colossal difference between human power and motorized use, and it’s shocking to me that the pearl in the backyard would suddenly become motorized,” Buchanan added.

Others felt allowing e-bikes on Emerald specifically would degrade its trails.

“We’ve put time and muscle volunteering to help build some of those trails,” Steamboat residents Sandy and Mike Kent wrote in a Steamboat Pilot & Today letter to the editor. “There are a lot of people who put in more time and muscle than we did and, we assume, did so to increase the hiking, running and mountain bike trails — not motorized trails.”

When council voted to allow e-bikes in December, some council members expressed similar concerns.

“We don’t put enough money into the maintenance of trails,” council member Sonja Macys said. “Encouraging use by an additional impactful source without a corresponding increase in funding is a losing proposition.”

In an attempt to address concerns related specifically to Emerald Mountain, council will vote to only allow Class 1 bikes, which are equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling and ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 mph.

“These are not motorcycles,” Cosby said.

Laraine Martin, executive director of outdoor recreation nonprofit Routt County Riders, said the group is “cautiously optimistic” of the decision, pointing to the bikes’ ability to help those with physical ailments participate in mountain biking.

“We see no reason that our trail networks should be the exclusive playground of the fit and able,” Martin said. “For many people, e-bikes will make the difference between going for a ride or staying home on the couch.”

As for the Yampa River Core and Walton Creek trails, council will vote to allow cCass 2 e-bikes, which are bicycles equipped with a throttle-actuated motor, that ceases to provide assistance when the bicycle reaches 20 mph.

“Careless Driving offenses are applicable to all vehicles (including e-bikes) and enforceable as prescribed in state law,” Steamboat parks, open space and trails manager Craig Robinson wrote in a memo to council. “Regardless of the type of bike, police services may enforce and cite any bicyclist for reckless and careless driving if necessary.”

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