Legalese has taken center stage in the debate regarding electric bikes on Colorado Springs trails.
In the latest Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) meeting, members of the city committee heard disputes over federal and state definitions of the technology and local laws pertaining to non-motorized trails. The 1997 voter-approved TOPS ordinance, directing portions of sales tax revenue to preservation and outdoor recreation, mandated “[n]o motorized vehicles” on lands supported by those funds, “other than those necessary for maintenance, emergencies or safety.”
When informed last month of the administrative move to allow Class 1 e-bikes on all city trails where other bikes are allowed starting Memorial Day weekend as part of a year-long pilot program, members of the parks board asked: Wouldn’t motor-assisted bikes infringe on that ordinance?
“How do you say an electric motor is not a motor?” said one member, Carol Beckman, in an interview after that meeting. “We’re going to define an electric motor as not a motor? Like, wait a minute, how does that work?”
Britt Haley, TOPS program manager, pointed to another provision of the ordinance allowing decision-makers “to adopt rules and regulations that would align with state and federal regulations.”
The year-long pilot, Haley said, would let leaders assess the future of e-bikes on trails, as other communities across the Front Range and country have done. While prohibited, the charged-up wheels have been notably increasing around the Springs’ parks and open spaces.
“It’s getting with the times basically,” Kurt Schroeder, the city’s park operations and development manager, said at the recent TOPS meeting. “And trying to manage it in a fashion that we can secure the experience of (trail users) and also be in a position to appropriately manage and maintain the trails people our using.”
Some weren’t convinced.
“An e-bike is a bike with an integrated electric motor,” said the TOPS committee’s Michael Merrifield, an avid mountain biker. “Our TOPS (ordinance) says no motor.”
The federal government classifies an e-bike as a bike, city officials said.
They cited a 2002 law establishing e-bikes under the Consumer Product Safety Act — “and more specifically, subject to the same regulations that govern traditional, human-powered bicycles,” according to the interpretation by PeopleForBikes, the Boulder-based nonprofit. The group notes e-bikes as “not subject to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration vehicle standards.”
In adopting the national classification system — Class 1 e-bikes have pedal-assisted motors that shut off at 20 mph — Colorado state lawmakers exempted e-bikes from motor vehicle registration. Legislation crafted in 2017 granted e-bikes on all multi-use paths in the state but empowered local jurisdictions to make their own rules.
Local law should rule over all, concerned citizens contended at the TOPS meetings.
“This TOPS ordinance was voted on by the people,” one said. “If you feel the need to change it, in my mind this needs to be taken to the voters.”
Another argued the 24-year-old TOPS language was outdated, saying e-bikes weren’t nearly as popular then. “Is it possible those references were for motorcycles and dirtbikes? Just throwing that out there.”
Another e-bike supporter said the talk was meaningless.
“We’re arguing semantics. Everybody becomes an attorney,” he said. “It seems like everybody who has some passion for something has to spend a bunch of time complaining about how other people’s hobbies or pastimes interfere with theirs.”
Merrifield countered, mentioning a “possible significant increase on already over-used trails” and the potential for more damage to trails.
“We’re not talking about interference,” he said. “We’re talking about effect.”