Officials are pumping the brakes on expanding electric bike access to Colorado Springs parks.
A pilot program was to start Monday — a yearlong study allowing the increasingly popular technology on all city-managed trails where other bikes are allowed. On Thursday, though, the city announced the program would be postponed “until further notice.”
Kurt Schroeder, the city’s park operations and development manager, said the holdup is due to legal questions.
E-bikes are equipped with electric motors that provide pedal-assisted boosts. In response to the initial outcry over those motors infringing on city codes related to non-motorized trails, parks department officials pointed to federal and state definitions of e-bikes as bikes, not as motorized vehicles.
“We came to the realization, and what (the city attorney) opined, was that that definition was strictly relating to roadway use, and it wasn’t applied to parks or trails,” Schroeder said.
Language continues to be reviewed, he said. He hinted at the possibility of code revisions, which would require a formal recommendation from the parks board before a vote by City Council.
Language of concern, Schroeder said, is section 10.1.202 of city code, which defines bicycles, motorized bicycles and other vehicles, and section 4.1.101, which defines trails as “for designated nonmotorized use (hiker, jogger, biker, equestrian), or where specifically designated for motorized use.”
Last month at a Trails, Open Space and Parks (TOPS) meeting, debate turned to the 1997 voter-approved TOPS ordinance, which directed portions of sales tax revenue to recreation land acquisition and upkeep. Some argued e-bikes would go against that ordinance’s mandate for “no motorized vehicles, other than those necessary for maintenance, emergencies or safety.”
Schroeder said that language, too, is being reviewed.
“This has been a very fluid process,” he said, “and it will continue to be, quite honestly.”
Results from a city survey launched last fall underscored the deep divide that e-bikes have created across the West in recent years. In the Springs and elsewhere, some praise the bikes for granting them outdoor joy amid older age or injury, while others say the charged wheels threaten to alter the already-busy recreation landscape. E-bikes are becoming more enhanced and affordable, and critics see their access as setting a tricky precedent.
Announced in March, the city’s pilot program garnered immediate praise and scorn.
Class 1 e-bikes, with pedaling required to activate motor boosts, were to have their legal day at popular preserves such as Red Rock Canyon Open Space, North Cheyenne Cañon Park, Palmer Park and Ute Valley Park during the pilot program. After a year of assessing speeds and public feedback, the plan was to decide on the long-term future of e-bikes.
Since 2018, the city’s e-cyclists have been limited to paved commuter paths such as the Pikes Peak Greenway. But, according to rangers and other onlookers, posted regulations haven’t kept e-bike numbers from growing in parks and open spaces.
Over the past three years, Jefferson and Boulder counties have been among Front Range locales to study e-bikes and cut red tape on beloved trails. This week, following a pilot at one open space, Larimer County announced any e-rider with a mobility disability would be allowed on all county trails where other bikes are allowed.
This is a developing story. Come back later for an update.