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, 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 or throttle-activated boosts. In response to the initial outcry over those motors infringing on city codes related to nonmotorized 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."
Ron Ramsey, a local e-bike enthusiast who for years has pushed the city to take action like its Front Range counterparts, called himself "very disappointed" Thursday. The pilot delay, he said, "postpones doing the right thing" for riders like him and his wife, among retired locals who have described e-bikes as life-changing.
"It just further kicks the can down the road," Ramsey said.
The can has been kicked since 2017, said Cory Sutela, executive director of mountain biking group Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates. That year, state lawmakers defined e-bikes and made them legal wherever other bikes roamed but gave jurisdictions the power to make their own rules — opening up a regulatory hodgepodge across Colorado.
The city has "kicked the can down the road for five years now," Sutela said. "When the urgency became so high that they had to finally do something, they rushed through with an ill-conceived pilot."
Results from a city survey launched last fall underscored the deep divide that e-bikes have created across the West.
In the Springs and elsewhere, some praise the bikes for granting 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 opponents see their access as setting a tricky precedent.
Announced in March, the city's pilot program garnered immediate praise and scorn.
Observers on either side of the e-bike aisle criticized a lack of specifics regarding measurable outcomes. Officials said speeds would be tracked and public feedback would be compiled. While pleased something of the sort was launching, Ramsey viewed the pilot as "destined to fail."
Some criticized the "administrative" explanation they received when asked why the parks board and City Council weren't given a choice on the pilot.
"The sense we got from parks was, this being a strong-mayor form of government, it's really important for staff to make this decision," said Susan Davies, executive director of Trails and Open Space Coalition.
If bureaucratic wheels were to turn on code revisions, "that certainly changes the conversation," Davies said — effectively from administrative to political.
An e-bike pilot program needs to happen, local leading advocates agree. "But I think we need to do it well," Davies said. "This would seem to give us a little more time to do a better job of (deciding) what it is we want to learn and come up with metrics."
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 assessment, the plan was to decide on the long-term future of e-bikes.
Since 2018, the city's e-cyclists have been limited to commuter paths such as the Pikes Peak Greenway. But, according to rangers and other onlookers, posted regulations haven't kept e-bike ranks 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. While the 2019 move to allow e-bikes on "plains trails" in Boulder County was preceded by code revisions and votes by parks board members and county commissioners, no such process occurred in Jefferson County.
There, e-bikes have traveled all of the system's multi-use trails since 2018. Those are designated nonmotorized trails.
Matt Robbins, Jefferson County Open Space community connections manager, referred to the 2017 state legislation that defined "low speed electric bicycles" in line with the previous federal definition: a device with a motor of less than 750 watts that falls under the Consumer Product Safety Act — not under National Highway Traffic Safety Administration vehicle standards, some interpreters have noted.
"We fall back on that state legislation," Robbins said.
In Fort Collins, meanwhile, City Council approved changes to local codes before approving a pilot program on paved networks in 2019. 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.
In the Springs, riders can apply to have their e-bike deemed an other power-driven mobility device for trail access. But Ramsey considers the process "too cumbersome and restrictive."
Not all will delay with the pilot program, he said.
"There are enough e-bike riders out there, it's not gonna restrict the vast majority of them," he said. "And I hope they do. I encourage them. It's their right, as long as they're riding with reasonable behavior."