E-bike rental fleets, tourists targeted in Maroon Creek Road reservation, fee proposal | AspenTimes.com

E-bike rental fleets, tourists targeted in Maroon Creek Road reservation, fee proposal

BOCC members favor locals not paying fees or making reservations

A group of e-bikers stops in the middle of Maroon Creek Road on the way to the Maroon Bells day use area in Aspen on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Locals are unlikely to have to pay for or reserve spots to ride Maroon Creek Road this summer, but for tourists who rent bikes in Aspen it is likely to be another story.

Pitkin County commissioners on Tuesday supported a proposed plan that concentrates on the local e-bike and regular bike rental fleet and would direct tourists to make a reservation, pay a fee and watch a video on biking etiquette before they could ride the road to the Maroon Bells.

“I definitely think the problem has been the influx of new e-bikes and I don’t mind putting the burden of compliance and good etiquette on the shoulders of the people who are renting those bikes,” said Commissioner Greg Poschman, a frequent summer Maroon Creek Road bike rider. “I definitely think the e-bike fleets need to be limited and put in a reservation system.

“And I think that will take care of the problem.”

Aspen-area residents who frequently bike Maroon Creek Road, however, should not have to put up with reservations or fees and should not be required to stop and take a test on biking etiquette before beginning their favorite workout, he said.

“The amenity of cycling to the Bells is as important to many people as even arriving at (Maroon) Lake or seeing the Bells themselves,” Poschman said. “Riding that ride has become a time-honored pastime for people. And I’d have to say, as a draw, (the ride) is just as important as the lake and the Bells themselves.”

Between May and October, Maroon Creek Road is closed to regular automobile traffic between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. because the popularity of the Maroon Bells previously made both parking and the drive to the popular Maroon Bells Scenic Area too crowded.

A road biker gains speed down Maroon Creek Road in the setting sunlight on a warm sunny day in Aspen on Friday, October 29, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Tourists must purchase a ticket for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus shuttle or make paid parking reservations before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. The road is closed at the T-Lazy 7 Ranch during winter.

A certain segment of the biking community has used Maroon Creek Road as a regular workout for years, Ben Rasmussen, a contract planner with the U.S. Forest Service, told commissioners Tuesday. However, the summer of 2020 brought a significant increase in bikers on the road, most of them e-bike renters and most of them inexperienced bikers.

“We noticed a lot of these bikers didn’t know the rules of the road,” Rasmussen said.

Problems included e-bikers stopping in the middle of the road to take a picture or admire the view, refusing to remain only on the right side of the road, riding in packs, not wearing helmets and biking with earbuds that made riders oblivious to the situation around them, he said. Stressed-out Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus drivers reported several near-misses with e-bikes and one crash that was not serious, he said.

Officials initially thought it was the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which limited the number of available seats on RFTA shuttles that might have caused the drastic influx. However, shuttles had no seat restrictions this summer, and the number of e-bikers increased as did the problems, despite an education campaign, Rasmussen said.

“Bike volumes were higher than ever,” he said. “Etiquette and behavior did not improve.”

The number of e-bikers was as high as 350 a day on peak weekends, said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County’s public works director.

Commissioners visited Maroon Creek Road on Sept. 18 to view the situation for themselves and requested options to try and manage the problem. A committee that included representatives from Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, RFTA, the Forest Service, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association and the Aspen Skiing Co., which rents e-bikes at Aspen Highlands, came up with four options presented Tuesday.

Those included forcing all bikers to make reservations, imposing a limited number of reservations per day, unlimited reservations and fees that were mainly for tourists.

On Tuesday, all five commissioners supported the plan that would allocate a limited number of daily Maroon Creek Road reservation slots for bike rental companies depending on 2021 fleet size and customer base. A fleet owner would be defined as someone with three or more bikes to rent, Rasmussen said.

Each Maroon Creek Road bike rental reservation would come with a fee, which officials envision being passed on to renters, and would require renters to watch a video outlining the etiquette expected of bikers. Rental reservations would be checked by staff at the Welcome Station at Aspen Highlands.

Under the plan, locals and out-of-town bicyclists with their own bikes would not be required to make reservations, pay a fee or undertake any etiquette training.

Commissioner Francie Jacober said she liked both the idea of having tourists make a reservation and providing preference to locals, who likely know the etiquette rules.

Commissioner Steve Child agreed.

“I like starting with fleet bikes first,” he said. “The big numbers that are causing the problems are the e-bikes that are being rented out by the shops.”

The amount of the proposed fee, which has not yet been determined, and other details of the plan will be brought back to commissioners for approval. Public comment is generally taken by commissioners before such plans are officially adopted.

Pettet said officials would like the program to be in effect for the upcoming summer season.