Fee, reservation system proposed for all Maroon Creek Road bikers
An influx of e-bikes on Maroon Creek Road over the past couple of years is prompting Pitkin County officials to look at a fee and reservation system for all bicyclists who ride to and from the Maroon Bells.
Pitkin County commissioners are scheduled to hear Tuesday about four proposed plans to regulate e-bike and regular bike traffic on Maroon Creek Road, located just west of Aspen and the route to the popular Maroon Bells.
“We’re not trying to stop e-bikes from going up to the Maroon Bells,” Pitkin County Public Works Director Brian Pettet said Monday. “But it’s been a growing problem. The last two years especially, we’re seeing growing numbers.”
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 Maroon Bells Scenic Area too crowded.
Tourists must purchase a ticket for the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus or make paid parking reservations for before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. The road is closed at the T-Lazy 7 Ranch during winter.
On summer weekend days, the number of e-bikers on Maroon Creek Road can average 350 or more a day, he said. RFTA drivers — who ferry tourists from Aspen Highlands to the Maroon Bells and back from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.— have written letters concerned about public safety.
Further, e-bikes have allowed a different kind of biker to take to Pitkin County roads, Pettet said.
“This technology has allowed anyone, regardless of physical strength or knowledge of bicycling rules and safety, to travel throughout Pitkin County on roads and trails,” Pettet wrote in a memo to commissioners. “The safety issue is not restricted to Maroon Creek Road. However, Maroon Creek Road has experienced the largest impact of e-bikes compared to other county roads.”
To try and combat the problem, a group that includes representatives from Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, RFTA, the Forest Service, Aspen Skiing Co. and the Aspen Chamber Resort Association developed four proposals.
The first and most extensive would impose an online reservation system with a limited number of reservations per day and a fee system for tourists. Locals would receive a free pass and be allowed to make unlimited reservations, according to Pettet’s memo.
Under that plan, owners of local e-bike rental companies would be allocated a set number of daily reservations that would vary based on 2021 fleet size and customer base, which would likely be passed on to renters. Bikers from out of town who bring their own bikes also would have to make a reservation and pay the fee. All bikers would have to watch a video on bicycling etiquette before being allowed to make a reservation, and reservations would be checked at the Highlands Welcome Station by representatives of the company that now runs the bus reservation system.
The second plan proposes an unlimited reservation system and a fee for tourists. Again, local bikers would get a free pass and be allowed an unlimited number of reservations. Those who rent from e-bike companies and out-of-towners with their own bikes would have to pay a fee to make a reservation, while all would watch the video, according to Pettet’s memo.
The third proposal essentially regulates only e-bike rental companies, which would receive a set number of reservations per day again based on 2021 fleet size and customer base. Those tourists would have to pay to make a reservation and also be required to watch the biker etiquette video, and reservations would be checked at the Welcome Station.
Locals and out-of-towners with their own bikes would not have to make reservations, pay a fee or watch the video under that plan.
Finally, the last plan envisions neither reservations nor fees in favor of a mandatory biker etiquette training program for all Maroon Creek Road bikers.
“It’s truly an educational effort,” Pettet said.
The training would include a short, online video and be required watching for anyone renting an e-bike. E-bike fleet owners would hand out passes signifying the biker had watched the training, according to Pettet’s memo.
“Locals and out of town bicyclists could get this training online and pick-up the pass at Highlands or (Pitkin) County,” the memo states.
The number of reservations per day and the amount of the fee has not yet been determined, Pettet said. The county wants the program, whatever it turns out to be, to pay for itself and is not looking to make money off it, he said.
If the county moves forward with any plan, officials plan to put together a sub-committee made up of representatives of commercial e-bike rental companies to help iron out details of the plan, Pettet said.
In addition, the county has allocated $50,000 for an engineering study of Maroon Creek Road to try and identify areas alongside the uphill traffic lane that might be able to be expanded into a bike lane to try to make the road safer for bikers, he said. The study would also look at the cost of such an effort, which would likely be expensive, Pettet said.
Pitkin County Sheriff Joe DiSalvo, an avid e-bike rider who frequently rides Maroon Creek Road in summer and winter, said Monday that the number of e-bikers has definitely increased over the past few years.
“I’d say last summer was probably the worst,” he said. “Five years ago, I was really just alone. I wouldn’t see any other e-bikers.”
In the past couple of years, however, DiSalvo said he’s seen groups of riders without helmets or the proper gear, “goofing off” while riding Maroon Creek Road.
“I saw lots of packs of 10 e-bikers,” he said. “You can tell when they’re rentals. You can tell who knows what they’re doing.”
Commissioners are scheduled to hear about the new Maroon Creek Road biking proposals at 1 p.m. The public can only attend the meeting virtually. Directions to log on to the meeting can be found at PitkinCounty.com/1001/events-agendas and by clicking on Tuesday’s work session agenda.