No changes to e-bike policy on Rio Grande |

No changes to e-bike policy on Rio Grande

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Head bike technician Brian Cristman works on an E bike in the shop at Sunlight Bike & Ski on Thursday afternoon.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Following months of debate among board members and public comment both for and against the use of electric-assisted bicycles on the Rio Grande Trail, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority board on Thursday rejected a resolution to restrict such bikes on the lower portion of the trail.

In a split vote at the board’s monthly meeting in Carbondale, RFTA members rejected a proposal to discontinue allowing Class II e-bikes on the portion of the Rio Grande between Emma and Glenwood Springs, but still permit Class I e-bikes along the route.

“I think there were members of the board that thought about it not so much in terms of whether it’s a Class I that has to be pedaled in order to go to 20 miles an hour, or a Class II that has a throttle that will allow you to go 20 miles an hour without pedaling,” RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said.

“It’s more the behavior of the person who is on the bicycle,” he said. “We need to have speed limit signs, we need to have education and so forth about people being courteous, putting bells on their bike, letting other people know that they’re present, passing with care and that sort of thing.”

After the closure last year and subsequent detour of the Grand Avenue Bridge, Colorado Department of Transportation, in its attempts to get as many cars off the road as possible, drove home the idea of permitting Class I and II e-bikes on the lower portion of the Rio Grande Trail, which connects Carbondale to Glenwood Springs. The RFTA board went along with the move in a 6-2 vote.

A separate resolution, which would have essentially adopted a sunset provision, did not garner enough support, thus setting no end date for the use of both classes of e-bikes on RFTA’s share of the trail.

While RFTA oversees the Rio Grande Trail from 23rd Street in Glenwood Springs to the Pitkin County line near Emma Road, Pitkin County Open Space and Trails manages the Pitkin County portion of the trail. Likewise, the city of Glenwood Springs manages and maintains the in-town portion of the trail, known as the Glenwood Springs River Trail, from 23rd Street to Two Rivers Park.

Pitkin County prohibited all e-bikes until county commissioners overruled and approved Class I e-bikes on all paved and crushed fine trails. Glenwood Springs also now allows the Class I and II e-bikes on city trails.

“We do not have a tremendous amount of objective data that says that since we’ve introduced Class I and Class II e-bikes on the Rio Grande Trail that it has contributed to any significant increase in accidents,” Blankenship said. “We don’t really have any data about e-bike accidents.”

Although Colorado House Bill 17-1151 exempts electrical-assisted bicycles from taking on a motor vehicle classification, it still also allows jurisdictions, like that of Pitkin County and RFTA, to prohibit them on bike and pedestrian paths if they see fit.

What distinguishes the two classes of bikes?

Although both e-bikes, those in the Class I category require actual pedaling for electrical assistance. Class II e-bikes, on the other hand, feature a throttle, which in turn does not necessarily require pedaling for any electrical boost. Both classifications of e-bikes, however, top out at 20 mph. A more-powerful Class III e-bike, prohibited on all local trails, has a bigger motor and can achieve even greater speeds.

A public outreach effort from March 16 through April 20 this year, managed by Pitkin County in conjunction with various stakeholders like RFTA, collected 952 surveys. It found that while 69 percent of responders were OK with Class I e-bikes on the trail, that number fell to 49 percent regarding Class II bikes.

“I can see all sides of this equation,” Blankenship said. “Ultimately, what happened is that things kind of remained the same and I think the board is willing to see how it goes for a while longer before they move forward with, I guess, reconsidering whether or not to restrict Class II e-bikes.”