RFTA board to weigh e-bikes on Rio Grande Trail
August 8, 2017
Allowing electric pedal-assist bicycles on the lower Rio Grande Trail, even temporarily during the Grand Avenue bridge detour, should come with greater enforcement of the trail rules, Roaring Fork Transportation Authority staff advises.
“RFTA trails’ staff currently has no enforcement authority and cannot monitor speeds or issue tickets to users for any violations of the Rio Grande Trail rules and regulations,” notes a staff memo for the RFTA board’s consideration.
“If the RFTA board decides to allow the temporary use of e-bikes between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale during the [bridge] closure, staff will need additional resources to assist with enforcement and potentially allow for the issuance of tickets to those violating the rules and speed limit on the trail,” the report advises.
Enforcement questions were also raised Monday as the Garfield County commissioners agreed to sign a letter to the RFTA board in support of allowing e-bikes during the bridge detour. However, the support came with the caveat that the county sheriff would not be asked to do trail enforcement.
The RFTA board, made up of representatives from eight member jurisdictions from Aspen to New Castle, is set to consider two matters related to e-bikes when it meets Thursday morning in Carbondale.
First is a formal request from the Colorado Department of Transportation for the transit and trail management agency to allow e-bikes on the portion of the Rio Grande from 23rd Street in Glenwood Springs to Carbondale during the 95-day bridge detour that begins next week.
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Doing so is seen by e-bike supporters as one way to help with the bridge replacement mitigation plan. That plan calls for a 35 percent reduction in vehicle traffic on the detour route in order to avoid utter gridlock.
The primary strategies to accomplish that are a combination of bicycle commuting, walking, carpooling and utilizing free RFTA shuttles and city buses within Glenwood Springs and on the Grand Hogback route to and from western Garfield County.
Glenwood Springs has agreed to allow Class 1 e-bikes on paved trails managed by the city during the detour period, as long as the motors do not exceed 750 watts and speeds do not exceed 20 miles per hour.
Also on RFTA’s agenda Thursday is a much broader long-term policy discussion on whether to affirm a prohibition on e-bikes for the entire length of the Rio Grande.
The move is necessitated by a piece of state legislation signed into law by Gov. John Hickenlooper that takes effect Wednesday. It defines e-bikes as bicycles that can be used on public trails and bike paths; that is, unless local authorities prohibit them.
As it stands, once the law goes into effect, RFTA’s longstanding ban on e-bikes is unenforceable without formally adopting the policy. Any policy decision requires a two-thirds supermajority of the RFTA members, or five votes.
Upvalley governments, including Pitkin County, Aspen and Basalt, have been reluctant to lift the e-bike ban, even temporarily, primarily for safety reasons given the multiuse nature of the trail.
Temporarily allowing e-bikes between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale during the detour “could provide real-world experience” to help inform a future decision on whether to allow e-bikes on all or parts of the trail, according to the staff memo from RFTA Assistant Director Angela Henderson and Trail Manager Brett Meredith.
The downside, they said, is that it could make it more challenging to disallow e-bikes after the new bridge opens.
In any case, it’s a policy decision that would benefit from more public input and discussion, they advised.
“Ideally, staff would prefer more time to hold public meetings to collect input from all [trail] users,” the memo states.
It’s a question that was to be considered as a part of RFTA’s recreational trail plan update that’s slated to get underway later this year.
“Although there may be other reasons why people might want to prohibit e-bikes on the Rio Grande, the primary one that staff hears from opponents concerns safety,” they said.
Adding a higher-speed user to the mix of current trails users — from walkers and recreational bike riders to more serious road cyclists, and considering that people walking could increase during the bridge closure — could be a recipe for conflicts and increase the potential for accidents, the memo notes.
“Staff recognizes that the speed of some road bikers is already a concern,” they said. “However, due to their heavier weights and higher potential speeds, collisions or crashes on e-bikes could result in more severe injuries than on regular bicycles.”
They also point to the potential for greater numbers of inexperienced cyclists traveling at higher speeds on e-bikes, “who might not have the skill to react safely to avoid hazards.”
Several Colorado jurisdictions have already responded to the new e-bike designation from the state by either allowing them or banning them, or something in between.
The RFTA board could allow the lower-powered Class 1 e-bikes, but prohibit the more powerful Class 2 and 3 e-bikes, or ban all types. Or, it could prohibit e-bikes on certain sections of the Rio Grande and allow them elsewhere.