Aspen Times editorial: E-bike users and renters need to step up their game
Anyone spending time outdoors in and around Aspen the past two summers knows there has been a surge in electric bike use.
To some people, e-bikers are a scourge who makes popular roads and trails a hazard and even sidewalks occasionally perilous. To others, they are a perfect way to see Aspen’s stunning outdoor scenery while getting some exercise.
One thing is clear — e-bikes are here to stay and, in fact, likely will get more popular. So, Aspen’s debate needs to focus on how to make the situation safer.
Staffers from The Aspen Times rented e-bikes from two prominent shops last week and received testimonials about another rental business. Renters told us that Silver City Cycles did a stellar job of not only going over how e-bikes operate but also explaining rules of the road. A reporter and photographer rented e-bikes from Four Mountain Sports at Highlands Village. The staff was nice and professional but could have done a slightly better job of explaining the rules of the road.
Another staffer rented from Aspen Velo and found that completing everything but picking up the actual bike was a cinch online. Upon arrival, a very friendly staffer provided a 60-second tutorial on the operation of the bike, asked whether our staffer wanted a helmet and sent her on her way with nary a word about etiquette, safety, or the dos and don’ts of where to ride.
Safety begins with the bike shop employees and other bike renters. It is incumbent on them to drive home basic tips — stay to the right, never cross into the oncoming lane or stop in the middle of any lane, ride single file when vehicles approach from behind, announce your presence when passing another cyclist, wear a helmet and don’t wear ear buds.
Nowhere is safety at risk more than on Maroon Creek Road, where buses, a handful of private vehicles, U.S. Forest Service workers, traditional cyclists and e-bikers are all jockeying for space. As one bus driver told us, “Eventually, somebody’s going to get hurt.”
There is a group composed of the Forest Service, Pitkin County, city of Aspen, Aspen Chamber Resort Association, Aspen Skiing Co. and Roaring Fork Transportation Authority examining all issues unfolding on Maroon Creek Road. The surge in e-bike use has been a hot topic for the past year.
We don’t want to see the group wait until the problem gets so bad that it devises a reservation system for cyclists. Recreationalists already need reservations for many campsites, for shuttle trips to the Maroon Bells, for parking at the Bells, for overnight stays at the Conundrum Hot Springs and, probably starting next year, for overnight backpacking on the Four Pass Loop. We don’t need reservations to ride Maroon Creek Road.
Instead, we suggest the group study the implementation of a small fee. Yes, we know a fee will be about as welcome as rain on a winter ski day, but it could be a perfect solution. Certainly a fee for bikes is nothing new at special places, such as some national parks and monuments.
We would like to see a $5 fee charged for daily round-trips or a $20 fee for the season. The revenue would be restricted for use by the Forest Service and Pitkin County to fund bike rangers to patrol Maroon Creek Road, Friday through Sunday and holidays. The rangers would be on the lookout for riders of traditional and e-bikes undertaking unsafe practices between the Forest Service welcome station and the Maroon Lake parking lot. Education would be the goal. Enforcement through tickets would be a last resort.
And to avoid the point of last-ditch mandates, we challenge local bike shops to proactively develop better, more educational check-in protocols for all e-bike renters.
The Aspen Times editorial board is comprised of publisher Samantha Johnston, editor David Krause, managing editor Rick Carroll, reporters Scott Condon and Carolyn Sackariason and copy editor Sean Beckwith.
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