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Boulder County Commissioners Outline Parameters of E-bike Pilot Program

March 6, 2019
A Trek Super Commuter+ 8s pedal-assisted electric bike is seen in the showroom at Longmont Bicycle Co. on Tuesday.

Boulder County commissioners in November approved a pilot program to test the use of e-bikes on county open space trails, but still have to figure out how to gather data to examine the expanded use and what regulations should look like if e-bikes prove practical.

Tuesday, commissioners met with the Boulder County Planning Commission and officials from the Land Use and Parks and Open Space departments to determine just that.

“The pilot is designed to last through this year and the research will go through mid-October,” said Tina Nielsen, the special projects manager for Parks and Open Space. “We’re shooting for certain numbers, so we have some statistical significance, and then we’ll crunch those number and get those back to (commissioners) for recommendations by somewhere around the end of the year.”

Included in the data collection will be several surveys to discern public opinion of e-bikes and their effects on county trails, including if the presence of e-bikes displaces other users, as well as several studies on the number of e-bikes on the trails, the percentage of users they represent, riders’ average speed and whether riders are using e-bikes for commuting or recreational purposes.

The pilot program kicked off at the start of the year and allows class 1 and 2 e-bikes, which are defined as only providing assistance up to 20 mph, on regional and plains trails, excluding the Boulder Canyon Trail, Coalton Trail, Mayhoffer Single Tree Trail, and Walden Ponds Wildlife Habitat. Where e-bikes are permitted could change depending on the results of the study.

Beyond data collection, the pilot program also will survey Boulder County residents on how they would like to see “passive recreation” defined, which the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan stipulates is the only type of use allowed on open space lands.

As written in the comprehensive plan, “passive recreation is defined as a non-motorized outdoor recreation with minimal impacts on the land, water or other resources that creates opportunities to be close to nature.”

However, when the state Legislature, in 2017 a bill, outlined classes of e-bikes based on their maximum speed and redefined e-bikes as no longer being motorized vehicles, it created a conundrum for commissioners.

Commissioner Matt Jones said he believes the county must carefully spell out why e-bikes are allowed as opposed to other motorized vehicles. Commissioner Deb Garner, however, said the best way to deal with the issue is to keep it simple and just parenthetically add e-bikes into the comprehensive plan’s definition of bikes, prohibiting any other types of motorized vehicles into the future.

Either way, the one thing all of the commissioners agreed on was that they didn’t want to open up regulations so much that future uses could easily be added.

“I feel like (e-bikes) might be an exception that we’ll take a look at, but anytime jetpacks show up I want it to be hard and have it go through this whole process, too,” Commissioner Elise Jones said. “So we really want to define the characteristics about how it’s really important that any use not harm the environment and not degrade user experience as a rationale for why we made the decision that we made.”

Officials also spoke at length about how they could ensure the public had access to all of the information gathered during the pilot program and is provided plenty of opportunities to weigh in.

“A lot of this is about how bikes and other users interact with each other on our trail system,” Jones said. “So lets maximize the usefulness of this prototype.”

John Spina: 303-473-1389, jspina@times-call.com or twitter.com/jsspina24