E-Bikes on Durango Trails
Backed by support from the Parks and Recreation and the Natural Lands Advisory Boards, the Durango City Council prohibited electronic bikes on city trails as of May 2016. Safety was cited as the primary reason for the ban.
As indicated by our community’s passionate response to the ban, allowing electronic bikes (also called e-bikes or pedal-assist) on our local roadways and trails is a complex issue. Recreation, health and wellness, environmental concerns, access for the elderly and the disabled, trail maintenance, safety and our community’s long-term vision of multi-modal friendliness are all important aspects of this issue.
What is an E-bike?
Two types of motor-assisted bicycles fit this general category. The first is pedal-assist – an optional motor kicks in while the rider is actively pedaling. It’s essentially a mini-turbo boost for the rider. The second is a direct-drive model in which the bike is entirely powered by the motor.
Since the individual rider determines the power output, speed and handling capabilities vary. Some manufacturers claim e-bike speed potentials up to 50 mph, though those ‘vehicles’ might be more accurately classified as motorcycles. A more typical top speed range is 15-20-mph (see below).
Regulations for E-bikes Vary
E-bike rules vary by jurisdiction – country, state, province and municipalities. The United States has determined that in order for a motorized bike to still be considered a bicycle, the electric motor must generate less than 750 watts of power and not exceed 20 mph without human-powered pedal assistance.
By comparison, Canada restricts motor output to 500 watts and maximum speed to 19.8 mph. Britain limits motor power to 200 watts, maximum speed to 15.5 mph and overall weight to 88 lbs. Beyond national parameters, states and provinces are generally allowed to enact their own e-bike rules.
Since 2009, the state of Colorado has allowed e-bikes (up to speeds of 20 mph) on public roads and bike lanes. Municipalities have the right to determine if e-bikes will be allowed on paved bike trails. Unpaved trail access for e-bikes falls under the jurisdiction of several entities, depending on location.
In addition to defining how and where e-bikes may operate, regulations may stipulate whether or not a motorized bike needs to be registered, if a user needs to be licensed, and so on. The license and registration determinations are based firmly on safety protocols and the responsibilities and accountability necessary in operating more powerful vehicles.
Current E-Bike Status in Durango
While e-bikes, along with all other motorized vehicles, are currently prohibited on Durango trails, there are several important caveats to keep in mind.
- First, people with disabilities who require motorized, ambulatory assistance are exempt from the rule.
- Second, disabled individuals who qualify – even if their disabilities are not apparent – may apply for a handicap placard from the Colorado Division of Motor Vehicles.
- Third, City Council has made clear its intention to revisit the ruling in the coming months. The original intent was to re-evaluate the ban in the next few years upon completion of the Animas River Trail connection to Three Springs and our community’s multi-modal opportunities expand. It is also expected that e-bike technology will continue to develop over time. However, after receiving feedback from e-bike enthusiasts – notably among the elderly population – to reconsider the ban, the City Council will revisit the issue sooner than originally anticipated. (See recent article in the Durango Herald – link listed below.) Accordingly, there will be a Multi Modal, Parks and Recreation and Natural Lands Preservation Joint Advisory Board Meeting to discuss e-bikes on city trails on Monday, September 19th, 2016 at 5pm at the Durango Community Recreation Center. This meeting is open to the public.
Discussion Points for Consideration
There are compelling arguments both for and against allowing e-bikes on local trails. I believe the following considerations might be helpful in starting a conversation about this evolving technology and how it fits into our community.
- Do e-bikes pose a safety hazard to non-motorized users? Speed, power and usage rules are central to this question. In addition to City of Durango speed limits, users on the Animas River Trail bike path have an implicit understanding that speeds will not exceed human-powered capabilities. In a vehicle versus human collision, the human is always at a disadvantage. There have been serious accidents on the River Trail, including one instance when a motorcyclist illegally drove on the Trail at a high rate of speed and hit a female pedestrian head-on. The woman survived, but after several surgeries, her life is forever changed. While this example centers on illegal behavior, it underscores the questions we must consider when discussing shared routes for motorized and human-powered traffic.
- The e-bike industry is growing and enjoying rising popularity across the country. In Asia and Europe, e-bikes are already a huge industry. This year, projected sales industry-wide are expected to be $16 billion. By 2025, those estimates grow to $24 billion. As a bike-friendly community, we have residents’ who see this increasingly important share of the cycling market as an opportunity to bring in new clientele and enthusiasts.
As noted by Jason Blevins in a July 16, 2016, Denver Post article, Luis Benitez, director of the Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office, is an e-bike proponent. Primarily, he cites the potential economic benefits the industry might develop for the state, should manufacturers select Colorado as their U.S. base. Blevins highlights the other top arguments for e-bike acceptance, including focus on air quality, reduced reliance on cars for short trips, health and exercise, and modal opportunities for older populations.
Locally, one individual has proposed an e-bike business that would be located near the river trail. This person has also advocated for reconsideration of the ban.
- If the e-bike ban in Durango is lifted, what considerations, safety protocols, and incurred costs should be considered? Should motorized and human-powered traffic be separated somehow? Would a lane divider be an affordable safety solution to directing on-trail traffic?
- Short of an outright ban, what is the best way to enforce necessary restrictions/regulations?
- What are the environmental benefits of encouraging e-bike use, instead of cars, for short trips?
- Regarding e-bike usage on natural surface trails, the International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) issued a position (submitted in 2010, confirmed as still current in 2016) that e-bikes are a “welcome addition to the cycling community,” but should be classified as motorized transit and regulated as any other motorized, off-road travel. This raises important questions about access, wilderness, and regulation.
- How do e-bikes impact trail maintenance and re-surfacing (where applicable)?
- What public education is needed with regard to e-bike usage, etiquette and interactions with other trail users? How can we best disseminate this education to our community?
There is a lot to consider regarding lifting or keeping the current ban on e-bikes on our city trails. This is an issue that should be considered by the community at large, and I strongly support public input before the ban is lifted. What at first reads as purely a question of public safety reveals itself to be a more complex issue of access, economic growth and development, technology, and the character of our town.
However the issue pans out in the future, the question of e-bikes underscores one of the most important aspects of our local government: the need to remain nimble, adaptable and open-minded. As our society and technology evolve, it is our responsibility to stay open to new information while remaining resolute to our mission to serve the community in the best possible way.
Resources and Links:
“Durango Bans Pedal-Assist Bikes on Trails,” by Mary Shinn, Durango Herald, May 06, 2016: http://www.durangoherald.com/article/20160506/NEWS01/160509707/Durango-bans-pedal-assist-bikes-on-trails
“California Governor Signs Law Modernizing Electric Bike Regulations,” by Doug McClellan, Bicycle Retailer and Industry News, Oct. 8 2015: http://www.bicycleretailer.com/north-america/2015/10/08/california-governor-signs-law-modernizing-e-bike-regulations#.V2SnpWQrInU
Boulder, Colorado, Electric Assisted Bicycle Use on Multi-Use Paths (maps, etiquette, regulations): https://bouldercolorado.gov/goboulder/electric-assisted-bikes-policy-review
“Durango to revisit e-bike ban on trails,” by Mary Shinn, Durango Herald, July 16, 2016: http://www.durangoherald.com/article/20160715/NEWS01/160719736/
“Colorado e-Bike Advocates Hope to Spark a Quiet Commuter Revolution,” by Jason Blevins, Denver Post, July 17, 2016: http://www.denverpost.com/2016/07/17/colorado-e-bike-commuter-revolution/