New signs have appeared on Colorado Springs Parks’ properties. What’s the latest on ebike access in our community?
These signs reflect the current regulations in our city parks and open spaces. As a reminder, class 1 ebikes are permitted today on our urban trails network, but not on singletrack in our parks and open spaces. They are also allowed on El Paso County regional trails, on singletrack trails in all Colorado State Parks (including Mueller and Cheyenne Mountain State Park), and on motorized trails on the US Forest Service (such as Captain Jacks – but not on the Buckhorn trail which is designated non-motorized).
Interest in, and use of ebikes and other electric devices is clearly on the rise in Colorado Springs and around the world. There are many societal and individual benefits to these devices, and for several years MedWheel and other groups have advocated for expansion of ebike access on singletrack trails in a thoughtful way. In 2019 we offered to apply for a planning grant that would have funded a facilitator to help our community bring ebikes to our trail system in an appropriate way. City staff declined this offer and developed their own plan for a ‘pilot study’. However the pilot was ‘postponed indefinitely’ in 2021 when city lawyers informed them that their plan did not conform to its own ordinances.
What’s the latest on the evaluation of ebike access on city property? The city of Colorado Springs’ legal experts have recently re-confirmed that on TOPS properties, ebikes are not allowed because of a provision in the original 1997 ordinance. Check out item 4.6.101-O on page 38 that specifies “No motorized vehicles, other than those necessary for maintenance, emergencies or safety”. The TOPS program was extended in April of 2023 by a vote of the people, and because it’s a voter-initiated ordinance it cannot be changed without a vote of the people. This is an important safeguard for the TOPS program.
MedWheel will participate in an effort to create ballot language that will allow citizens’ to vote on a change to this requirement. The specific language of the change has not been determined, nor the timing of the ballot – the earliest likely time for the ballot appears to be November 2024.
Why can’t Parks staff, or the mayor or council just change the regulations? Because TOPS is a voter-approved ordinance, it requires a vote of the people to make a change. This requirement protects the resources in the TOPS program from being used in a way that’s inconsistent with what has been approved by voters. A vote of the people is the right way and the only way to consider changes to TOPS.
The TOPS measure was enacted in 1997, isn’t that before ebikes were invented? The history of ebikes is fascinating and much longer than most people think. According to wikipedia, the first patents for electric bikes were filed in the 1890s, and functioning ebikes were created before 1900. But it wasn’t until the 1980s until ebikes became a practical consideration. Ebikes as we know them now came into prominence in the mid 2000s with major advances in battery technology that made them practical and fun. We remain in contact with many of the originators of the TOPS program from 1997, and while there is some support in that group for expansion of ebike access, especially on our urban trail network, they report that discussion of lightweight electric devices on our open spaces was indeed part of their consideration when the original measure was created. This seems to reinforce the concept that a change to the ordinance should be done thoughtfully, and through a vote of the people via a ballot measure.
Why can’t I ride my ebike on a non-TOPS property? This is a great question and one we have asked Parks staff. While management of TOPS properties are governed by that ordinance, and there are a few other Parks properties that have other conservation easements that restrict usage, there are some properties in the city’s system that have no legal impediment to ebike use. We are working with city staff and other partners to investigate the possibility of ebike usage in these cases – stay tuned as this develops.
Why are people with disabilities prevented from using our trails? They are not. Use of adaptive devices designed specifically for use by people with disabilities is permitted today. Class 1, 2 or 3 ebikes are considered “Other Power Driven Mobility Devices” or OPDMDs because they are not designed specifically for a disability. In the city of Colorado Springs, accommodation can be requested to use an OPDMD on city facilities through the office of accessibility. Of note – the US Forest Service does not currently consider an OPDMD to be an accessibility adaptation on non motorized trails, so ebikes cannot be used on USFS trails except where motorized use is authorized. Adaptive MTB designed specifically for this purpose, including ones that are electrically driven, are allowed on USFS property.
I paid a bike tax when I bought my ebike in Colorado Springs – why am I denied the benefit of the tax I paid? You can use your Class 1 ebike today on our urban trail network and in bike lanes – this is where bike tax funds are used, as allocated by the Traffic Engineering department (not Parks department). The bike tax does not support singletrack trails. To learn more about the bike tax please visit Bike Colorado Springs’ webpage.
What about eScooters, hoverboards, eSkateboards and other electric devices? Currently such devices aren’t permitted on any city trails – although interest in these devices is also increasing, especially as an alternative to automobile use. As part of the evaluation of Class 1, 2 and 3 bikes our city property, consideration of these devices will also be valuable. The state of Colorado allows some eScooters on roadways where ebikes are allowed.
What are the details of MedWheel’s position? We support thoughtful expansion of access for class 1 ebikes on singletrack trails. We do not support a blanket re-definition of the term “non-motorized” to instantly allow ebikes everywhere a traditional bike is allowed. We recognize that the change in use could lead to unanticipated consequences including user conflicts and a negative impact on access for mountain bikes. We believe that land managers should retain the management flexibility to allow or prohibit ebike use in specific cases as appropriate, and to adapt as conditions change in the future.
As a first step toward expanding access for ebikes, we suggest the city adopt federal guidelines that define class 1, 2 and 3 ebikes. These definitions give direction for the safety testing requirements that ensure ebikes and their batteries are safe for consumer use (but not where they should be used). More detail about how federal guidelines on consumer safety relate to ebikes can be found here.
Next, we support development of ballot language to be considered by voters to allow thoughtful expansion of ebikes access on TOPS properties. We suggest that this be accompanied by guidelines for trail sharing specific to ebikes. We note that some city properties have additional conservation easements or restrictions that will require re-evaluation in order to allow ebike use. Depending on the ballot language that is selected, it might be necessary to update existing master plans for individual properties.
Doesn’t the state of Colorado permit use of ebikes wherever bikes are allowed? In response to the growing popularity of ebikes, in 2017 the state of Colorado passed legislation allowing class 1 and 2 ebikes to be used on bike or pedestrian paths under state jurisdiction (this includes state parks). The legislation doesn’t suggest what municipalities should do on their own properties; Colorado Springs as a home-rule city will develop its own policies for its properties.