COS eMTB Pilot ON HOLD – MWTA statement

In October 2019, Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates (MWTA) conducted a survey regarding the community’s views on eMTB use on Colorado Springs Parks trails, specifically soft surface (singletrack) trails. Based on the results of the survey, which brought to light several themes on all sides of the issue, MWTA recommended a 1 year pilot program with these three (3) elements:

  1. Class 1 ebikes would be allowed on some, not all soft surface trails.
    1. A stakeholder group would be assembled to work with Parks staff to propose which trails would be included in the test;
  2. The use of specified metrics for evaluation of social and crowding impacts during the pilot period;
    1. These metrics would also be developed by the stakeholder group
    2. Noting that a difference in physical trail damage between Class 1 ebikes and human powered bikes is not practically measurable
  3. A comprehensive education plan for all trail users
    1. Noting that ebikes would not be the only contributor to social impacts on our trails.  Other contributing factors would be: population growth; increased interest in the outdoors; GPS-based racing apps; and COVID.

In Sept 2020, having no response to our proposal, MWTA suggested to city Parks staff that MWTA would apply for a grant to fund an outside facilitator to assist with developing a meaningful, community supported pilot program. 

Parks staff declined our offer, stating:

At this time we are deep into many different grants and can’t support the effort.  Also, we haven’t landed on any proposal to change, amend or keep eBike policies.  So writing a grant may be premature.”

In November, 2020, city staff conducted a shorter survey, and in March 2021 unilaterally announced a 1 year pilot program beginning Memorial weekend, 2021.  This  included, among other items, allowing class 1 ebikes on ALL soft surface trails where conventional MTBs were allowed.  Notably, this included all trails within all of the City’s TOPS properties, where motorized use is prohibited by ordinance and legal conveyance restrictions, i.e. conservation easements.

No metrics were proposed for the pilot despite suggestions from the TOPS working committee and Parks board (neither board was asked to vote on a recommendation for the pilot – they were told it was being implemented administratively). An education program that loosely included signage, surveys, and user interventions was proposed but has not been implemented.

On multiple occasions since March, 2021, MWTA, the TOPS Working Committee, Parks Rec Board, and others requested a determination from the city’s legal department regarding the inclusion of TOPS properties in the pilot program and the legal jeopardy due to the motorized vehicle prohibitions contained in the ordinance and conservation easements. MWTA and these public boards have also raised concerns about the lack of metrics for the pilot, and the minimal pre-decisional engagement with stakeholders.  

MWTA supports the concept of a pilot program.  However, we requested on multiple occasions that any pilot program approved first by the relevant public boards: TOPS Working Committee, the Parks Board, possibly City Council. It was also suggested that input from the Superfriends group be solicited and considered.  The Superfriends group is a collection of representatives from all the Friends groups across the Parks system.  Outside of City staff, it is probably the most dedicated and knowledgeable stewards of Parks properties. 

Last week, days before the scheduled rollout of the e-bike pilot program, the legal opinion of the city attorney was finally obtained, and the entire pilot has been put on hold indefinitely.  

The Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates board of directors is disappointed that after years of MWTA suggestions to parks staff for a responsible proposal for ebike use in our community, the City is still not able to move forward with a pilot program. 

We recognize the inconvenience and imposition this foreseeable, avoidable delay places on users and retailers who were counting on the pilot program to move forward. Nonetheless, we believe the proposed pilot study wasn’t right for our community, and that the city attorney was correct in recommending this pause.

MWTA supports legal ebike use, and continues to advocate for a thoughtful pilot study of eMTBs on some soft surface trails throughout our Parks system. Many of our members, board of directors, and staff have ridden and own ebikes. We see them as an exciting emerging technology that offers many benefits to our community, including equity in access to healthy recreation, and improvements in multi-modal transportation.  

We call for Parks staff to collaborate with stakeholders to develop a better pilot program that respects the legal status of our treasured open spaces. 

MWTA suggests that any plans to expand ebike use on TOPS properties must be accomplished with due regard to the TOPS ordinance and all existing deed restrictions and conservation easements. 

We also suggest Parks gather citizen input and ideas through the established channels that include TOPS working committee, Parks board,  Superfriends, individual friends groups, other stakeholders and, if necessary, City Council.

It’s worth noting here that federal definitions of ebikes classify them separately from bicycles and from motor vehicles, and that the definitions in no way purport to direct land managers on where or how to use them. The implication of the federal definitions are that ebikes as ‘vehicles’ are regulated at the federal level by the Consumer Product Safety Commission rather than the Federal Highway Authority.  The definitions may be used by land managers in making access decisions, but in no way imply that ebikes are not motorized.

Colorado law legislates that some ebikes may be used on CDOT controlled roads and paths where human powered bikes are allowed – and also on trails in state parks.  The state law has no bearing on ebike regulations for properties within the City of Colorado Springs parks system – and especially TOPS properties. Our city codes, which were recently reviewed and revised, also do not specify any ebike regulations on city trails.  

IN closing MWTA that our city’s staff, and in particular Parks staff, is often called to manage a large and complex set of properties, while lacking sufficient resources. Our city’s Parks funding was hit hard in 2009 and despite large increases in population, more parks properties and interest in using them, funding has only just recovered to 2009 levels. We applaud the hardworking Parks staff who regularly use ingenuity and vision to achieve great outcomes for our community despite the resource limitations. In this case, MWTA believes that insufficient resources were allocated to research, consideration, and stakeholder engagement before the pilot study was announced. 

The MWTA board reaffirms our offer to use our organization’s resources in collaboration with our partners, especially with robust stakeholder engagement and planning for a safe, legal and successful ebike pilot program.