Three advisory boards unanimously recommended Wednesday that Durango allow e-bikes – bicycles with electronic motor assist – on paved city trails, a proposal policymakers and community members embraced.
The recommendation comes after a yearlong trial that started in September 2017 to allow e-bikes on city-owned paved paths, including the Animas River Trail and the sidewalk along Florida Road.
The Durango City Council added e-bikes to a list of prohibited vehicles in 2016. It was done partly as a clarification of its rules banning motorized vehicles. But the city agreed to revisit its ban on e-bikes after hearing requests from the community, which led to the yearlong trial.
Parks and recreation staff have been keeping tabs on e-bike usage in the city since the pilot program began, said Cathy Metz, director of Parks and Recreation. Staff hasn’t noticed problems with e-bikes on city trails, which is part of the reason why staff recommend the bikes be allowed in Durango, Metz said.
City staff also encouraged a group of concerned citizens to stay in contact with the Parks and Recreation Department and report back any issues – good or bad – during the one-year trial period, Metz said. And in this case, no news was good news. Parks and Recreation didn’t hear much from residents, something Metz took as a sign that e-bikes are compatible.
Parks and Recreation staff propose allowing Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes on paved city trails. Class 1 e-bikes are those that assist riders while pedaling but not otherwise. Class 2 e-bikes have the capability to propel a bicycle without human input up to 20 mph.
The idea of allowing e-bikes on city passageways came at the request of residents, Metz said. In response, she said the Parks and Recreation Department convened three council-appointed advisory boards – the parks advisory board, the natural lands preservation advisory board and the multimodal advisory board – to explore how e-bikes could be allowed in Durango.
Those advisory boards formed a subcommittee, which proposed a yearlong pilot program to test whether allowing e-bikes in Durango fits within the community. The subcommittee set specific guidelines to ensure the safety of pedestrians and bikers, including whether e-bikers were courteous, predictable, observable, willing to yield to other trail users and could control their speed.
Those guidelines were what made the program successful and what eased a lot of the anxiety and fear about letting e-bikes on city-paved paths, said city Councilor Dick White.
“It’s an issue all about behavior, not technology,” he said.
The recommendation to allow e-bikes must now go through a public hearing process before the City Council, something White said he expects will pass without much discussion. Most of the discussion happened at the advisory board level, he said.
Larry Whiteside has been riding his e-bike since spring and said he believes e-bikes should be allowed on any trail.
“It aids people in transportation,” Whiteside said. “Durango sees itself as a multimodal community, and this is another step in the right direction.”