Steamboat City Council moves forward on e-bike ordinance with exception of Emerald Mountain

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After an hours-long discussion, Steamboat Springs City Council voted Tuesday night to move forward with a trial period allowing e-bikes on various city trails with one caveat: E-bikes will not be allowed on Emerald Mountain.

The discussion came after council members received more than 100 letters and listened to more than an hour of public comments from residents with strong feelings on both sides of the e-bikes debate, particularly around the issue of allowing such bikes on Emerald Mountain.

“There are extremely compelling reasons on both sides of this argument,” said council member Lisel Petis. “I do think this allows more people to access trails and to enjoy biking later in life or for different types of disabilities that may not always be physical.”

However, Petis encouraged fellow council members to reconsider allowing e-bikes on Emerald Mountain after the city completes its two-year trial with e-bikes on the Yampa River Core Trail and Walton Creek Trail.

Most community members who spoke out against e-bikes on Emerald said they did so to preserve its trails, which they feared would be quickly degraded by e-bikes, as they are heavier and often faster than traditional mountain bikes.

“Introducing motorbikes on our unique backcountry trails on an existing conservation easement where hundreds of people hike, bike and run every day is a recipe for disaster,” said Steamboat resident Diane Mitsch Bush.

Other residents felt e-bikes on Emerald Mountain would cause safety issues on a trail already crowded with hikers and bikers of all levels.

“I can just see the day when the tourists come (to) rent those bikes, take them up Emerald, and they don’t know how to ride a mountain bike,” said local resident Joan Donham. “When they come up behind me, I’m supposed to get out of their way, and they have to pass me on a single track.”

However, those in support of e-bikes said they would be beneficial for those with disabilities that prevent them from riding a traditional mountain bike.

“I have a disability a lot of people don’t know about, and having to explain that every time I ride my bike and get stopped somewhere is going to be a pain,” said Matt Helm, another resident. “There’s a lot of misinformation, and there are a lot of people that have the ’not in my backyard’ mentality.”

Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Bock said under the Americans with Disabilities Act, those with disabilities are able to ride e-bikes where they want to and cannot be asked about their disability.

Other residents spoke to what they said was misinformation surrounding e-bikes.

“A lot of what has been said tonight is lacking in education,” Scott MacFarland said. “We’re making a mountain out of a mole hill here, and our bigger problems are the increase in public use of our amenities we have here, which COVID has increased drastically.”

As an alternative to allowing e-bikes on Emerald Mountain, council member Michael Buccino proposed using the 2A Trails funding, which was approved by voters to design new city trails, to build an e-bike-friendly trail elsewhere.

“Emerald Mountain is a jewel, and I respect that,” Buccino said. “It has nothing to do with discrimination. The way we get out of discrimination is building their own trail. We’re not saying ’no’; we’re just saying ’not right here.’”

Council President Jason Lacy said council should not shun the idea of e-bikes on Emerald forever but rather wait and see how the trial period on other trails goes before coming back to the issue.

“Slow go is what we try to do with big changes, and this would be a big change,” Lacy said. “There are safety concerns and concerns over conservation.”

Council members voted in favor of the e-bike rules on first reading, meaning they will have to vote again in a few months before the policy is codified.

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