Steamboat City Council wants youth helmet requirement in updated e-bike ordinance

Ordinance adds Sailors Way to list of e-bike approved trails, but will likely evolve before final approval

Visitors at the EV Ride & Drive Event in May 2022 at Howelsen Hill try out e-bikes from Pedego in Steamboat Springs. City Council signaled on Tuesday, March 7, that they want to add a provision to an updated ordinance passed on first reading that would require riders age 15 and younger to wear a helmet when using an e-bike.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Steamboat Springs City Council indicated it wants to add a requirement for electric bike riders age 15 and under to wear a helmet when council considers an e-bike ordinance on second reading in the coming weeks.

On a 6-1 vote Tuesday, March 7, council approved the first reading of the ordinance that would extend the e-bike trial period and add Sailors Way to the list of trails, with council member Gail Garey opposed.

Garey said she disagreed with the Park & Recreation Commission’s recommendation to add Sailors Way to the list of trails where e-bikes would be allowed, as Sailors Way has tight corners and is a designated off-leash dog area.

In a robust discussion, council members indicated they wanted to do more in terms of e-bike regulation before the snow melts, including considering a provision that would require helmets for Steamboat’s youngsters who often zip around on roads alongside much larger vehicles.

“I am a huge, huge proponent of helmet use for anybody under the age of 15, and that includes the user and the passenger,” said council member Heather Sloop. “I believe that we can change the breadth and the scope of what this looks like for our community. … I would support it until the cows come home.”

City Council is expected to consider the ordinance on second reading in two weeks, though that could be pushed back. Council members directed Parks and Recreation staff to come back at that meeting to present a number of things, including what kinds of education staff have historically done in regards to e-bike regulations and what measures they would study to gauge the success of the extended trial period.

The extension of the trial period also adds class 2 e-bikes to trails where only class 1 e-bikes have been allowed previously, including neighborhood connector trails like Blue Sage, Butcherknife, Tamarack Sneak, Bear Creek and Fox Creek. Sailors Way, which is considered a safe route to school, will allow both e-bike types as well.

The larger part of the discussion revealed a general discomfort with the landscape of e-bike uses in Steamboat, particularly around younger riders who don’t often obey traffic laws, which several council members said poses a significant safety risk.

Council member Michael Buccino suggested that council should require e-bike users under the age of 16 to take a course focusing on traffic laws, so they understand the rules while riding on the roads with larger vehicles.

“My concern is for the safety of our kids, that’s it,” Buccino said. “We see them on the road zipping around, going through stop signs, going through on the alleyways … I saw a huge crash once, and I’m just like, ‘That’s just going to kill some kid down the road, and we’re going to wish they at least had a helmet on.’”

“I want to make sure that kids are aware because it’s not their fault if they don’t know the rules or there’s no policy that they have to do training,” said council member Dakotah McGinlay. “That’s up to us. That’s our responsibility, so I want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to at least give them the tools to understand.”

But not everyone was on board with the idea of requiring a formal class before young riders can venture out on their e-bikes, with Council President Robin Crossan saying that council needed to look to parents to better inform their children.

“There is parental responsibility that needs to come forth,” Crossan said. “There’s tons of parents that teach their kids how to drive cars. Parents should be teaching their kids the rules of the road, whether it’s on a pedal bike or an e-bike.”

Parks and Recreation Director Angela Cosby said she would pull together a presentation about what kinds of education her staff does, and she indicated that installing a requirement as some council members suggested would likely be a longer process and require more work for a department that’s already stretched thin.

“Staff will propose action plans that are achievable with our current resources, and you can decide if that meets your needs or not,” Cosby said.

Crossan signaled that council should to have a larger discussion on e-bike usage, but also stressed that council needed to get an updated ordinance in place before things warm up and streets are again abuzz with the bikes.

Still, Sloop stressed that she doesn’t think council can wait on requiring helmets, even if it breaks from the city’s traditional process of allowing the Parks and Recreation Commission to weigh in first.

Garey argued that council should table the ordinance rather than passing it on first reading Tuesday to allow staff time to further flesh out the changes council was requesting, but other council members preferred passing the ordinance as is on first reading and then tabling a second reading if needed.

“I don’t believe that we have another season to waste with people not wearing helmets under the age of 15,” Sloop said.

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