Steamboat Springs mandates helmets for all bike riders 15 years old and under |

Steamboat Springs mandates helmets for all bike riders 15 years old and under

Steamboat Police Department says focus will be on education, not ticketing teens

Visitors at the EV Ride & Drive Event in May 2022 near Howelsen Hill try out electric-bikes from Pedego Steamboat Springs. Routt County Riders are using a $129,000 grant from the Colorado Energy Office to fund a new e-bike access program in the Yampa Valley.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to clarify that the ordinance will require helmets for all bike riders age 15 and under, not just e-bike riders.

People age 15 and under will need to wear a helmet when they hop on their electric bikes this summer, but officials at the Steamboat Springs Police Department said they plan to prioritize education over ticketing teenagers.

In a 6-0 vote on Tuesday, April 4, Steamboat Springs City Council approved an updated e-bike ordinance that mandates all e-bike riders and their passengers wear helmets or face a potential citation. The new ordinance applies to regular bikes as well, so anyone 15 and under riding a bike, whether it is electric-assisted or not, will need a helmet.

But Interim Police Commander Rich Brown told city leaders that officers want to push compliance with positivity and take steps to reward riders who are following the new rule.

“Our focus is going to be on education,” Brown said. “We want to build relationships with the youth in the community, and we feel it’s very important to establish that education piece before we go out and issue citations to kids in the community.”

Brown said the primary goal with enforcement will be stopping youngsters not following the ordinance and trying to coax them toward compliance. When police come across youth who are following the ordinance, Brown said, he hopes there will be some sort of incentive program to reward them.

Brown said officers have given out coupons for free ice cream at Lyon’s Corner Drug in the past, and council members indicated they want to come up with a formal reward system for following the helmet law.

“Our enforcement is going to be directed toward making contacts with those 15 years and younger, trying to education them, getting voluntary compliance and really working on positive reinforcement,” Brown said. “I’ve seen it work before.”

Council made one slight adjustment to the drafted ordinance to ensure it’s clear the new rule applies to both an e-bike’s driver and any passengers. The ordinance, which extends the trial period that allows e-bikes on certain commuter trails in the city, also adds Sailors Way to the routes approved for class 1 and class 2 e-bikes.

Those trails include Yampa River Core Trail, Walton Creek, Blue Sage, Butcherknife, Tamarack Sneak, Bear Creek and Fox Creek.

The ordinance also puts a speed limit on Sailors Way, which is an off-leash dog area. That has raised some concern among the community, as e-bikes and dogs don’t always mesh well. However, City Council also felt Sailors Way was an important piece of the commuter network — especially for students headed to school.

When council members asked to include a requirement for helmets in the ordinance last month, they asked for an education plan as well with hope of increasing general safety on e-bikes.

Council member Gail Garey, who voted against the ordinance on first reading because she disagreed with the addition of Sailors Way, voted for it on the second reading because she supported the addition of helmet requirements. Garey also said she wants the city to collect data about incidents involving e-bikes to continue to inform the ordinance moving forward.

“What I’m looking for as we continue to work our way through this is that gathering of data,” Garey said. “Who do (community members) know to call and how is that information going to be collected in terms of are we seeing an increase in incidents, what are the incidents, where are they located? … How are we going to get that information so that we can evaluate how to move forward?”

Brown said residents can report concerns through the city website in addition to calling dispatch to report an issue. He also said dispatch could add an e-bike specific designation to its system to better isolate and track issues regarding e-bikes.

The police department has also budgeted to purchase two e-bikes this summer, so there will be a presence on city trails, Brown said. The department also plans to purchase a portable radar gun that allows officers to ensure riders are complying with the 15 mph speed limit.

While the education is focused on youth, City Council President Robin Crossan said adults likely need some education as well.

“I appreciate when you say build relationships with youth,” Crossan said. “There are a lot of adults that ride e-bikes (and) probably aren’t doing the right thing, so I hope your building relationships does not stop at 15- or 16-year-olds.”

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