Horse Gulch Blog

Watchdogging for the greater Durango area

13 Mar 2020

Discrimination against e-bikes called out by representative of disabled seniors

Posted by Adam Howell


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“Discrimination comes to mind.”

Some local bike shops are meeting demand for electric mountain bikes despite the city’s ongoing policy of discrimination.

Those were the words of Ellen Stein, the Senior Disabled/Disadvantaged Community Representative on the City of Durango’s Multimodal Advisory Board. Stein was responding to the Natural Lands Board’s suggestion of banning electric-assisted bikes from all of Durango’s existing natural surface trails.

In particular, Stein was expressing her concerns with the City’s Multimodal Board, the Parks and Recreation Board and the Natural Lands Board.

City staff has tasked the three boards with helping to draft policy for electric bikes on Durango’s open space lands.

The boards recently discussed where the policy-making process was after patiently listening to an hour of public comments (17 in total). All of the public comments during that hour were in favor of allowing e-bikes somewhere on Durango’s existing natural surface trails.

“I think about access a lot,” said Stein, who works for a local organization that represents disabled people. “A lot of these comments tonight really resonated with me in terms of people with disabilities, veterans, seniors. Who doesn’t want to have a young man ride a bike with his mom on our local trails?”

“There are limitations to this proposal that you’ve put forward,” Stein said about the Natural Lands Board’s e-bike ban proposal. “I feel it’s premature, certainly because Multimodal hasn’t made a recommendation or had a conversation about it yet.”

“We don’t have adequate data,” Stein Said. “I don’t like making decisions based on just who shows up.”

Whether or not adequate data exists that could help the boards make any decisions is unclear. Some public comments have suggested that the city should study the physical impacts or public perceptions of interactions with e-bike riders.

A study of e-bikes during a trial period?

More specifically, some have suggested that the only way to really study impacts or public perceptions of e-bike riders is to allow a trial period to exist somewhere on the city’s natural surface trails.

I have been a proponent of allowing a trial period for e-bikes in the Twin Buttes trails where the lands have not been placed under conservation easements.

Also, it would make sense to study the impacts of all users on our local trails, not just the impacts of e-bikes, since they are the group that member of the Natural Lands Board wants to discriminate against.

To single out the impacts of only the e-bikes, and not equestrians or pedestrians, would amount to more discrimination.

Either way, I’m not sure that a scientific study about e-bikes is a wise use of our taxpayers dollars.

Meanwhile, a group of present and former Natural Lands Board members have made the exclusion of bikes from local trails their legacy.


Oh no! Durango might become a mountain biking destination

Former Natural Lands Board Chairman Steve Whiteman promotes discrimination against cyclists.

Former Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board Chairman Steve Whiteman told the board at the December 2019 meeting that he fears Durango may some day be a destination for bikers. Three months later he was replaced with a new board member by the Durango City Council.

“My concerns are mostly distant future, 10 or 20 years, what are Durango trails looking like,” said Whiteman. “The volume of users that we’re trying to accommodate. I kind of feel like we’re already somewhat at a tipping point, in terms of how many people we have using our trails. Specifically, I have some fear that e-bikes might tip it more in the direction of becoming much more mountain-bike centric. Phil’s World, for example, is a great example of a trail system where I don’t think it’s exclusive, but it’s totally dominated by bikers.”

Don’t let their excuses for discrimination fool you.

“It’s very much a destination mountain biking trail system. I think that’s what Durango could become 10 years in the future with e-bikes. That’s my fear. I want to hang on to the Share The Trails philosophy as long as I can because I think it’s a good thing for the community.”

Excluding e-bikers is an interesting way of “sharing the trails,” Steve.

Whiteman was also a proponent of excluding all cyclists from the Oxbow Preserve. The board approved of the bike ban after being suggested by Whiteman and Paul Wilbert.

Does a bike ban in the preserve also count as “sharing the trails?”

Discrimination against e-bikers who pay taxes

Alas, the idea of excluding e-bikers who pay taxes from using the trails did not sit well for City Councilor Kim Baxter, the liaison to the Natural Lands Board.

“You have to remember that all the sales tax raised in this community is paid for by every single member of the community,” said Baxter. “One of the reasons why we have open space and why we have hard-surface trails is so that the members of our community can use those. And to say that we don’t want every single member of our community to be able to use a trail. Whether they’re hikers or whatever because there’s too many of them goes against who’s paying for it and what the spirit of it was all about. I think that it’s a slippery slope to say, ‘hey, no, we’re not going to allow one more person in there.'”

In contrast to this month’s joint board meeting, at the November 2019 joint board meeting there were definitely more public comments in support of e-bike discrimination.

For instance, Michael Burke is an avid hater of bikers using local trails. He is against an e-bike trial.

“When you have a trial, that really pushes things in the direction of what’s on the docket,” said Burke. “You know, when people start doing stuff, it’s very difficult for them to stop.”

“I don’t think a trial would tell you that much,” said Burke. “At best, it worked for one year.”

“Mountain biking has changed over the years. It used to be much more of a passive sport. Now it’s more of a thrill sport.



Discrimination against e-bikers, embedded in conservation easements

One of the reasons why the Natural Lands Board has been opposed to allowing e-bikes on natural surface trails is because most of those lands were purchased with the help of Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO). Matching grants from GOCO required the lands being purchased to be placed under a conservation easement.

What this means is that most of the conservation easements prohibit motorized vehicles on the lands unless they are being used for trail or road maintenance purposes.

The exceptions to this are the conservation easements for Overend Mountain Park, which lack any language about motorized vehicles.

At the regional level, it is important to recognize that Colorado’s House Bill 17-1151 excludes electrical assisted bicycles such as Class 1 and Class 2 electric mountain bikes from the definition of “motor vehicle.”

In contrast to the state’s definition of “motor vehicle” is the City of Durango’s definition of motor vehicle, which does include electric assisted bicycles.

Formerly, the context of what a motor vehicle looked like was dramatically different from what many motorized vehicles are today.

An e-bike, for example, is far more quiet and has way less torque than a two-stroke motorcycle.

At the same time, the popularity of class 1 e-bikes is exploding in Durango. A number of local bike shops rent and sell the bikes to meet this demand.

Despite discrimination, unofficial e-bike trial now in its 5th year

In an explanation of current e-bike-use trends to the boards at the joint meeting in March, Mountain Bike Specialists employee James Ianni said that an unofficial trial for e-bikes is already underway. The unsanctioned trial is in its 5th year on Durango’s natural surface trails, he said.

Discrimination against ebikes on natural surface trails is ongoing, but some local bike shops continue to meet the market demand.

“The prospect of putting an e-bike trial on is ridiculous,” said James Ianni, who’s been working in bike retail for over 6 years. “A trial has been going on for 5 or 6 years now, you just didn’t know it. Every time I go out hiking, I see someone on an e-bike. Someone who is in their 60’s or 70’s who clearly wouldn’t be out there otherwise. I think it’s amazing to see that. I think it’s incredible.”

“This is not something that is happening or will happen, this is something that has happened,” he said. “Proactive management is the approach to take.”

“It is time to officially state that class 1 e-bikes should be allowed on all soft-surface trails. There’s nothing that you or frankly anyone can do to stop that. It’s already happening.”

“I’ve seen e-bikes change hundreds of people’s lives,” said Ianni. “It allows people with knee replacements hip replacements be able to go out and ride their bike again. There’s nothing more beautiful and more simple than being able to do what you love to do as a person.”

Outbound Link:

For other view points, view the city of Durango’s website on e-bikes by clicking here.

Adam Howell is a writer who is on the city of Durango’s Natural Lands Preservation Advisory Board. His reporting and commentary does not reflect or represent the views of the Board or the municipal government. He can be reached by clicking on this link to the contact page.


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