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Boulder Open Space Board takes up e-bikes on trails

The City of Boulder’s Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) began their review of rules regarding the use of electric bicycles on open space trails at their first of three monthly meetings held on Nov. 9.

This came about because of the recognition of inconsistency between City of Boulder and Boulder County regulations. The first meeting focused on a presentation by the City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks Department (OSMP) staff regarding their surveys of the community to gauge support.

The e-bike presentation was given by Marni Ratzel, Principle Planner for OSMP. Ratzel reviewed the background for the project, identifying the inconsistencies in regulations from a number of agencies responsible for lands that open space trails cross. Ratzel described three options to resolve these discrepancies. Similar to the approach taken by Boulder County in 2019, the focus of policy changes presented by Ratzel would be to distinguish between trails in the mountains and trails on the plains.

Alternative A would allow e-bikes on all OSMP multi-use trails that allow non-electric bikes. This is the most permissive option and would apply to 54 miles of trails.

Alternative B would allow e-bikes on OSMP trails in the plains and also in Boulder Canyon. This option would apply to 34 miles of trails.

Alternative C would allow e-bikes on only OSMP trails that are identified as part of the Boulder County regional trail network. The regional trail network program is a multi-year effort to construct multi-use trails that interconnect communities within Boulder County.

OSMP took three approaches to gauge how the community feels about the alternatives. An online survey allowed people from different locations to weigh in. In addition, on-site surveys were conducted on the ground on several of the open space trails that would be affected. OSMP also conducted several open door office hours in which the public could visit staff in person to voice their point of view.

OSMP staff’s preliminary recommendation is alternative B, which would be very similar to County regulations. Ratzel reported that the public engagement efforts found most support for that option.

The OSBT then moved into questions and answers between trustees and OSMP staff.

Two trustees, Karen Hollweg and Dave Kuntz, started a lengthy conversation on the meaning of “community” in the OSMP survey work. They argued that OSMP surveys are invalid. In the case of the online survey, they feel the scope of the “community'' is too wide.

In the case of on-site surveys, they feel the scope is too narrow. They defined the “community” as only City of Boulder residents and want all of them surveyed. Trustee Michelle Estrella pointed out that many people who work in Boulder and use Boulder open space cannot afford to live in Boulder and so would be outside of the “community.” OSMP staff pointed out that other surveys used for city planning include communities outside of Boulder. Hollweg and Kuntz indicated that the survey results would not influence their decision regarding whether to allow e-bikes on city trails.

Kuntz also said that the surveys were biased because of staff’s preliminary recommendation of Alternative B. Staff responded by describing details about the questions asked in the surveys and objected to his characterization of the survey as biased.

Trustee Estrella opened a discussion of City open space charter wording that limits trail use to “passive recreation.” OSMP staff had decided that e-bikes are included in the definition of “passive.”

Hollweg, however, considers e-bikes to be not “passive” because they are motorized vehicles, and, therefore, banned from trails. Hollweg argued that allowing ebikes would require changing the open space charter, which would be a significant undertaking. Kuntz pointed out that the charter specifically allows for exceptions. Everyone recognized that motorized assistance is allowed for those trail users who are mobility impaired.

The next meeting will be held on Dec.14 at 6 p.m. OSMP staff will present their final recommendation to the Board of Trustees. The meeting will include a public hearing for comments from the community.

The final meeting will be held in January on a date to be determined. Typically, OSBT meetings are held on the second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m. That meeting should see the board's final decision on the rules for e-bikes on City open space trails.

OSBT meetings are currently virtual. More information can be found at:


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