High voltage

Durango City Council came out on Tuesday in favor of allowing e-bikes on the city’s natural surface trails, but there’s going to need to be legal wrangling to make it happen.

As it stands, e-bikes are not allowed on natural surface trails located on city open space (except Twin Buttes). However, city councilors don’t have the authority to just vote to allow e-bikes, and here’s why.

Much of the city’s open space is designated as a conservation easement – land protected from development that holds certain restrictions. And one of those restrictions is motorized vehicles. Agree with it or not, e-bikes, which have a motor, are considered motorized vehicles within the legal framework of a conservation easement.

City councilors, however, directed staff on Tuesday to explore how to amend the terms of conservation easements to allow Class 1 e-bikes, which are pedal-assisted with no throttle, and have a maximum speed of 20 mph.

City Councilor Kim Baxter told The Durango Telegraph on Wednesday the council didn’t want to allow higher classes of e-bikes (the higher the class, the more motorized) because they didn’t to send the message that “anything motorized could be in open space, because that’s not the intention.”

How this all plays out is anyone’s guess. The state of Colorado has taken e-bikes out of the motorized category and reclassified them alongside regular bikes. Can the City of Durango follow suit? That’s what city councilors want to find out, Baxter said.

Another caveat is that GOCO, the state agency that reinvests a portion of lottery money in the outdoors – which helped purchase Durango’s conservation easements – has yet to come out with a policy on e-bikes. If, for instance, GOCO comes out and says e-bikes are classified as nonmotorized, then they would be allowed in Durango’s open space.

Durango’s open space is a complicated patchwork, with some parts in conservation easement, some not. According to the city’s website, Durango has protected more than 3,091 acres of land since 1994; 742 of which were dedicated through the planning process or donation.

With City Council’s vote Tuesday, Horse Gulch would be the first to allow e-bikes, followed by Overend Mountain Park and Dalla Mountain Park.

But that’s not to say e-bikes are not without detractors. The City of Durango has studied whether to allow e-bikes on natural surface trails for years, which has raised concerns over high speeds, wildlife disturbance and overcrowding, to name a few.

“E-bikes are motorized vehicles,” Keith Ashmore, a Durango resident and cyclist, said earlier this year. “And I’m concerned about the slippery slope when the next guy comes and says, ‘I’m on a motorcycle, why can’t I use the trail?’”

Come what may, Durango is on the path to allow them – it just may take some time. “It’s very challenging and unfortunately it’s going to take a while for the powers that be to figure that out,” Baxter said. “But we are encouraging and supporting it to happen.”

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