Project Overview

City of Boulder Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP) is considering and evaluating the use of e-bikes on some city open space trails. An online engagement questionnaire was open from July 11 to Aug. 8 to gather community feedback. Over 2,330 responses were submitted and are being reviewed by the project team. Input gathered will help guide the development of a staff recommended preferred alternative, which will be presented to the Open Space Board of Trustees later this year.

Current Conditions

The status quo is that current city policy prohibits e-bikes on open space trails but they are allowed on multi-use paths that are managed by other city departments. If e-bikes are a desired or envisioned use on a trail located on land managed by OSMP, it requires open space land to be disposed of by selling, transferring, or giving it to another public agency.

Disposal is not typically a preferred approach. Amending the city’s e-bike policy on OSMP may provide flexibility and alternatives to disposal in situations where e-bikes are an envisioned or desired use. Amending the city’s e-bike policy on OSMP is also being considered and evaluated to determine if a change would better meet the needs of the community, improve access to more ages and abilities of visitors, provide consistent regulations with adjacent public land managers and support broader climate goals.

Currently, e-bikes can be ridden in city bike lanes, on city multi-use paths and on city sidewalks outside dismount zones. E-biking also is allowed on Boulder County Parks & Open Space trails in the plains.

Alternatives under consideration

If the current condition/status quo of no e-bikes on open space were to be changed, OSMP has identified the following three alternatives as options to consider:

Staff’s preliminary evaluation and proposal had identified Alternative B – allow e-bikes on OSMP Plains Trails that allow bikes and the Boulder Canyon Trail as having the most advantages.

Community Feedback

An online engagement questionnaire was open from July 11 to Aug. 8 to gather community feedback.

Community input gathered will be used to help develop a final staff recommendation for Open Space Board of Trustees (OSBT) and Council consideration on if and how to allow e-bike use on open space trails. More information on how staff will use your input and next steps are below. (Next Steps)

Alternatives Analysis

View the full staff analysis of all the alternatives PDF.

Staff’s preliminary proposal of Alternative B (Plains Trails and the Boulder Canyon Trail) is based on:

  • An adaptive management approach to allow e-bikes on city open space. Amending OSMP’s e-bike policy will provide flexibility and alternatives to disposal of open space (selling, transferring or giving OSMP land to others to manage), which is not typically a preferred approach, if/when e-bike use is provided or contemplated. 

  • Consistent visitor experience across interconnected trails with Boulder County and other City trails. Boulder County Parks and Open Space allows e-bikes on Plains trails except trails with joint ownership interest by OSMP (Coalton Trail, Boulder Canyon Trail and Mayhoffer Singletree Trail (north of Coal Creek Drive). OSMP asked to exclude until the city evaluates e-bike use on open space trails.

  • Effectiveness of regulations. A boundary of east of CO 93/Broadway/North Foothills as the dividing line between “Mountains” and “Plains” trails is a relatively simple geographic boundary that is generally easily understood and therefor likely to be complied with by most community members.

  • Significantly increases equitable access to open space lands by inviting community members of all ages and abilities to enjoy open space trails. E-bikes provide a way for community members experiencing disabilities, those with mobility challenges and our aging population to experience much of Boulder’s open space bicycling network. 

  • The OSMP-supported literature review by BCPOS and results from other agencies indicate minimal impacts to natural resources, visitor experiences, visitor safety, and the trail system.

  • Supports broader city climate goals. E-biking on OSMP trails could increase the percent of visitors who arrive to open space trails by bike and may contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions typically caused by motor vehicles.

Proposed Monitoring of e-bike use

  • E-biking activity would be added as a new category in future visitor surveys, alongside all other allowed activities, to track change over time as part of systemwide monitoring efforts. This will allow staff to report out changes, if any, that may be attributed to e-biking activity on the open space visitor experience, conflicts between user groups, medical incidents and summons, and the percentage of visitors that use open space for e-biking, their demographics, and mode choice for getting to open space trails.

  • E-bike regulations could be adjusted after a period of monitoring as appropriate, as with all activities on open space.

E-biking as a passive recreation

Passive Recreation Definition and Criteria

Passive recreation is identified as an OSMP purpose in the Boulder City Charter. Although the City Charter never precisely defines passive recreation, it does mention several “passive” recreational activities, including: hiking, nature study, and photography. Three other recreational activities are listed in the City Charter as appropriate passive recreation under certain conditions--bicycling, fishing, and horseback riding. Passive recreation is different from developed recreation in that passive recreation activities require minimal construction or development of facilities for the activity to be conducted. The following definition of passive recreation is used in the Visitor Master Plan.

Passive recreation is defined as non-motorized activities that:

  • Offer constructive, restorative, and pleasurable human benefits that foster an appreciation and understanding of Open Space [and Mountain Parks] and its purposes

  • Do not significantly impact natural, cultural, scientific, or agricultural values

  • Occur in an Open Space and Mountain Parks setting, which is an integral part of the experience

  • Require only minimal facilities and services directly related to safety and minimizing passive recreational impacts

  • Are compatible with other passive recreational activities

OSMP used the VMP criteria to assess e-bikes as an emerging activity, determine whether it is passive recreation, and under what conditions to allow. The VMP includes bicycling is as an activity allowed only on designated trails to provide high-quality recreation opportunities in locations that can handle the impacts. Staff’s review of e-biking determined that there are no significant differences between how the department would manage or maintain facilities for e-bikes verses traditional bikes, or that e-biking differs from bikes in relation to the above criteria, leading to the conclusion that an e-bike is a bike with an electric-assist.

E-bikes as a non-motorized activity

In 2017, new state law was enacted that treats Class 1 and 2 e-bikes as bicycles. The definition and regulation of e-bikes was amended to no longer classify them as motor vehicles, and also allows use on bicycle and pedestrian paths unless local ordinance prohibits their use. Both state law (CRS § 42-1-102(58)) and local ordinance exclude e-bikes from the definition of a motor vehicle. These regulations enforce/support the interpretation that Class 1 and 2 are not motorized.

OSMP staff interpretation is that electric assist meets the intent of “non-motorized” in the VMP definition of passive recreation, and that motorized activities includes ATVs, motorcycles, etc. that are allowed on some public lands. The City Attorney’s Office agreed that the state law supports the classification of e-bikes as non-motorized and as a potential allowed use on open space trails.

Next Steps

Staff will consider and share community feedback with the Open Space Board of Trustees in the fall to help develop a recommendation for a final preferred alternative for OSBT and Council consideration. A schedule of next steps is included below.

Evaluation Process Schedule

Timeframe Steps
Apr. - Jun. 2022

Alternatives Assessment

  • OSBT update on background and process
  • Staff evaluation, identification of alternatives, and development of preliminary proposal
Jul. - Aug. 2022

Community Engagement Window

  • 7/13/22: Staff presentation to OSBT on preliminary proposal and engagement window
  • 7/11/22 - 8/8/22: Online questionnaire to gather feedback on preliminary proposal and other alternatives
  • 7/20/22 & 7/26/22: Staff available during office hours at OSMP Hub to assist with completing the questionnaire
Aug. - Oct. 2022 (We are here)

Analysis of public feedback

  • Staff analysis of input gathered from community members
Nov. 9, 2022

Open Space Board of Trustees Meeting

  • Written memo and staff presentation to share community feedback
  • Gather board input on a staff preliminary preferred alternative
Dec. 14, 2022

Open Space Board of Trustees Meeting

  • Public Hearing and action on the staff preferred alternative and a recommendation to Council regarding e-bike use on city open space trails
Mar. 2023

Council Consideration

  • Council consideration, public hearing, and action regarding e-bike use on city open space trails.

About E-Bikes

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An e-bike is a bicycle with an integrated electric motor not exceeding 750 watts of power.

An e-bike is a bicycle with an integrated electric motor not exceeding 750 watts of power. E-bikes are treated by state statutes and local ordinance as bicycles. Local ordinance 7941 and State law (CRS § 42-1-102(58)) exclude e-bikes from the definition of a motor vehicle.

E-biking is an activity where participants are propelled by human power and low-powered electric-assist power. There are two classes of e-bikes being considered for use on open space lands.

  • Class 1: Low-speed pedal-assisted electric bicycle equipped with a motor that provides assistance only when the rider is pedaling, and that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.

  • Class 2: Low-speed throttle-assisted electric bicycle equipped with a throttle-actuated motor, that ceases to provide assistance when the e-bike reaches 20 mph.