E-bike rental fleets, tourists targeted in Maroon Creek Road reservation, fee proposal

A group of e-bikers stop in the middle of Maroon Creek Road on their way to the Maroon Bells day-use area in Aspen on Thursday, July 22, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Locals are unlikely to have to pay or reserve spaces to ride Maroon Creek Road this summer, but for tourists renting bikes in Aspen, that’s likely to be a different story.

Pitkin County Commissioners on Tuesday backed a proposed plan that focuses on the local fleet of e-bikes and regular bike rentals and would require tourists to make a reservation, pay a fee and watch a video on the tag cycling before being able to take the road to the Maroon Cloches.

“I really think the problem has been the influx of new e-bikes and I don’t mind putting the burden of compliance and good etiquette on the shoulders of the people who rent these bikes,” Commissioner Greg said. Poschman, a frequent summer cyclist from Maroon Creek Road. “I really think e-bike fleets need to be limited and put into a reservation system.

“And I think that will solve the problem.”

However, Aspen area residents who frequently cycle on Maroon Creek Road should not have to accept reservations or fees and should not be required to stop and take a test on the label of the bike before starting their favorite workout, he said.

“The convenience of biking to the Bells is as important to a lot of people as even getting to (Maroon) Lake or seeing the Bells themselves,” Poschman said. “Driving this ride has become an age-old hobby for people. And I have to say, as a draw, (the ride) is just as important as the lake and the Bells themselves.

Between May and October, Maroon Creek Road is closed to regular automobile traffic between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., as the popularity of the Maroon Bells previously made parking and the road to the popular Maroon Bells scenic area too congested.

A motorcyclist picks up speed on Maroon Creek Road in the light of the setting sun on a hot sunny day in Aspen on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Tourists must purchase a Roaring Fork Transportation Authority shuttle bus ticket or make paid parking reservations before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. The road is closed at the T-Lazy 7 Ranch in the winter.

A certain segment of the cycling community has used Maroon Creek Road as a regular workout for years, Ben Rasmussen, a contract planner with the US Forest Service, told commissioners on Tuesday. However, the summer of 2020 has brought a significant increase in the number of riders on the road, with most of them e-bike hirers and most inexperienced riders.

“We noticed that a lot of these bikers didn’t know the rules of the road,” Rasmussen said.

Problems included e-bikers stopping in the middle of the road to take a photo or admire the view, refusing to stay only on the right side of the road, riding in packs, not wearing helmets and riding bikes with headphones that made cyclists oblivious to the situation around them, he said. Stressed-out Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus drivers reported multiple near-misses with e-bikes and one minor accident, he said.

Officials initially thought it was the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, which limited the number of seats available on RFTA shuttles that may have caused the drastic influx. However, the shuttles had no seat restrictions this summer, and the number of e-bikers grew, and so did the problems, despite an education campaign, Rasmussen said.

“Bicycle volumes were higher than ever,” he said. “Etiquette and behavior have not improved.”

The number of e-bikers was reaching 350 a day on peak weekends, said Brian Pettet, director of public works for Pitkin County.

Commissioners visited Maroon Creek Road on September 18 to see the situation for themselves and asked for options to try to manage the issue. A committee made up of representatives from Pitkin County, the City of Aspen, the RFTA, the Forest Service, the Aspen Chamber Resort Association, and the Aspen Skiing Co., which rents e-bikes in Aspen Highlands, proposed four options presented on Tuesday.

These included requiring all riders to make reservations, imposing a limit on the number of reservations per day, unlimited reservations, and fees primarily aimed at tourists.

On Tuesday, the five commissioners backed the plan that would allocate a limited number of daily Maroon Creek Road booking slots to bike rental companies based on fleet size and customer base in 2021. A fleet owner would be defined like someone with three or more bikes to rent, Rasmussen said.

Every bike rental booking on Maroon Creek Road would come with a fee, which officials plan to pass on to renters, and require renters to watch a video outlining expected biker etiquette. Rental reservations would be verified by staff at the Aspen Highlands docking station.

Under the plan, local and out-of-town cyclists with their own bikes would not be required to make reservations, pay fees or attend etiquette training.

Commissioner Francie Jacober said she both liked the idea of ​​having tourists book and giving preference to locals, who are likely to know the rules of etiquette.

Commissioner Steve Child agreed.

“I like to start with the fleet bikes first,” he said. “The big numbers that are causing problems are e-bikes that are rented out by stores.”

The amount of the proposed fee, which has not yet been determined, and other details of the plan will be submitted to the commissioners for approval. Public comments are usually collected by the commissioners before the official adoption of these plans.

Pettet said officials would like the program to be in effect for the next summer season.

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