The growing popularity of e-bikes has been lauded for moving some people out of their vehicles and onto two wheels, and also leveling the playing field for cyclists of different ability levels.
But the explosion of the electric-assisted pedal bikes being used on Maroon Creek Road, which is closed to most private automobile traffic in the summer and fall, is becoming a safety hazard for RFTA drivers, CEO Dan Blankenship said Thursday during the transportation authority’s monthly board meeting.
RFTA operated the Maroon Bells shuttles from Aspen Highlands to the scenic area from late June through mid-October this year, a 113-day season that had an estimated cost of $857,484 of which RFTA will net about $715,263 from sales, with the subsidy at about $142,171.
The notes of concern sounded last week weren’t about the subsidy, which is 17%, but of the shuttle and bike interactions.
“People are riding several people abreast,” Blankenship said, adding that bike riders are also making bad passes and passing on blind curves with more frequency.
“It is a safety hazard,” he said, telling the board that a working group has been established to “either reduce the number of cyclists on the road or, at a minimum, require that they are more aware of the rules of the road so as to not jeopardize their safety.
Contacted after the meeting, Blankenship shared that a working group comprised of members from the U.S. Forest Service, Aspen Skiing Co., Aspen Chamber Resort Association, city of Aspen and Pitkin County “plans to review options for next year, which might potentially limit the number of bicycles allowed to travel to the Bells on any given day, and/or provide information and signage that would better inform cyclists of the rules of the road, and/or provide some enforcement of the traffic laws for cyclists.
“We believe measures such as these, or others that might be formulated, will be necessary to protect the safety of all users of the roadway in the years ahead,” he said.
Sharing the road
E-bikes may be rented from a number of vendors in Aspen and Snowmass and their availability is promoted as yet another way to see the sights.
“E-bikes can be a great way for friends with different riding abilities to ride together, as they can help level the playing field. Stronger riders won’t be held back when riding with an experienced rider on a hilly route with significant elevation gain like Castle Creek Road to Ashcroft or Maroon Creek Road to the Maroon Bells,” according to the Frias Properties website.
Enjoying the pedal assistance offered by e-bikes is also being embraced by the local populace, for some of the reasons mentioned above. We-Cycle, the valley’s bike-share program, added some e-bikes to its inventory this summer.
Bike traffic heretofore not seen on Maroon Creek Road was a regular occurrence this season, according to RFTA drivers. That was in addition to pedestrians and rollerbladers with whom they shared the road.
“Literally hundreds of cyclists each day made the trip to and from the Bells on Maroon Creek Road and, from the observations of RFTA bus operators, many of them did not appear to have had much experience riding e-bikes and were not familiar with the rules of the road,” according to Blankenship.
“Often cyclists would ride several bikes abreast and would not move out of the way for buses and automobiles. Because e-bikes can go uphill at 15 — 20 miles per hour, and due to the abundance of blind curves, it made it much more challenging for buses to pass the cyclists going uphill and, going downhill, sometimes cyclists attempted to pass the buses that were following the posted speed limit,” he said.
“The presence of more cyclists and other non-motorized users of the roadway made it much more challenging for bus operators to travel efficiently and safely between the Bells and Aspen Highlands Ski Area this past summer.”
More limited access than usual to the Bells by shuttle and auto due to COVID-19 meant “many visitors to the Bells chose to ride bicycles,” Blankenship said.