As the clock hit midnight Wednesday morning at City Hall, the Flagstaff City Council unanimously passed an ordinance allowing most electronic bicycles on the Flagstaff Urban Trails System.
The amended ordinance, initially voted on at the June 4 meeting, allows class one and two e-bikes the same privileges as regular bicycles. Both classes of e-bikes, which can reach a maximum speed of 20 mph, will be allowed on sidewalks, as well as paved and unpaved portions of FUTS.
However, the final version of the ordinance came with multiple amendments proposed by Councilmember Jim McCarthy, as well as one by Vice-Mayor Adam Shimoni.
McCarthy initially proposed a longer amendment, excluding e-bikes from the Arizona Trail in Flagstaff, all Buffalo Park trails, the Karen Cooper Trail, the Switzer Canyon Trail, the Sinclair Wash Trail segment between Lone Tree and the Arizona Trail, and the Mars Hill and Tunnel Springs Trails on Observatory Mesa.
“At this time, I’m just finding it very difficult to arbitrarily designate certain places for e-bikes and certain places for normal bikes,” Councilmember Austin Aslan said in response to McCarthy’s proposed amendment, with the latter breaking out specific trails as individual amendments.
Council passed McCarthy’s first amendment, preventing all e-bikes on the Arizona Trails within Flagstaff city limits, 4-3, with Aslan, Shimoni and Councilmember Charlie Odegaard voting against. Additionally, McCarthy asked for e-bikes to be disallowed on the Nate Avery Loop Trail at Buffalo Park, which passed 5-2 with Odegaard and Shimoni voting against.
A third amendment to disallow e-bikes on Mars Hill and Tunnel Springs Trails did not pass.
Another amendment by McCarthy to add signage to the FUTS and enforce a 15 mph speed limit failed to pass, and was met with boos from the citizens gathered in the chambers. Shimoni later proposed an amendment just covering signage on FUTS trails that passed unanimously.
Council also included an amendment, passed unanimously, to allow the transportation commission, the bicycle advisory committee and pedestrian advisory committee to review the current trail exclusions and propose others to be excluded.
Prior to the votes, Councilmember Regina Salas reiterated her belief that Shimoni should recuse himself based on his ownership of a bicycle business. Flagstaff city attorney Sterling Solomon clarified that an independent legal opinion was obtained and it was made clear that Shimoni would not have to recuse himself.
“I just don’t see any conflict. With the rule of 10 clearly outlining that if there are 10 or more businesses doing similar business, there is not a conflict,” Shimoni said at the dais. “Our attorney and our outside legal opinion have both confirmed that is accurate.”
WORKING TOWARD A SOLUTION
After more than 20 members of the public spoke for an hour in front of Council both in favor and against the proposed ordinance, the discussion branched out in many different directions.
“I keep on wondering why we are here? My understanding is we were here because we wanted to set a policy for a business coming in and bringing 25 e-bikes along with pedal bikes,” Councilmember Jamie Whelan said. “And somehow from that we got to DUI to all of these things that I am not sure we were even ready to discuss because of the lack of data, the lack of knowledge.”
After members of the public brought up FUTS was originally introduced as a network of nonmotorized trails upon its creation in the late 1980s, Council briefly moved on to what type of motor they were discussing.
“Some folks aren't actually understanding what kind of bike we are talking about here,” Aslan said, referring to concerns about noise on the trails. “There was a pretty significant percentage of folks who what they are concerned about is class three e-bikes or gas-powered bicycles on these trails.”
McCarthy countered with the opinion that any type of motor was originally intended to be kept off of FUTS.
“I’d just like to point out that the existing rule is that e-bikes are not allowed on FUTS trails, because FUTS trails since 1988 have been nonmotorized trails,” McCarthy said. “So what we are contemplating here is a big change.
“As far as motorized or not motorized, if you have a bike that has a battery and a motor, that’s a motorized vehicle, period. End of discussion. Motorized is motorized, don't pretend it isn't,” McCarthy added later in the meeting.
Odegaard added that when the original designation was made, he didn’t think they had any idea e-bikes would come into existence and believed an e-bike is just a bike.
“This is really a conversation about change and I think that is why it is so difficult,” Mayor Coral Evans said near the end of the discussion. “Now we are looking at the FUTS trails and some of us are like this is the last thing in Flagstaff that hasn’t seen a severe change, and now that is going to change.”