2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Commuting by bicycle in Colorado Springs a different experience

Published: May 7, 2014, 8:00 am, by Bill Vogrin
Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin and business writer Wayne Heilman celebrated their successful bicycle commute Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Dalton Walker / The Gazette

Side Streets columnist Bill Vogrin and business writer Wayne Heilman celebrated their successful bicycle commute Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Dalton Walker / The Gazette

On Tuesday, I experienced my most pleasant commute to work in months.

There was no one cutting me off, no one crawling along in the passing lane or scaring me silly as they texted on their cellphones while lurching down Interstate 25.

I pedaled my bicycle to work Tuesday down the Pikes Peak Greenway trail.

The only thing cutting me off was a bunny or two I scared out of the brush as I roared past at 60 mph. (OK, it was more like 16 mph but it felt much faster.)

Rather than listening to drive-time radio dispatches of mayhem and traffic snarls, I listened only to the gurgling of Monument Creek as it splashed gently downstream alongside the trail.

Down along Monument Creek near Roswell neighborhood. This is an August 2011 file photo.

Down along Monument Creek near Roswell neighborhood. This is an August 2011 file photo.

And the only honking I heard came from Canada geese swimming on Pikeview Reservoir along Garden of the Gods Road.

(Click here to watch a video of my commute taped in August 2011.)

Frankly, the ride was exhilarating. I try to commute to work by bike a couple days a week during the warm months. And I had extra motivation Tuesday because I agreed to be part of The Gazette’s team competing in the first-ever Colorado Springs Commute Week challenge.

Mountain Metro Transit is sponsoring the event as a way to raise awareness of alternatives in the Pikes Peak region to the solitary commuter in a single-car vehicle.

Actually, I should get extra points for my Tuesday commute because I bike-pooled with colleague Wayne Heilman. We met at the Sinton Trail in Goose Gossage Youth Sports Complex and pedaled together downtown. We are among several bike commuters in the newsroom.

On Monday, colleague Nathan Van Dyne mashed his pedals from near the airport into downtown and back as part of our team.

Stay alert. You never know when you might encounter wildlife . . . even the prehistoric kind. This is an Aug. 2011, file photo.

Stay alert. You never know when you might encounter wildlife . . . even the prehistoric kind. This is an Aug. 2011, file photo.

Reporter Dave Philipps is another frequent bicycle commuter. He also rides on assignment as he did Monday when he jumped on his bike to chase down to the Martin Drake Power Plant when a black plume erupted south of downtown.

(I hope the team from Colorado Springs Utilities doesn’t try to use the fire as an excuse to wimp out on the commuter challenge. We intend to whup them and a handful of other teams to win awards for most miles, most days, and, of course, most spirited teams! Bring it, CSU!)

You can compete, too. It’s not too late to finish second to the Gazette commuters!

Vicki McCann, spokeswoman for Mountain Metro, says folks can still get involved by visiting CommuteWeek.com and signing up.

And she wants people to have fun with it.

“If you’ve never ridden a bus, jump on,” McCann said. “We’re asking participants to take some photos of themselves. Take a selfie and post it to #commuteweek.”

Mountain Metro wants to celebrate alternative forms of transportation, including buses that criss-cross the region. You can even do a combo bus-bike commute by using racks on the front of buses!

The agency also manages vanpool, carpool and school-pool programs that offer folks a wide range of alternatives to that solitary commute.

Bicycle advocate Al Brody pedals a three-wheel bike in downtown Colorado Springs in this April 20, 2014, photo. Brody would like to see area trails enhanced by bridges and tunnels separating bikes from cars. Courtesy photo.

Bicycle advocate Al Brody pedals a three-wheel bike in downtown Colorado Springs in this April 20, 2014, photo. Brody would like to see area trails enhanced by bridges and tunnels separating bikes from cars. Courtesy photo.

Of course, I can’t think of bicycling without thinking of Al Brody, one of the region’s highest profile bicycling advocates. He rides year-round, in sunshine and snow, rain and ice. Brody rides two-wheel bikes, three-wheelers, four-wheelers and unicycles and he’s even pedaled across Quail Lake on a bike boat.

I asked Brody, 55, why people should get out of their cars.

“I believe I’m healthier than most of my peers and happier than most of my peers because I ride my bike,” he said. “And I meet more healthier and happier people through cycling.”

He is a fan of any program that gets folks on their bikes and shows them how easy it is to commute through the city.

“We have to show people it’s convenient to get them to try it once in a while,” Brody said. “We have to make people feel comfortable on their commutes.”

Of course, more tunnels and bridges separating trails from streets would greatly enhance the region’s biking experience, he said, like a relatively new tunnel on the Rock Island Trail under Circle Drive.

Bicycle advocate Al Brody pedals a bike boat across Quail Lake in southern Colorado Springs in this undated photo. Brody would like to see area trails enhanced by bridges and tunnels separating bikes from cars. Courtesy photo.

Bicycle advocate Al Brody pedals a bike boat across Quail Lake in southern Colorado Springs in this undated photo. Brody would like to see area trails enhanced by bridges and tunnels separating bikes from cars. Courtesy photo.

But there needs to be a commitment to build and maintain those kinds of amenities and that’s something Brody is campaigning for every chance he gets.

Still, he’s happy to see people like Heilman and me getting out and riding.

“I hope more people will,” Brody said, who is retired from the Air Force and rides for fun.

Me, too. I enjoy seeing folks on bikes, skateboards, rollerblades or simply running as I commute. Many have smiles on their faces and often wave hello.

And that, too, is far different than my normal commute.

Rarely are the other commuters I see smiling.

And if they are waving, it isn’t to say hello. It’s usually only one finger!

To learn more:

From noon to 8 p.m. Friday, Mountain Metro Transit will host free buses leaving from in front of the Antlers Hotel in downtown Colorado Springs and from Pikes Peak Community College on South Academy Boulevard.

They will take riders to the Ivywild School, with vendor exhibits related to green commuting and a DJ. There will be specials on food as well as well as Mass Transit Ale from Bristol Brewery.

Click here to see a map of Mountain Metro bus routes.

Follow this link to see a map of area trails.