In case any of you were wondering, I spent much of the last two weeks in the Old Country, touring Europe by riverboat (imagine Huck Finn with a gourmet chef and flat-screen TV) and traveling within a few hundred miles of my grandfather’s village in Slovenia.
I have so many stories to tell, but most will have to wait for a Life & Travel piece I will be writing.
For now, I want to share a revelation that my wife, Cary, and I experienced in Vienna, Austria, and again in Budapest, Hungary.
Bicycle sharing isn’t a fresh idea, I know.
It’s been working rather well in Denver since then-Mayor John Hickenlooper oversaw the rollout of the nation’s first large-scale program in 2010, according to friends there.
But it would be new to Colorado Springs, and I think it would work well if the powers that be can figure out funding.
As we toured Vienna, Cary and I kept noticing racks of bicycles parked at various places — in the heart of the city, around parks and retail corridors, and along the main routes leading from the Danube River, where our cruise ship was docked.
With the help of an English-speaking Austrian, we registered, rented two bikes with a credit card and launched ourselves on a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of Vienna.
Dodging cars was no problem as Vienna has well-defined bike lanes along its network of sidewalks.
Dodging other bikes was another issue. Riders zoomed past us at dangerous speeds. At one point, I thought we’d stumbled into the peloton of the Tour de Austria.
Once we adjusted to the pace, it was great. Best of all, when we were done sightseeing, we simply followed the bike lane toward the river. About three blocks from the Danube, we found a bike station, parked our bikes in the locking racks and walked the rest of the way to our ship.
What an adventure.
We saw dozens of gleaming new bikes in similar racks stationed around Budapest.
But we could only admire them because that ancient city’s program is still in the testing phase.
All we could think about was how great it would be if Colorado Springs had a bike sharing program for commuters and tourists.
When I got home, I researched bike sharing programs and was surprised to find how common they are in the U.S. I was aware that Denver had a B-cycle program with 700 bicycles scattered across 80 stations.
And I was not stunned to learn it exists in Boulder as well. But there’s a long list of cities, many I consider less outdoor-oriented than Colorado Springs, with bike sharing programs.
So I called my friend Susan Edmonson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership of Colorado Springs, to ask about prospects for bike sharing.
She is a huge supporter of anything that enhances the quality of life in the Springs and has sponsored and promoted events such as fun downtown rides.
Edmonson gave me hope but was honest about the challenges facing urban bikers in the region.
First, she noted the city has hired a bicycle transportation coordinator to work on things such as trail connectivity and bike lanes.
“For a bike sharing program to be successful, we need good bike infrastructure,” she said.
That also means more pedestrian bridges and tunnels at intersections to keep cars and bikes safely away from each other. What’s important is that people are studying these issues and looking for solutions.
One of the folks leading the conversations is City Councilwoman Jill Gaebler, who is pursuing a B-cycle program for the Springs because of all the benefits that spin off from a community that embraces pedal power.
People who bike generally are healthier. Bikes don’t pollute or use fuel or sit and idle in traffic jams. But there are reasons cities such as Fort Collins have bike sharing programs and we don’t.
“I live in the Patty Jewett neighborhood,” Gaebler told me. “My goal is to bike downtown twice a week. But it’s not as safe a ride as I’d like it to be. We need to make it safer to ride bikes on our streets.”
So she’s attacking the issue on several fronts. For example, she and her advocacy group are working with city traffic engineers to identify core routes to be improved.
“If you ride, you know there are 10 to 20 little junctions that need to happen to make this a really rideable city,” she said. “We need to get the inner-connectivity piece done well so they are safe and comfortable for people.”
Gaebler also is looking at the best structure for a ride share program.
“Our goal is to create a nonprofit organization to oversee it,” she said.
Then there is the basic funding question: rely on user fees or find grants and sponsors to finance the program?
“Relying totally on user fees just doesn’t work,” she said. “I think we’ll need sponsors who will sponsor a bike station, for example.”
The advocacy group, which met Monday night, includes Allen Beauchamp, who describes himself as a diehard local cycling advocate. He came on board as a skeptic, but he talks like a believer.
Beauchamp is a card-carrying member of Denver’s B-cycle program because he loves being able to drive north, park, get on a bike and take a 20-30 minute ride to his destination.
But he worries if Springs residents will embrace the concept and pay say $50 a year to get access to the bikes.
“It would be really nice for people working downtown to hop on a bike at lunch and take a ride without giving up their parking spot,” Beauchamp said. “Or to hop on a bike to ride to a meeting that is just beyond walking distance. Or to go to lunch.”
The Denver program offers four options for access to the bikes: $8 daily, $20 weekly, $30 monthly and $80 annually. Members of the program then can ride any bike free for 30 minutes and pay only $1 for an hour.
Rates for a Springs system are one of the things the group is discussing. Gaebler envisions a community conversation about the program once her group’s work gets further along.
Bicycle enthusiasts hope to start by connecting downtown with the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the North Nevada Avenue shopping district as well as Colorado College, the Penrose and Memorial hospital campuses, the Ivywild neighborhood to the south and Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs to the west.
I’d add Garden of the Gods along with a route east to The Citadel mall area.
How convenient would it be to rent a bike at Woodmen Road, ride it downtown, drop it off at a rack and know that another bike would be there when you want to leave?
We’d be as cool as Budapest!