City Councilor Jill Gaebler gleefully pedaled around the cycling expo at the first Colorado Springs Bicycle Summit. Allen Beauchamp, the city's steadfast cycling advocate, wore one of his famous "perma-grins."
Carrie Simison, publisher of the Colorado Springs Independent, was presented with a new fat bike, her reward for working day and night to organize the June 3 event. And Kate Brady, the city's new bicycle planner, stood before a packed room and talked about her goal of making Colorado Springs one of the country's best cities for bicycling.
The bike summit provided a full day of Kumbaya moments for our cycling community, an evolving and fluid cast of characters, organizations and businesses, striving to create better cycling opportunities in the Pikes Peak region. It hasn't been easy. If any group deserves to feel prideful, it is our cyclists and community leaders such as Trails and Open Space Coalition Executive Director Susan Davies, Gaebler and Beauchamp.
"People came with great attitudes and they were willing to learn," says Davies, whose organization helped create the summit (along with the Indy, SRAM, YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region and Bike Colorado Springs). "And we had a good cross-section in attendance — women, men, advocates, business people, city folks, all who share a passion for cycling."
The day included seminars and presentations on timely topics, such as the economic benefits of cycling, commuting, recreational riding and advocacy. Craig Casper, transportation planner for Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, provided numbers to digest.
Cycling contributes $28 million annually to the local economy.
Each $1 invested in cycling infrastructure (bike lanes, bridges, etc.) provides a return of $1.80 to $2.70 per year in benefits. Or, an investment of $40 million should result in $81 million per year.
Dirk Draper, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Business Alliance, talked about bike lanes creating more business for local merchants. He says cyclists spend more than those who drive. Employees who commute by bike, he says, are healthier and miss fewer days of work. And younger workers, a demographic that Colorado Springs has struggled to keep and attract, are migrating to bikeable communities.
Davies, Gaebler and others insist Colorado Springs is on the precipice of greater bicycling. There is a new Bicycling Master Plan in the works. A bike share program, allowing anyone to grab a bike and ride throughout the downtown area, and perhaps farther, will happen here. Colorado Springs has committed to "Complete Streets" (tinyurl.com/om7rog8), a national program calling for street construction accommodating all users. But creating safe cycling on our streets? Progress can be slow and frustrating.
"We need a project that hits on all cylinders, one that everyone can say, 'Oh, yeah, this works, this does what it's supposed to do,'" Davies says. "We need something that makes it easier and safer for people to bicycle."
Bicycle commuting in Colorado Springs is nearly nonexistent compared to other communities. We ride recreationally, mostly via mountain bike, but few ride to work. Gaebler says that must change: "Women especially want to ride, but they won't ride on the roads until it's safe."
Sales tax builds streets and bike lanes in Colorado Springs. Everyone pays, Gaebler says, so everyone should be accommodated: motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Beauchamp says it's one thing to build a cycling community, but a better goal is to create a community that embraces cycling. We're all in this together. We all benefit in a thriving cycling culture.
What can you and I do to make it happen? Be loud and proud. Our voice counts. "Contact the policy-makers and let them know that you want roads that can be used by all users," Gaebler says.
Check out the organization Bike Colorado Springs (bikecoloradosprings.org), a new effort with a goal of creating safe and accessible cycling in the Pikes Peak region. The website is full of information, and there is a link that will help you become a cycling advocate.
Finally, go for a ride. More butts on bike seats is a real thing. Consider participating in the Starlight Spectacular (more about that at tinyurl.com/starspec16), a June 18 fundraiser for the Trails and Open Space Coalition. (Disclosure: Carrie Simison is on the TOSC board.)
Be patient. Be persistent. Change comes slowly.
But we'll get there, one pedal stroke at a time.
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