Shoulder to shoulder they pedaled down the Pikes Peak Greenway Trail: Allen Beauchamp, the motivated and relentless bicycling advocate, and John Suthers, the newly elected mayor of Colorado Springs.
Behind them, a posse of 100 riders followed along on the Mayor's Ride, laughing and absorbing the natural ambience that June morning's offer. Across town, more than 1,000 cyclists had registered for last week's Bike to Work Day events. Many more participated by dusting off their old metal steeds and making a quick spin to work, if only for one day.
One month on the job, and Suthers had already gone where his predecessor refused to go. In four years, former Mayor Steve Bach never made the morning ride with the locals, as his predecessor Lionel Rivera did. But something changed when Suthers straddled a fat bike (made locally by Borealis Fat Bikes) and began the short journey from Goose Gossage Park to downtown Colorado Springs. There was a new buzz for cycling in the music of chattering derailleurs and the crunching sounds of rolling rubber on gravel.
"We have the mayor back, and what a difference in the energy we have today," said Al Brody, who founded the Mayor's Ride. "We had every TV news station here. That hasn't happened in four years, and now they're back. There are lots of people, and the energy is back, and it just took the leader of the city to just say it's OK."
Jill Gaebler, one of several City Council members on the Mayor's Ride, noticed the difference.
"He (Suthers) raises the level of attention that this event receives," she said. "It tells this entire community and the state of Colorado that Colorado Springs cares about cycling and is trying to improve its multi-modal transportation options."
One after another, politicians and cycling advocates stepped onto the stage of the old band shell in Acacia Park and said the right things.
The 2015 Bike to Work Day may have become the launching pad for new growth in cycling.
It felt good. But feeling good doesn't feed the dog.
The Bicycle Economic Impact Study driven by the Trails and Open Space Coalition concluded that bicycling has a $28 million impact on the Pikes Peak region and that every dollar spent on cycling infrastructure provides a return of $1.80 to $2.70. Meanwhile, Suthers reported that the League of American Bicyclists has assigned a "silver" ranking to Colorado Springs for its bicycle friendliness.
"Silver" in a city that embraces healthful living, where neighbors, co-workers and families run, hike and ride every day. Silver isn't good enough. Financial solutions, action and dedication to the cause are needed most. Suthers, Gaebler and the rest of City Council have to lead.
Where to start?
How about this? We have to strike while the potholes dotting our city streets are fresh. Suthers wants a sales tax to fix the streets — and he is receiving little pushback from anti-tax Colorado Springs voters, at least for now. When the asphalt is poured to repair our roads, new bike lanes also can be installed.
"If we can get some money to improve our roads, then we have to make sure those road improvements are done in a way that facilitates cycling," Suthers said.
Make no mistake, roads come first, but cycling improvements in the immediate future will focus on connectivity, said Kathleen Krager, city transportation manager.
She indicated that there is $1.2 million (not nearly enough, but it's a start) available for bike lanes and "missing sidewalks." Several crucial trails projects in the works will be funded through the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority.
"We have a polka-dot system of bike lanes across the city, and now we're trying to spend money to actually connect them so that we can get from one end of the city to the other," Krager says.
It's easy to talk a good game, and much more difficult to deliver. But Bike to Work Day offered some hope.
Suthers and City Council are on board.
As Brody said, the energy is back, and the time to make improvements — the time to go for the gold — is now.
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