Earlier this year, the city's bicycling community gathered at UCCS for the first Colorado Springs Bicycle Summit. Cyclists, bike organizations and city leaders learned and dreamed about building a better city for bikes.
More than anything, the event served to bring an identity to a diverse group of riders. Cyclists in Colorado Springs could, at long last, begin the painstaking task of turning their pedals together toward common goals.
But what would be the next steps? The community needed a project, something to rally around.
On Saturday, with the blessings of the city, the bike community took that big step at the "Ride on Research."
With the sun on their shoulders, about 100 riders rolled like royalty down Research Parkway in Briargate. They traveled on a stretch of new buffered bike lanes that separated them from auto traffic.
"I felt like a queen," said Kate Brady, the city's senior bike planner. "It's like I know there are cars here. I know they have the potential to hurt me, but I can see them a little better, and I have been given space. I have my own real estate."
The buffered bike lanes did not require new asphalt. The city did not build an expensive new trail. It simply painted over an auto lane that wasn't needed. Research Parkway was made to carry about 48,000 cars a day, but it has only about 22,000. Running east and west, it was built with three lanes in each direction, plus lanes for accelerating.
"It was built like a freeway, and it came from the glory days of sprawl when we were growing like gangbusters, and we had money and we liked to build really big roadways," says Allen Beauchamp, a longtime cycling advocate who helped organize the ride.
This is all an experiment in transportation. The city has promised to monitor traffic flows for a year, but Research Parkway has been identified as a roadway in need of downsizing, and the plan moving forward calls for two lanes in each direction. The bike lanes may be here to stay.
To its credit, the city has required — and developers have built — excellent trails throughout the newer developments. But those trails are contained within neighborhoods. They don't lead to a larger trail network. In many of our neighborhoods, it's difficult to ride to school, or to buy groceries, or to get an ice cream cone.
Cyclists who wished to pedal along Research were forced to use the sidewalk, or ride on a three-lane speedway where lead-footed drivers often ignored the 45 mph speed limit. The buffered bike lanes are meant to change that. They could be the first step in creating safer riding throughout the city. And they could create more bike riders.
"Nobody really rides a bike up here, and I think a lot of it is the safety piece," says Sarah Kelso, who pedaled the buffers with her son Logan. "I can't get around with everybody going 60 on Research, so I'm glad they're doing this. I think people feel like they need more than a 3-foot bike lane."
Briargate resident Hamilton Coutinho and son Leandro enjoyed the safer riding.
"We've used Research for driving only," Coutinho says. "Now we can actually ride our bikes here."
City Councilor Jill Gaebler joined the ride and thinks the buffered lanes are a great idea because riding on Colorado Springs streets isn't necessarily safe. "That's partly because we don't have enough bike infrastructure and partly because we don't have a lot of connectivity between the infrastructure pieces we do have," she says.
Gaebler and Beauchamp have heard from Briargate residents who have loudly protested the installation of the buffered lanes. "There are detractors who are saying there weren't any bikes out there before, but that's because it was a killing zone," Beauchamp says. "You wouldn't want to ride it."
"It's an education for those who are in cars," Gaebler added. "I think change is hard, even if it's good change."
City leaders have long talked about creating better cycling in the Pikes Peak region. And it makes sense. Bicycling has proven to be an economic driver in other communities, creating jobs and attracting younger workers. Good cycling opportunities mean a better quality of life. Colorado Springs is slowly moving in that direction, but Beauchamp is no longer willing to dance around the truth.
"We've built an unsustainable environment, and we're stuck with it," he says. "So we have to figure out, how do we not just get people to live and survive, but how do we get them to thrive in that environment. You let them get on their bicycles and go from their garage to a place of value within their community."