Proving biking's advantages as a form of transportation generally poses little challenge, though if you really desire evidence you can check out Old Town Bike Shop owner John Crandall's giant graph. It illustrates, in terms of weight and distance traveled, how a human on a bike outperforms everything from a hummingbird to a helicopter and a salmon, to achieve "most efficient" status. (Ding! goes the bike bell.)
Now, discuss the bicycle as a tool for transformation, and to prevent mocking chortles you may require some talking points, not only about how individuals and families form healthy habits, but about how whole landscapes and communities are revived and reshaped.
"If you doubt the power of bikes to transform a place ..." begins a recent High Country News article about the overhaul of a vagrant-plagued Gallup, N.M., lot that once brought crime into neighboring homes. It has now grown into the hip Gallup Brickyard Bike Park.
To witness a similar metamorphosis of blight-to-bright, you won't have to go farther than the south edge of downtown Colorado Springs, site of the Urban Singletrack Project. It's a new half-mile mountain biking path mostly overlaying former trails that once wove through the homeless tent camp near Interstate 25, across from Motor City.
After garnering national attention for the illegal expanse, the city enacted a camping ban in early 2010. But this area adjacent to the Santa Fe Trail didn't immediately bounce back; USP volunteer organizers say they've hauled out more than 100 bags of refuse since the development of the "Banker's Lunch Loop" began around April.
In its inspiration and essence, the condensed winding loop network strikes a recreational function first, as a mini playground off a major commuter path. But it also offers much more. Though there's unavoidably a bit of a gentrification-on-wheels vibe — a recent Saturday-morning spin saw a shopping cart and bedroll in the path — it's hard to argue with enhanced citizen safety and environmentally friendly use of public parkways.
A quick spin
USP started when its founder and Colorado Springs Young Professionals owner Jon Severson began casually weaving through the "bum paths" during daily "get-out-and-spin" rides from his Ivywild home. What it's become, says USP volunteer and professional mountain bike racer Cameron Chambers, is an option "for connecting up commutes and linking up recreational rides within the city and not making every ride have to go up into the mountains." In other words, "being able to access real mountain biking from your house quickly."
The loop's accessibility means it attracts both kids learning off-road techniques and local pros like Katie Compton, who've inspired those kids by "ripping around corners," says Severson.
Peter Discoe, owner of Fort Collins-based bike company Swobo, was on hand Aug. 4 for one of USP's Monday Night Chill Rides, offering free test rides of his single-speed Mutineer "adult BMX bike." He says "pretty much any major city will have urban trails, but not so many that I'm aware of are taking the effort to establish them."
With the city parks folks on board and soon to provide signage, Severson has a five-year goal of adding 30 miles of singletrack between the Woodmen Road and Tejon Street park-n-rides, adding a "density of users" to other overlooked or underused corridors. He says he's already been approached by other cities for consulting on similar efforts. One next step here is engaging with nearby businesses to support them and foster even more community tie-ins. Picture a progressive dinner among Borriello Brothers, 503W and Urban Steam, he says.
Urban Steam owner Kelly Bubach has expanded his Monday hours to play hub for the Chill riders, as his property sits just a hundred yards from the loop's trailhead. He's already seen new faces in for coffee or a cocktail: "They come off the trail and see this — we're different, too. The same people that seek out something unique and fun are our best customers."
Say it ain't silver
Allen Beauchamp, an adaptive cycling specialist for the city's therapeutic recreation program, calls urban biking opportunities like the new loop "gateway trails," luring people into the sport. A few years ago, as a Kids on Bikes volunteer, he created the popular Popsicle Ride, a gentle cruise from America the Beautiful Park to the Fontanero Street bridge.
More importantly, he's now acting as director for the formation of CSprings.bike, "a fully formed and organized bicycle advocacy organization ... a 'hub' for all things bicycle-related," currently operating under the Trails and Open Space Coalition. That we've lacked such an active agency, as well as a full-time bike and pedestrian planner at the city, concerned Stephen Clark from the League of American Bicyclists during a recent consulting visit. He warned Beauchamp that if significant changes weren't made by 2016, the Springs was in danger of losing its silver status, bestowed by the League as part of its Bicycle Friendly America ratings program (bikeleague.org/bfa/awards).
"That sent shock waves through the community," says Beauchamp, who recommends an in-traffic spin near Briargate or Stetson Hills to see just how "we have a long way to go." But "while tinged with a bit of negative," he says, "it's a brilliant opportunity to seize the momentum and energy ... to focus our work on not only recovering some of the numbers that have dropped, but to get much, much better at telling the very positive story about the rocking place that Colorado Springs is, and how much potential we do have."
Beauchamp and crew had been working on CSprings.bike for months ahead of Clark's drop-in, full well knowing that "we can't just pop a couple sharrows down and call it good."
Next steps include partnering with the city and the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments as they move forward on the implementation of their Regional Non-Motorized Transportation Plan. Those are typically done every 10 to 15 years, and recently gathered data should be finalized around November. The city paid a "world-class" U.K.-based consulting firm extra for a bicycle master plan, the last one having been done in 1996. "It's woefully outdated," says Beauchamp.
So that's about to change. And with incoming infrastructure such as the Urban Singletrack Project, in two years maybe we'll not only keep that silver status, but perhaps pedal closer to gold.