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Matt Virlee, Denver B-cycle customer relations and programs developmentDenver B-cycle's man in charge of customer relations and programs development, Matt Virlee.
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Denver B-cycle BikeA Denver B-cycle bike at the bike station.
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Denver B-cycle Bike StationB-cycle bikes parked at a bike share station in Denver, CO.
By Sara Young
As I wrote in my last blog entry, Denver B-cycle has been generous enough to sponsor the 25 Days project by giving me access to their bikes while I am in town. To this point, my experience with the bikes has been quite eye-opening. I have never before felt as unencumbered as I have while riding these bikes which I do not have to lock up, care for or worry about.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Matt Virlee, the man in charge of Customer Relations and Programs Development at Denver B-cycle. He tells me the history of B-cycle and Denver B-cycle, and how the two resulted from the same political event.
“In 2007, in response to then Mayor John W. Hickenlooper’s challenge to make the 2008 Convention the “greenest in the history of mankind,” a group of local sustainability advocates met to brainstorm how to rise to that challenge. This collaboration resulted in connections to Bikes Belong and Humana Health.”
“Within weeks, Humana and Bikes Belong committed to donate 1,000 bicycles and countless labor hours of program development to Denver’s Greening Initiative. They made the same offer to the Republican National Convention. The so-called Freewheelin’ bikes were used throughout the City, with participants logging 5,552 checkouts.”
“In the meantime, Humana, Trek Bicycle Corporation and Crispin Porter + Bogusky created B-cycle, LLC to design and manufacture the first fully web-enabled, credit card-operated bike sharing system based in the United States. Denver Bike Sharing purchased B-cycle as its bike sharing system provider and on April 22, 2010, Denver Bike Sharing, together with B-cycle, brought bike sharing to the Mile High City.”
“Denver B-cycle is owned and operated by a 501 C3 non-profit. All of our operations are paid for with membership and usage fees while our system expansion money comes mostly from donors or grants. Each B-cycle station costs on average about $50,000, depending on size and what kind of work needs to be done at the location. We try our best to equip them with solar, but there are some locations where that is just not possible. We have been awarded grants that will allow us to expand by at least 12 additional stations next year, likely more”
Much to my surprise, Denver B-cycle has a season. Matt tells me about the length of the cycling season in Denver, who rides the bikes, why, and how the bikes are set up to limit long-term use.
“The season goes from early spring, usually the second week of March, until December 5th, and last year we had just over 100,000 trips during that season. This year, we have already had 143,000 trips, and we have some of our best cycling weather coming up. “
“Between Monday morning and Friday afternoon, it is almost exclusively annual users. About Friday afternoon, you start to see walk-up surpass the annual users - those are generally tourists using the system.”
“The bikes are really meant for short trips. On any given day, we can have about a thousand or more users, and we have only about 500 bikes. We try to discourage longer trips by charging extra fees for them.”
We talk about the safety issues regarding the uninitiated using these bikes, and how the city of Denver is adjusting to such a sudden uptick in bike commuting. Matt believes that encouraging cyclists to follow the rules will make for a smooth transition for Denver.
“I would like to see cyclists taken more seriously, and the way that this happens is by following the rules. Denver B-cycle tries to encourage people to become acquainted with the rules of the system as well as the rules of the city they are riding in. We also try to encourage people to wear helmets, but since it is not the law in Denver some of our users choose not to. We do offer a safety class in conjunction with a bicycle advocacy organization here called Bike Denver. As a B-cycle annual member, they get a discount on a safety class.”
We talk a bit about the backlash that is happening to cyclists all over the country, and Matt cites New York as a city that is experiencing public backlash due to the fact that so many bike lanes have been put in so quickly at the expense of motor vehicle lanes. He hopes to avoid this in Denver’s future and cites Portland as a city where the backlash isn’t as bad.
I see the backlash issue a little differently than Matt does, and maybe differently than most. I see it as less of a “backlash” and more of a general temperament phenomenon.
It is my belief that cyclists are being treated as if they are cars by drivers, especially in the way that they take out their road rage on them. If you have ever driven in Portland, OR, you know it is a frustrating experience because Portlanders drive incredibly slowly and don’t really seem to know what they are doing. This is exemplified in behaviors such as cars being backed up in busy streets in order to complete a turn the driver missed, or, stopping in the middle of the street to figure out where they are going. You also hardly ever hear horns in Portland. It is not an exaggeration to say that you could sit at a four-way stop for several minutes before one of the drivers decided it was okay to go.
Compare this to San Francisco where people are yelling at each other and the horns are ubiquitous, and you start to wonder if it is not a case of backlash against cyclists as much as it is an initiation into the wonderful world of riding your bike on the road with angry drivers.
As I go through the project, I will observe this behavior to determine if it is truly backlash, or just a different form of “welcome” to cyclists on the roads.
As far as Denver B-cycle goes, I think the program is off to a great start, and judging by how many shiny red bikes I see on the streets of Denver every day, I would say the citizens think so too.
Sara Young is a writer, artist, cyclist, amateur yogi and avid poetry appreciator. Originally from Chicago, IL, and most recently from Portland, OR, Sara is presently traveling the US, working on her project, 25 Days, in which she travels to 15 cities around the US, talking to people about their favorite places and bicycle commuting. She hopes to create a more bike-friendly society through advocacy, and a more peaceful world through listening.