Because I am an eternal romantic I surprised the Planner Guy last week with a trip to Denver to visit friends and family - and, of course, an adventure with Denver's B-Cycle Bike Share program! Neither one of us have ever used a bike share program, and as an urban planner Bob, a former Denver resident, was very interested in seeing how they worked.
Bob and I picked up our bikes in LoDo (lower downtown), a massive mixed-use redevelopment along the Platte River that was just getting underway when Bob left Denver 10 years ago. We chose the LoDo station because of its proximity to the Denver Aquarium and the mother-ship of the Mountain West, REI. Additionally, we wanted to pedal around the new redevelopment and enjoy the multi-use path along the river.
The first thing about using the B-Cycle bike share for the first time is not to panic when approaching the station. Just have a credit or debit card and read the instructions on the front of the check-out kiosk. Just like an ATM, the computerized window provides step-by-step directions for purchasing several types of memberships. Subsequent checkouts alert the member to the remaining time. We found that the buttons on the kiosk are more responsive to warm fingers so bringing a a cup of hot coffee or hot chocolate along with you might aid in moving the check-out process along a little faster.
Each bike is stored in a numbered dock. Removing the bikes from the dock is effortless. The checkout allows you to choose which bike you would like to check out and you simply enter the number of the dock from which you plan to remove the bike. I couldn't find a way to check out two bikes at once so went through the process twice and purchased two 24-hour memberships for $5 each.
The 3-speed B-Cycles are proportioned to fit any rider so you don't need to worry about finding a the right size. The frames are all step through and the saddles easily move up and down to accommodate a right of any height. Each bike is equipped with headlights and rear red blinker lights, a generously proportioned wire front basket that is permanent attached, a skirt guard, and a two pronged kickstand. A cable lock is attached to the inside of the basket and locks below the basket. Unlike my bikes at home, the B-Cycle does not have a rear view mirror attached to the end of the handlebar grip and that is one feature that I would have appreciated, especially in an unfamiliar city. However, riding without a mirror forced me to get back into the very good habit of checking over my shoulder, something I occasionally lazy about.
The bike share program is integrated with Denver's public transportation. The informational sign at the end of the portals detailed the location of other stations, as well a transit stops downtown. We were impressed that during our ride in LoDo and the rest of downtown Denver we saw numerous B-Cycle stations and had no trouble finding functional bike racks around the city. I was particularly impressed with the racks located at REI, which allow for many bikes to be easily parked and removed. Not surprisingly, a B-Cycle station is located at rear of REI near the multi-use path. Had we ended our journey there we could have checked our bikes into any of the available docks. That is all that is necessary to return to bike. Each bike has GPS and radio frequency IDs that track location and use.
As mentioned earlier we plans for the day included a visit to the Denver Aquarium just down the street from REI. Absolutely nothing bikey occurred at the aquarium, although it is right off the multi-use path. I only mention the aquarium so that I have an excuse to post the "art" photography Bob and I created during our visit.
Of more bikey relevance is that afterward we enjoyed lunch at a Mexican restaurant across the street and because we were on bikes were able to indulge in a large margarita and a guilt free lunch. One thing a person should never have to worry about while on a birthday vacation is dieting and when your riding a bike to get around (we also used the city buses) rather than driving a car, you can actually enjoy your meal rather than worrying about weight gain.
After lunch we were up and down the multi-use path that ran along the Platte. Most of it was paved and nice and wide, although we did ride along some dirt and gravel sections that might have been cut by bike riders and runners (we saw many of both groups) rather than intentionally placed by the planners. We liked the view of downtown from the Platte and appreciated the informational signage located just off the path. I would have liked to have spent more time on exploring the multi-use path but we were meeting up with friends for dinner and needed to head up town to catch a bus home.
Here, is Bob consulting Google maps attempting to location a stop for the #6 bus. As you can see, the basket came in handy, securely carrying a large REI containing two pairs of ski pants, a ski jacket and two running jackets.
All-in-all, I found the B-Cycle bike share program well worth the membership. We'll definitely use it again when we Denver or any of the other cities that have the program (as does Chicago, and soon, Louisville). I can't think of a better way to see a new city from the street level. Being on a bike is so easy in terms of being able to make spontaneous stops to explore interesting landmarks and that quirky boutique that's unlike anything in your hometown.
For residents, the program is a great way to check out and became comfortable with bike commuting, especially if you are thinking about or already using public transportation. I've seen a lot of people not take that first step to bike commuting because they don't have a bicycle and don't want to make the investment when they aren't sure they will use it. A bike share program seems like a great way to help those who are on the fence about bike commuting transition to a less car dependent lifestyle. As a regular bike commuter, I prefer to have my own bike rather than have to worry about availability or using up my "minutes" but if a downtown resident who might lack a secure storage space or a resident commuting into the city by bus or car pool, the bike share program could be a perfect solution to getting around without having to worry about finding parking, paying for meters or filling a gas tank.
So do any of you have any experience with a bike share program? Do you think it has much potential in your community to raise interest in a less car dependent culture?