Until recently, riding your bike downtown seemed like a fool's errand. Between the cars whizzing by on three-lane-wide, one-way streets, the scarcity of bike lanes, and an utter lack of bike racks, bike messengers were the only folks that had the guts to saddle up on the streets—and they had the scars to prove it.
Recently, though, we started to notice some changes. Dedicated bike lanes appeared on Wynkoop Street and Glenarm Place. "Sharrows"—painted arrows noting a shared bike/car lane—popped up on 14th and 17th streets. And with gas hitting record prices last summer, you couldn't ignore the droves of bicyclists swarming the streets and trails at rush hour, having traded in their Subarus and briefcases for bikes and Timbuk2 messenger bags. According to BikeDenver, a local advocacy group, the number of Denverites commuting by bike increased 62 percent last year.
Gas prices have dropped with the recession, but interest in bike commuting remains high, as evidenced by this month's launch of Denver B-Cycle, the largest bicycle-sharing program in America. The nonprofit program, based on a similar model used at last summer's Democratic National Convention (and funded by a $1 million donation from the DNC Host Committee), will place 500 bikes at 30 to 40 kiosk stations around the city this summer, rentable to credit card-toting residents and tourists. (The hourly rate has yet to be determined, though it will probably be just a few dollars.) The Downtown Denver Business Improvement District is pitching in too, funding the construction of more than 75 downtown racks for bike parking.
Gary Rossmiller, president of BikeDenver, hopes the increased interest in bike commuting will help launch a "critical mass" of cyclists that will encourage Denver to dedicate more full-time bike lanes on city streets and get more residents riding. "We're trying to create an infrastructure for commuter cycling," says Rossmiller, pointing to the success of bike-to-work days and the increased number of commuters who found it a faster, waistline-trimming method to get to work. "People may start bike commuting for financial reasons, but they'll continue with it for the health reasons."