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Reflections on the Colorado Bicycle Summit

Updated: Feb 4, 2019

On September 6th, CALC members Elayna McCall, Nicholas Auger, and Rebecca Gernes attended Bicycle Colorado’s Bicycle Summit in Steamboat Springs through CALC’s Conference Scholarship Program. The Summit focused on emerging issues for bicycling in Colorado, and included discussions of e-bikes, regional collaboration, and upcoming policy decisions for the state. The event ended with a Draft Meetup hosted by People for Bikes, and coincided with Steamboat Springs’ annual bike festival. Thanks to Bicycle Colorado for putting this together, and to Elayna, Nick, and Rebecca for providing your feedback on this event!

What does the Future of Mobility look like?

The future of mobility is near-constant adaptation. Opening the summit, Bicycle Colorado Executive Director Peter Piccolo questioned whether electric scooters could ever have been thought of as a preferred mode of transportation for adults in business suits. Truthfully, ideas about the best way to move around in our community are constantly evolving. But in choosing a mode of transportation, the average person would ask similar questions: How fast can I get there? How comfortable and reliable is this option? What do I have access to near me? Is it affordable? E-bikes and electric scooters are new additions to this conversation. However, the electric motorized vehicle is not. With environmental impacts a serious concern, the electric revolution has been a hot topic of conversation over the past decade. E-bikes are a welcome part of this growing discussion. Here are some of the main focal points from this year’s Summit:

E-bike Panel Discussion

Nick: This discussion was a quite entertaining start to the summit. The general consensus was that e-bikes are good, serving mainly to combat car traffic and enabling a wider demographic of potential riders to get on 2 wheels.

● There are 3 classes of e-bikes:

○ Class 1 has an electric pedal-assist motor with no throttle, Class 3 has a handlebar throttle similar to a mo-ped, and Class 2 has both features. Of the three, Class 1 is the most popular for recreation, and is currently the only class allowed on multi-use trails.

● In Steamboat Springs, 65% of the e-bikes were undetectable to other other users (pedestrians, cyclists) on the trail systems.

Are E-bikes good for the community?

Elayna: Simply, yes. E-bikes have given people previously unable to bike the ability to get back on the saddle. Speakers from Jefferson County Open Space and Steamboat Springs Parks and Recreation have received positive feedback from their communities. Seniors feel like they can keep up with their kids, and bike longer. E-bikes have broken down barriers to mobility that allows people to participate in bike rides, and group commuting without feeling like they need to overexert themselves just to keep up.

Nick: 60% of people are interested in biking for either recreation or transportation, but concerned about things like safety in traffic, or may have physical difficulties with traditional bikes. E-bikes can make it easier for someone to consider biking as a means for transportation or fun.

Are e-bikes safe?

Elayna: The head of the Jefferson County Open Space said that of the complaints she has received about dangerous biking behavior, they have been from speeding spandex-clad cyclists, not fledgling riders trying out e-bikes. Class 1 e-bikes have a pedal-assist mechanism that allows the user to have more power, in relation to their cadence, to ease the stress and physical exertion of bicycling. This gives the rider the ability to control how much power they want to exercise on their commute. There had not been any reports of e-bike related crashes or injuries in the area with the panel representatives.

Nick: My main concern with this topic is safety. Has there been any crash reports with these bikes at full speed? A heavier bike makes for a harder impact, and may not be ideal with a distracted operator, especially if it is electric powered. All in all, I welcome the e-bikes and hope more people get out and ride.

How can dockless companies use their data to inform city planning?

Elayna: Where are people biking to? Are they taking multiple trips? Are they spending money at local businesses on their bike commute? Jump representative, Nelle Pierson, spoke of the new phenomenon of micro-mobility, stating that people were doubling the length of their bike trips on their electric bikes. The company is even interested in coming out with an app to make it a game to bike to different locations or get points for how much an individual uses their bikes, playing with the idea that people will “play along” if they can achieve new levels or gain points for doing things on a bike.

Overall Considerations

This last question about using data from these new mobility options is the beginning of future analysis in transportation choice. How do people want to get around the city? What is accessible in different communities? If people truly have free choice about their transportation options, what will they choose and how will this affect the future of our transportation systems?

Drivers Education Session:

Nick: This program is absolutely brilliant, I was blown away and am thrilled that it is spreading through the states. Bicycle Colorado is teaching two different formats here, ‘Bicycle Friendly Drivers Course’ (1.5-2.5 hours - with downloadable curriculum) and ‘Auto Friendly Bicyclists’, both approaching the topic from the others’ perspective.

● The overall goal behind the training program is to eliminate traffic deaths through the Vision Zero initiative in Denver.

● 2% of all traffic deaths involve a bicyclist.

● ‘The Dutch Reach’ is the practice of drivers opening the door with their right hand, which forces the driver to look over their left shoulder for bicyclists and other traffic before exiting the car. It is an easy practice to prevent “dooring” injuries to people biking in lanes without a buffer or barrier, and making it into driver’s education. This practice is taught and included in Illinois’ Driving exams.

Colorado Safety Stop Law:

Nick: This topic held my attention the most because it’s part of my daily commute. The Colorado Safety Stop Law has recently passed which allows for a bicyclist to navigate a stop sign as a yield sign and a red light as a stop sign. In general, this makes the flow of traffic much nicer for everyone and will minimize accidents involving cyclists.

Key Points:

● Colorado is a ‘home-rule’ state and can make their own laws.

● The most common crash for cyclists is getting ‘right hooked’ from a driver turning at a light or stop sign where the cyclist is going straight.

● 50-60% of cities are streets and parking.

● Each county will have to decide what a ‘reasonable’ speed means.

To truly enforce this new rule, each county will first have to decide and make it a law, then hopefully, come up with signage (potentially across the state) that will help bring this new law into the public knowledge.

An interesting question for consideration: should there be an age limit?

Steamboat 2A Initiative: Cross-sector collaboration on regional trails

Rebecca: I enjoyed this session's focus on regional collaboration on the 2A trails project in Steamboat. Over the past few years, National, State, Local government, and local advocates formed the Steamboat Trails Alliance, resulting in $5.1 Million for non-motorized trails over the next 10 years. It was great to hear about each sector's views going into this partnership and how these evolved into a true collaborative effort for the trail system, balancing the needs and concerns of all parties. It was also interesting to hear about all the different user groups that the Alliance had to consider in the development of these trails - not just the biking, walking, and rolling groups we're familiar with in Denver, but hiking, horseback, hunting and fishing, and tourist vs. local use. The most useful portion for me was when the panelists talked about the best strategies for working together: attending and supporting one another's meetings, clarity in roles, engagement with the regional land management plan, and maintaining good formal and informal working relationships to discuss issues in a constructive manner. They also discussed some pitfalls they worked through along the way, such as getting too attached to a specific outcome and making commitments too early in the process, rather than allowing for flexibility and communication early on. I enjoyed hearing about the all behind the scenes work that went into this effort, and knowing that the new Buffalo Pass trails came out of such a strong collaborative effort.

Things in the Bike Lane- Denver

Rebecca: This session discussed an ongoing project in Denver called Things in the Bike Lane- Denver, a crowdsourced website hosted by Bike Denver and Bicycle Colorado that collects images and locations of blocked bike lanes. The purpose of the site is to collect information from Denverites on where and how bike lanes are being obstructed throughout the city, document “hot spots” where bike lanes are consistently blocked, and help make the case to city officials to enforce bike lane obstruction, which is currently illegal but rarely enforced.

Since launching in May, the site has over 1500 unique photos of blocked bike lanes. Evaluation of the data so far shows that the vast majority of obstructions come from cars, either making deliveries and drop offs, or parked directly in the bike lane. Construction, people, and miscellaneous items were among the other categories for blockages. These data also show areas that are more consistently blocked- Union Station, Highlands, and the Golden Triangle. The goal of enforcement, however, is a long way away. Currently, parking enforcement falls to Denver Public Works, not Denver Police, and they cite staffing as a key barrier, as well as the challenge of a “moving target,” in that blockages are often for short periods of time, e.g. deliveries and drop-offs.

Overall, this was an interesting session that touched on some challenges of data collection for advocacy. The basic argument so far, backed up by data, is that blocked bike lanes are unsafe, forcing people on bikes unexpectedly and inconsistently into general traffic or onto the sidewalk, which is unsafe for everyone using the street. However, the data alone doesn’t seem to be convincing officials to act. Beyond this, bicycle advocates may need to think about different strategies to convey the stories and impacts that blocked bike lanes have on movement in the city. I think some key values to build on are trust and accountability: How are we expected to meet our goals as a city of zero traffic deaths and a 200% increase in bike and pedestrian commuting if we can’t trust that bike lanes will be clear and safe? What’s the point of spending millions of dollars on new bike lanes and snow removal if nothing is done to enforce them (and how much revenue are we missing out by not doing so)? What are other cities doing about enforcement? What stories, arguments, or demonstrations will help convince the city to take this seriously? Another area to consider for data analysis could be bringing people's experience to the forefront-- for example, what percentage of obstructions occur near schools, parks, rec centers, museums, or libraries, where children and families biking to school may be at risk?

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