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Fort Collins has come a long way on two wheels

The Coloradoan: Fort Collins has come a long way on two wheels, and cycling momentum continues to build

Feb. 12, 2012 

Written by
David Young

Recently, it appeared Fort Collins’ cycling community came full circle as the city’s bicycle coordinator left to take a job in Davis, Calif.

More than 30 years ago, Fort Collins’ native Elizabeth Sears moved from Davis to Fort Collins, engaging the city in some of the first conversations about bicycle lanes.

Those conversations sparked the renowned bicycle community that Fort Collins has become.

People take notice of what Fort Collins has done with its cycling culture. Be it the League of American Bicyclists bestowing Gold status for being a Bicycle Friendly Business or bicycle companies such as Swobo selecting Fort Collins for its headquarters, the Choice City is synonymous with bikes.

Today, Fort Collins has 38 miles of off-street multi-use trails, 112 miles of bike lanes on roads and numerous bike events.

And, the number of cyclists in Fort Collins is going to continue to increase as more bike-friendly measures are put in place, experts say.

History of bicycles in Fort Collins

Long before miles of trails were put down, Fort Collins was paving the way for the two-wheel mode of transit.

The city’s 2011 Bicycle Safety Education Plan history points to Sears who urged city leaders to install the first bike lanes in Old Town east of College Avenue.

Sears’ foresight made way for the first bike trails along the Poudre River in the 1980s and ’90s, according to the city. Those first trails would become the backbone of the trail system that has helped make Fort Collins a gold-level bicycling community.

Sears, now in her 60s, was unavailable to talk with the Coloradoan.
Her husband, Bill Sears, said his wife had a passion to ride.

The couple, originally from Fort Collins, lived in Davis, Calif., in 1969 where bike lanes were available.

In 1970, they returned to Fort Collins, which did not have bike lanes , and Bill Sears said his wife made it her mission to change that.

“She put together a presentation and gathered signatures,” he said. “She went before the city and to get her off their case, they said it was a good idea.”

That “good idea” led to the city painting a few bike lanes along streets such as Mathews Street, he said. Now, more than 30 years later, Bill Sears said they don’t think much about what Sears started, but he said he still enjoys the bike lanes and bike trails that have since sprung up.

Other cycling enthusiasts have since pushed for more infrastructure improvements.

A group of bicyclists in the 1980s known as the Choice City Cycling Club, or C4, was one of the first advocacy groups in town for bikes, said Molly North, interim bicycle coordinator.

C4 helped the city plan and install much of the early cycling infrastructure that is now built upon. With more infrastructure comes more cyclists who in turn demand more infrastructure.

“There’s kind of this symbiotic relationship between these bicycle-safety facilities. As they grow, infrastructure grows,” North said.

The first recreation trails installed were Spring Creek and the Poudre Trail followed by Power Line and Mason Trail, said North who added that since the ’90s, the trail system extensions and lane striping on roads has continued.

Aside from its gold rating, Fort Collins’ reputation as a bike-friendly city has helped it win national recognition.

Last year, the city was ranked as the No. 6 place to live in the country by Money magazine, which previously ranked it tops in 2006 and then No. 2 in 2008.

The community was ranked No. 2 in The Atlantic’s article, “America’s Top Cities for Bike Commuting: Happier, Too” authored by Richard Florida. A nationwide analysis shows that towns where people bike to work are better off financially, more fit and more successful in many other ways.

CSU also has helped drive the bike-friendly city status.

Chris Johnson, director of Northern Colorado Cycling Events, said in an email that Fort Collins’ smaller geographic footprint lends itself to bike infrastructure implementation that isn’t as complicated and expensive as in some cities.

“Having the university smack in the middle of town has certainly been an engine for growth as well. The city itself is mostly flat, and from anywhere in town you can ride world class single track, pristine paved mountain climbs, endless rolling prairie roads, low key and peaceful riverfront bike paths, without getting into a car.

The variety and proximity of riding is stellar,” Johnson said.

When talking about Fort Collins’ bike culture, New Belgium Brewing Co. is never far from the conversation.

The local brewery was built on the saddle of a bicycle ride through Europe.

The bike has remained core to the company, which hosts a number of cycling events in the community such as Tour de Fat and gives bikes to employees who have worked at the brewery for a certain amount of time.

“I think a lot of it is organic and symbiotic. New Belgium’s relationship with the bike community is of the bike community,” said Bryan Simpson, New Belgium’s media relations director.

Simpson said that New Belgium and the local cycling community have grown in tandem as they helped launch such organizations as the Bike Library program.
“It’s bigger than the sum of the parts,” Simpson said. “It takes bike shops to nonprofits. It’s fun to watch it all rise together.”

The future of cycling in Fort Collins

That tide is expected to continue to rise as Fort Collins’ bike program is in a state of flux.

The biggest question right now is who will fill the role of bicycle coordinator.

After six years at the helm of the city’s bicycle program, Dave “DK” Kemp accepted a job in Davis, Calif.,as the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for that city.
Davis was the country’s first platinum bicycle city as designated by the League of American Bicyclists.

In his six years in Fort Collins as the city’s bicycle coordinator, Kemp worked on such projects as the on-street bike rack program with New Belgium Brewing Co., shared-lane markings and the bike box at Shields and Plum streets.

North is filling in while the city revaluates Kemp’s former position and creates a new job posting.

Once the job is posted, Karen Cumbo, city of Fort Collins planning, development and transportation executive director, said officials plan to conduct a national search to fill the position.

In the meantime, new bicycle infrastructure is in the works.

By the end of the year, there are plans for new signage on the trails for riders as well as new video detection at 10 intersections in town that will recognize cyclists and pedestrians and trigger the light to change.

North said city officials are striving for, and may already have reached, a tipping point in the community where the road is a safe place for cyclists due to the sheer number of riders who are out riding and visible to cars. The bike becomes part of the daily traffic model and crashes go down, she said.

“I think we are starting a new chapter in the local Fort Collins bikes program and the local bike community. I see the trend moving more toward education rather than encouragement,” North said.

In addition to infrastructure improvements such as the cameras, North said in the next year they plan to launch a bicycle ambassador program. This is a grassroots effort aimed at reaching out to the community to encourage riders.

Professional cyclists also are coming out of Fort Collins.

Johnson noted in recent years Fort Collins has become home to a number of world class pro cyclists like Georgia Gould, Amanda Miller, and Jeff Kerkove.

At the same time, Dan Porter’s www.YourGroupRide.com became a central hub for the local race calendar and local event news.

“DK and Dan Porter of YGR have been absolutely critical to the sense of community and the level of collaboration and growth we’ve seen in Northern Colorado in the past several years,” Johnson said in the email.

Porter moved to Fort Collins from Nebraska in 1999 for school, but it was the cycling that kept him here. There were so many different races taking place along the Front Range that Porter said he wanted to set up a centralized place where riders could get all the information.

In 2008, Porter started the Your Group Ride Blog, which became a full website in 2009. Today, the website is a place where racers and cyclists can get information on local races and rides.

“Just the sheer number of events has skyrocketed since I came here,” he said. “When I originally came here, there was the Fort Collins Criterium in Old Town and there was the Rio Grande Stage Race, but since then, there are over 50 different events that take place both on Tuesday nights and weekends,” Porter said.

In addition to all the bicycle events that currently take place here, new bicycle events, such as the Ride The Rockies tour, continue to select Fort Collins and Northern Colorado for rides and races.

Economic impact of bikes

Colorado State University and the city have partnered and are examining the economic impact that comes from the city’s bike lanes, recreation trails and bicycle parking and its bearing on younger workers who are part of the creative class.

The project, titled: “Do Bike Friendly Communities Attract and Retain Creative Workers? Assessing Cycling’s Economic Impact through Household Location Choices of Highly Educated Workers,” will be completed in May.

The study is intended to provide some hard data to anecdotal stories that the city hears about people relocating to or selecting Fort Collins for their business based on the cycling accolades the city has received.