At first, I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about the Colorado Bicycle Summit, put on by Bicycle Colorado, because I didn’t know exactly what the program had to offer. I’d read the agenda but I really didn’t know for sure what each session was about or what the overall goal of the summit might be. As it happens I met some fantastic people, learned a lot, and had a great time. The theme was Moving Forward Together and some of the programs certainly emphasized the collaborative aspect of making the world more bike friendly, and went beyond the riding your bike to ride-your-bike mentality.
The day was jam-packed with interesting speakers and sessions. In addition, the way the morning’s session was set up, I was at a table with 9 other people, which meant I got to interact with some of them and get to learn about them too, including two delightful women from Toole Design Group, an engineering firm that focuses on walking and biking. I’d already met a couple of people before the day officially began, one of whom turned out to be one of the most interesting and dedicated public servants I’ve encountered and was one of the presenters in the afternoon session Advancing Change in your Community from the Ground Up (Christian Lieber) who told me he’d ridden the Trans America bike route with his family. I later learned they’d done it on a quad bike (basically a double tandem)!
The morning consisted of several speeches and presentations, including from Dan Grunig, the head of Bicycle Colorado, who did a couple of informal chats with people active in various aspects of the bike community in Colorado, including Ken Gart, the state’s bike czar (the only bike czar in the country).
Tim Blumenthal of People for Bikes gave a short presentation. I’ve now seen him at two or three events. He’s as active as the name of his organization implies.
The high points of the morning session included a short speech by the governor, John Hickenlooper, who has dedicated $100 million to improving the state’s bicycle infrastructure. During his speech, talked about the “16 for 16 initiative,” a plan to complete gaps in 16 major routes in the state. He even vowed during the speech to ride all 16 routes himself. He was funny and inspiring, and clearly pumped up after getting back from the Super Bowl, which of course was won by our local team the night before, but also because he’s dedicated to promoting bicycling in as many forms as possible in the state.
I learned at some point during the day that 10% of all bicycle tourism in the US takes place in Colorado!
The great highlight of the morning was the keynote speaker, Mikael Colville-Anderson. He’s the owner of a company in Denmark called Copenhagenize.eu.
In his presentation, Colville-Anderson talked about how streets were a democratic space until urbanization and the automobile industry came into play and the efforts of his team (and the people of Copenhagen and other cities) to change the question from how many cars can we move down the street to how many humans.
Mikael noted that one of the key goals is to make intermodal travel times (foot/bike/transit) competitive with the time it takes to go somewhere by car. He also talked about the arrogance of space and how much less cars need to take up than they do. Cities can be designed with narrower spaces for cars (including roads), which not only allows for bicycles but forces drivers to concentrate more. He illustrated this by talking about #sneckdowns, which are where roads seem to be modified by snowfall, so that perhaps the lanes are narrowed. In some cases, you can see whole swaths of the street that are not “touched” by cars. I’ve heard about these before, they show how much space on roads is unused and how pedestrians and non-car vehicles use the road because of the patterns people create during snow events. There’s also a pretty cool film about this, presented by Streetfilms. I thought this was all relevant too because some studies have been in the news lately suggesting that the wider the road, the faster the traffic, making things much riskier for pedestrians and cyclists.
Mikael was a compelling and entertaining speaker, and a good choice for a keynote.
After he was done, there was a networking break, where I got to meet Gypsy Garcia, one of the leaders of Women Bike Colorado. This was followed by lunch. The lunch was pretty standard hotel banquet food: salad, chicken, chocolate mousse, though we had to nag to get coffee at our table.
The last speaker before the breakout sessions was Shailen Bhatt, who is the very dynamic executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation. What a guy. Much of his premise was that cycling should not be an afterthought in transportation planning. He seemed to be a true advocate for cycling, and noted that cost-benefit analyses show that cycling has economic, recreation and health benefits over other modes. His department has added a bike and pedestrian person in each region so they are not just an afterthought.
I really enjoyed listening to Shailen and it re-energized me for the afternoon breakout sessions.
I had originally planned on attending the session on Women and Cycling, but on a whim I wandered into the session entitled Navigate your Way to Optimal Routefinding. The session was presented by Josh Mehlem of Alta Planning and Design, and Wesley Dismore, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator for the city of Arvada. Josh went over the theory of the process (with illustrations) while Wesley talked about the implementation in Arvada, which matches some of those principles but is still in its early days. Key wayfinding principles are: connect places, be predictable, be inclusive, keep information simple. Another key is progressive disclosure, giving people information that builds on previous signage to help them get where they’re going.
Wayfinding signage can also provide branding that advertises your system. One of my favorite things about the presentation was the observation that systems are initially set up to provide primary wayfinding but they can inspire secondary signs, which can help grow a route and make it more far reaching. The example Josh cited was the Great Allegheny Passage, where the towns along the passage saw that they could attract tourism to places to stay, things to do, places so eat and so on, so instead of just signs showing how to ride the route, additional signs sprouted up for amenities along the way. We’d seen a presentation on the development of the GAP at the bike tourism conference we went to in California, so this was a great “connect the dots” experience for me. I learned a lot from this experience and I’m interested to see how it connects to what we are going to find as we go out into the community more in Pueblo.
The final session that I attended in the second round of breakout sessions was pretty amazing. “Advancing Change in your Community from the Ground Up” was a fantastic example of how different government and private agencies and individuals could come together to make something amazing happen.
I have to give credit to the people involved, at least those for whom I caught names. Nikki McCousey is the executive director of Kids on Bikes, Allen Beauchamp is a local bike activist, and Christian Lieber is the Park Development Manager for the city of Colorado Springs. Allen emphasized the value of making rides that have some sort of destination, but funnily enough, the project described in the presentation grew out of a destination ride to a pretty beat up bridge on the city’s Legacy Loop. Allen and others rode out there with local kids from the Kids on Bikes group with a trailer carrying a cooler full of popsicles. The kids didn’t really care where they were because they were just happy to be on the popsicle ride and get the popsicles at the bridge. The different groups, and some government agencies, came together and basically beautified the bridge. It was a fantastic example of will power making something happen.
The day concluded with a great happy hour! This provided a chance to mingle informally with some of the cool people I’d met during the day, as well as meeting some others, and also check out the Gates belt drive bicycles on display!
Unlike so many of the bike events I’ve been to lately, there was more than beer to drink. Someone mentioned to me that there couldn’t be an event Primal was behind without there also being wine. In addition, there was some light food, including some good cheeses, mini quiches, crudites and so on. What I tried was tasty and the wine was good.