Just as Durango got its first taste of real winter weather, the city put its on-street bicycle racks away for the season. More than anything, though, that extra bit of attention to the racks served to highlight what a popular and successful program the on-street bike parking has become.
And why not? Everybody wins.
Moving the racks for the winter is simple common sense. Plowing snow downtown is a priority, and if the racks were left in place, they would be in the way.
It also stands to reason that usage would decline. While Durango has more than a few hardy souls who ride their bikes year-round, that is not nearly the number who enjoy riding in the warmer times. And with that, the racks will return in May.
All this started as a pilot program in 2010. The first on-street rack was in front of Carver Brewing Co. That proved so successful that three more were added in June in front of Maria’s Bookshop, Mountain Bike Specialists and Gazpacho’s Cantina.
The program is a public-private partnership. Businesses apply to the city for a rack. If approved, a business pays a $200 per year capital improvement fee for five years, which largely offsets the $1,300 cost of the rack. The business also pays for the installation of the rack and pays the city what it could have expected to collect from the parking meter and associated fines. Any needed replacements are covered by the city.
The public response to the racks has been overwhelmingly positive. Merchants and their customers like them. Bike riders have a convenient place to park, and the on-street location of the racks keeps the sidewalks clear for pedestrians. Downtown parking may even benefit. And all that comes at little or no cost to the taxpayers.
For merchants, the benefit is obvious. More of their customers can park right in front of their business. That is especially important for downtown as a whole as the demographics of bike riding expand to include more and more of the public. Driven by concerns for the environment, fitness, traffic and increasingly economic, that trend can be expected to continue.
Another possible gain could be to motorists. Installing bike racks on the street eliminates a parking space and, in that sense, reduces available parking. Without the convenience of the racks, however, it is certainly possible that two or more of the 16 riders who can park their bikes in each rack would have driven instead. If so, the net effect could be to bring fewer cars to downtown. It would be a minor effect, but one that could be at least as meaningful as the loss of one space and one that could help ease parking.
Having the racks in the street also is much more orderly than having bicycles locked up willy-nilly to parking meters, trees or what-have-you. It makes walking the sidewalks easier and safer. And it contributes to an over-all sense of a more orderly downtown.
Increasing the bicycle ridership also affects traffic. In some areas – north Main comes to mind – that can be a problem for riders and drivers alike. But downtown, the effect is to calm traffic a bit in an area where that is welcome. The speed limit on Main Avenue downtown is 25 mph, but often there is little reason or opportunity to go that fast. Which is just as well; drivers also are watching for pedestrians and beckoning storefronts.
The city is taking applications from business for bike racks for next year. Public comments are welcome as well.
Durango’s downtown bicycle racks are a happy example of how little things can make a big difference. It is an effort to applaud.