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Bike Sharing Launches in Aspen: a First for a Rural Community in the U.S.

Bike-sharing programs may be starting in big urban areas like New York City and Chicago, but they’re also catching on in small towns. The first program in a rural community launched this week, right here in the Roaring Fork Valley. Organizers of Aspen’s We-Cycle program hope tourists and local residents alike, will choose two wheels instead of four to get around the small mountain community. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.

The founder of Aspen’s new bike-sharing system, Mirte Mallory, is describing its features to curious passers-by. She’s standing at one of the program’s new docking stations near an aspen grove, on the edge of town.

She runs her hand along the bike’s heavy gray frame and proudly points out a basket on the handlebars and blinking lights near the pedals.

Mallory says she’s been regularly fielding questions about the new system.

“It’s been great, witnessing peoples’ looks!"

The bike-sharing system includes 100 bikes at 13 stations around Aspen. The idea is to check out the bikes for 30-minute intervals. They can be dropped off at a different station than where they were checked out. Mallory says the system’s meant to serve everyone from locals and commuters, to visitors.

“With over 100,000 visitors in the summer in Aspen, the bikes are an opportunity for our visitor community to experience town in a whole new way," she says.

Chris Cohen works with young kids at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. Today, she’s teaching a few preschoolers about box turtles. The Aspen resident is used to getting around town on her bike. But, she’s moving soon and will commute about 20 miles, so she’s planning to use the bike-sharing system.

“I’m moving to Basalt and I’m coming up to Hallam Lake for work, and I’m excited to be able to use the We Cycle bike program to get around when I’m up here in Aspen," she says.

Mirte Mallory is counting on people like Cohen to keep the system going. It’s a new concept in Aspen, but she thinks it will work well here.

“We have a very strong biking culture, we have an extensive bike trail system for getting around town, we now have bike lanes and we have a very extensive bus system," Mallory says.

Bike-sharing is catching on as the newest form of public transit in mostly urban areas, like Denver and Minneapolis. Mallory says Aspen’s system is a first for a small town.

“Not only is it the first in a mountain town, but we’re also the first rural community to have a bike-sharing program in North America. European communities started in larger cities and then it has migrated into smaller resort towns as well, so hopefully this is the beginning of the trend in North America.” 

Already, she says, other communities have been calling her with questions about bike-sharing.

Parry Burnap heads Denver’s 3-year-old Bike Sharing program.

“I think, at the heart of it, bike riding is fun and it makes people feel good and free, but it’s also solving a number of converging social issues. It begins with congestion and a sense of place, individual health and stress management, air toxins and climate change, public health," Burnap says.

She calls bike-sharing a movement, with new communities starting programs quickly.

“It’s a movement, it’s a complete rethinking of how we accomplish our transportation needs, it’s all about the right tools for the right jobs, and cars are unnecessary and becoming less convenient for those short trips.”  

And, the movement is spreading. Cities with programs in the works include Portland, Oregon, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Vancouver, Canada.

But, these programs do run into hiccups. Last week, cyclists in Denver dealt with problems due to a software glitch in the Denver system. And, in its second week of operation, New York’s bike-sharing system had computer problems.

Aspen’s system goes live on Thursday. Already, 80 people are signed up for season passes.