If you are in the area of the Denver Bicycle Cafe this evening we will be roasting and toasting Piep van Heuven on her final day as Executive Director of BikeDenver!
It was early in the morning in mid-June when my cellphone rang in my tent in Telluride. My friend Elizabeth from the Bikes Belong Coalition was calling to find out if I was enjoying my time on the Bicycle Tour of Colorado. She also wanted to tell me Bikes Belong needed a Denver-based coordinator to help launch the first large-scale bike sharing project at the 2008 Democratic National Convention (DNC)… and that’s the connection that brought me to the forefront of the movement to increase bicycling in Denver and to BikeDenver.
I was a long-time recreational bicyclist but that summer I got a crash-course on urban bicycling. It was amazing to work with the DNC organizers, City officials, project sponsors and bicycle advocates from Denver and beyond – everyone was so excited to showcase Denver, and the energy and excitement about introducing bike sharing to the United States was contagious! Of course the project was a fantastic success, and the City was filled with people on bicycles. I love to point back to this moment in time, not just because it was my introduction to the bicycle advocacy, but also because I believe it was a watershed moment for Denver’s bicycle movement. That’s because the presence of so many bicycles during the DNC did two very significant things: it firmly branded Denver as a “bike-friendly” city and it legitimized bicycling as a means of transportation. We saw so many warm and powerful visual images demonstrating how well bicycles fit in the heart of our City. The positive media and public response to the project helped focus the thinking of then-Mayor John Hickenlooper and others. Shortly after the DNC he announced plans to launch the nation’s first large-scale permanent bike sharing system in the county. It was a great turning point for Denver, and for BikeDenver, too.
At the same time, BikeDenver leaders also were looking forward and preparing for growth by hiring the organization’s first professional staff. Though BikeDenver was formed in 2001, it took years of careful stewardship and countless volunteer hours to prepare for this important step. By now I was hooked! I agreed to start work part-time, from my kitchen table, as BikeDenver’s first Executive Director in October, 2008. What a ride it’s been! In five years we’ve made quantum leaps and established a strong foundation that will support our next important growth phase.
When I take a look back now, it’s fun to see all the progress! In 2008, Denver had a great recreational trial system but less than 50 miles of on-street bike markings. BikeDenver had less than $20,000 in the bank and few funding sources. We had one staff member, a small but very dedicated following, less than 100 members, few connections with City officials, and a couple of advocacy wins under our belt.
Fast-forward to 2013. Today Denver has over 100 miles of bike markings, and BikeDenver is approaching a quarter-million dollar budget with broad support from individuals, businesses, foundations, government entities and fundraising events. As we begin another event-filled summer season, we can rely on three paid staff members, office and event volunteers, dedicated support and strong governance from our Board of Directors, 3,000+ supporters, nearly 500 members, a strong brand and media presence, powerful partner organizations, high-level relationships with City officials, advocacy advancements and some huge wins like the Department of Public Works Complete Streets Policy, scheduled construction of the Colorado I-25 Access Bridge, the launch of Denver’s first ciclovia, and the City’s recent commitment to build protected bike lanes.
BikeDenver is poised for further success in the future. It will champion the need for better policy and increased funding to support a safer, more welcoming environment for people on bikes. Specifically, we’d like to see a network of protected bike lanes to increase safety and ridership, a maintenance program for our bicycle network that includes plowing our bike lanes, the on-street bike parking opportunities that local businesses are calling for, safer bike accommodation on bridges, and better signage. On the policy side, we’ve identified a need for a new Bicycle Master Plan to focus current Citywide efforts, a comprehensive multi-year public education campaign, safety laws like “Yield Stop” that help traffic move more smoothly and safely, and stronger laws to protect “vulnerable users” on foot or on bikes. We are also calling for increased funding to support additional bicycle and pedestrian planning staff in the department of Public Works.
From my seat here in mid-May at the BikeDenver office, it feels strange to look ahead and look back as both the organization and I am incredibly proud of BikeDenver’s past accomplishments and optimistic about the future for BikeDenver and bicycling in Denver. How can we fail, when there is so much great energy and commitment to make our communities better via this simple and beautiful element – the bicycle? The answer is we can’t! So thanks for the great ride, Denver! It isn’t often in life that we get to make real change in our community. I know so many of you are responsible for just that – by lending your time, energy, support and talent to the effort make Denver a better place to ride a bike.
I’m honored to have had the chance to work alongside you to help BikeDenver grow to become Denver’s premier bicycle advocacy organization.