Emily Kreisa rides to and from meetings in her role as Denver’s bike planner. Here, she cycles down Wynkoop Street on her way back to city offices at Civic Center. (Photos by Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post )
Emily Kreisa doesn’t just walk her talk. She rides it, too.
The 27-year-old former triathlete and bike commuter is guiding the handlebars in Denver’s effort to become one of the most bike- friendly cities in the nation.
To prove that roads aren’t just for cars, Spandex-clad cycling crews or urban messengers, Kreisa logs 10 miles daily, biking from her home in Platt Park in south Denver to work downtown as the city’s bike planner.
“Emily is intimate with every street in Denver,” says Piep van Heuven, executive director of Bike Denver, an advocacy organization that promotes bicycling in the city and county of Denver. “She’s not looking at a map. She’s been there, and that says a lot for someone who has been in Denver
for less than a year.”
Kreisa’s personal tale of “love at first bike” testifies to her belief that a bike can suit different purposes throughout your life, whether it’s to keep up with older siblings, cope with not having a car, fuel a competitive nature or get some low-impact exercise.
When she was 4, Kreisa fought with her two brothers over a vintage red bike with a sparkly banana seat.
At 10, Kreisa performed tricks on a paint-splattered, 10-speed Huffy mountain bike. In college, she borrowed her brother’s Trek mountain bike to get around the campus, saving money on parking and gas.
Long rides on a road bike in graduate school, coupled with running and swimming daily, eventually led to triathlons. Marking distance goals, working through circuits and sprints, and monitoring speed and cadence fed her then-competitive spirit.
Now, she commutes to her Denver Public Works planning job on a Surly Long Haul Trucker touring bike. Every once in a while, you might even see her tootling around Washington Park on a 1961 single-speed Schwinn.
“Some activities, like running, just aren’t as easy to do as you get older. But biking is an activity and a mode of transportation that continues to be accessible as you age,” she says.
Biking allowed her to move from team sports to more individualized achievements.
“As you get older, being able to corral a team for things becomes more challenging,” says Kreisa. “Biking was something I could do on my own time and set my own goals.”
Kreisa remembers her first “century ride,” a 100-mile outing in central North Carolina.
“It was like hiking but on a bike,” she said. “You are out there in the countryside getting to see so much. The smells. The sights. You really get to experience it on a bike.”
Crissy Fanganello, Public Works’ director of policy and planning, said Denver needed Kreisa’s perspective to boost existing bike and pedestrian systems, and to ease demand on the city’s taxed transportation grid.
“Regardless of how the transportation system works, we are really trying to move people,” says Fanganello. “Our goal is to move them more efficiently with the system we have now because we can’t expand our roadways. We are a built-in city.”
Now, Kreisa is spearheading several multi-agency initiatives between Public Works, Parks and Recreation and numerous organizations to help residents shift gears on how they choose to get around town. Many of the efforts are launching this year:
• B-Cycle, Denver’s bike share program, launches Thursday, in which riders can pay a small fee to access 500 bikes at about 50 kiosks in high-traffic sites around town.
• A $250,000 federal stimulus grant to Public Works last year is being used to put in 11 miles of new bike lanes by the beginning of May.
• The Denver Bike Map has been updated to include the entire 350-mile bicycle network and will be available this week at city recreation centers. Currently, along with signed bike routes, Denver Public Works has 21 miles of “sharrow,” a select on-street bike route designated by a pavement marking symbol and 35 miles of bike lanes on Denver streets, while Parks and Recreation manages more than 60 miles of multi- use trails.
• Also in May, Public Works and Parks and Recreation will kick off a comprehensive pedestrian and bicycle master plan called “Denver Moves,” which will link off-street and on-street systems.
“A lot of people love the trails, but they don’t get you directly to your destination,” says Kreisa. “You have to put the on-street network together with the trails so people can get to key destinations such as parks, schools, transit and business districts.”
The new bike lanes and sharrows have made the roads safer because they signal to motorists that a bicyclist might be near, says Bryon Norris, 49, a longtime cyclist, dispatcher and courier with Speedy Messenger. But he added that Kreisa could be dealing with a common complaint among bike riders in the future: opening the 16th Street Mall to bikes.
“We have business deliveries we need to make on the mall, but we waste time having to get off our bikes and walk half way down the block,” Norris says. “I’d love to talk to (Kreisa) about this issue.”
The city’s goal is to have 10 percent of its residents making their trip to work by bicycle by 2018. Data from the Census American Community Survey shows about 1.6 percent are biking now.
Denver has a strong community of hard-core cyclists who don’t worry about riding down Broadway in heavy traffic. But Kreisa wants recreational riders to know there is a place for them too.
“We have this natural grid hierarchy in the street system people can take advantage of depending on what type of rider they are,” says Kreisa. “We have low-volume residential streets where you can ride safely and comfortably for many miles without passing a car for several minutes.”
How to stay safe while you bike
Use these tips to make bicycling safer. For more information go to bikedenver.org and bicyclecolo.org
“Being visible and predictable is the safest way to ride your bike on a street,” says Emily Kreisa, Denver’s bike/pedestrian city planner.
1. Be visible: Outfit bikes with a headlight, rear light and reflectors. Ensure visibility at night by wearing light- toned clothing with reflective tape.
2. Make eye contact: Confirm that you are seen by establishing eye contact with motorists. Share the road in a polite and courteous manner.
3. Use hand signals: Signal all turns and stops head of time, check over your shoulder, then make the intended move when it’s safe to do so.
4. Obey traffic rules: Bikes are classified as vehicles under Colorado law. Therefore, bicyclists must obey all traffic signals and signs.
5. Consider a helmet: State law does not require bicyclists to wear a helmet. It is a personal preference, since some claim requiring it would deter their bike use. Kreisa doesn’t wear a helmet while taking short, familiar trips on her bike. “But when I’m in mixed traffic with cars going by me at 40 miles an hour, you better believe I will have my helmet on.”
6. Give room to pass: A new state and Denver city law requires that when cars pass a bike, the motorist must give the cyclist a 3-foot buffer. “If you can’t give a bicyclist that, then you need to wait until you can just like you would when passing a tractor or a slow-moving car,” Kreisa says.
Ease into riding
The first-time biker might not be able to put in daily 10-mile rides to and from work like Emily Kreisa, a 27-year-old former triathlete turned Denver city planner, but trading the car for a bike to run errands is a good place to begin.
“Start small,” Kreisa says, in your effort to exchange car trips with a bike ride. Not only can it be physically taxing, but some get overwhelmed with trying to figure out what route to take, what stuff needs to be brought and whether they need to shower.
“Make a commitment to ride your bike on an errand once a month and go from there,” she says.
Kreisa suggests making a smaller trip first. Use a bike to get to the neighborhood grocery store. A shorter trip will help you get your bearings and offer experience carrying items on your bike.
“On that one day, you focus on loading up your bike, deciding if you should change your clothes, and judging how convenient it is or paying attention to how much time it takes to get somewhere,” Kreisa said. “Build your experiences from there because the more you do it, the easier the process gets.”
Sheba R. Wheeler: 303-954-1283 or firstname.lastname@example.org