Friday, September 10, 2010

Matt & Julie's Excellent B-cycle Adventure

Can these two drive to Des Moines for a 10am event and be back in Omaha in time to catch the 2pm press conference introducing Omaha's new Bike/Ped Coordinator... all in one day ... without being late?

The answer is YES!  Ok, barely.... but YES nonetheless. 

We trekked to Des Moines for the launch of their new B-cycle program to do some recon and to talk to some of the relevant people involved in the project. 

What is B-cycle?  From their website:  "B-cycle is a next-gen bike-sharing system. In layman’s terms: B-cycles are magic bikes that are there when you want one and gone when you don’t. Just swipe your card, grab a bike, and get to where you’re going."

Imagine having dinner in the Old Market, and then checking out a bike to ride to the Qwest Center for a concert; imagine working at First Data and checking out a bike to ride to Aksarben Village for lunch.  The bikes are available at your starting destination, and then you just lock them back into another kiosk when you arrive at your ending destination.   
KP and TD checking out bikes in Denver

AO staff did some test driving of our own while in Denver a couple of weeks ago.  We grabbed bikes at the B-cycle station at Larimer Square on the 16th Street Mall (just a couple of blocks from our hotel) and rode a couple of miles down the Cherry Creek bike path to the REI store, where we locked them to the B-cycle station there.  We did a fair amount of retail therapy, then checked out the bikes and rode back to Larimer Square a couple of hours later.  Other than the $5 for the one-day membership, it did not cost us anything, since our trips were under 30min. 

At any rate, Matt and I met at Blue Line Coffee on 14th Street just as the sun was coming up and rode our bikes to the airport to pick up the rental car.  It was a perfect morning for riding.  After an encounter with a traffic jam involving a gaggle of geese along path next to Carter Lake, and then the realization that Google maps had led us astray on the location, we backtracked and finally made it to pick up the car, already 20 minutes behind schedule.  Julie sacrificed a stop for coffee in favor of getting out of town asap; thankfully, Matt lived to tell about it.  We arrive in Des Moines right on schedule and drove right to the location of the press conference.  I love it when a plan comes together!

BCBS/Wellmark provides the backdrop.
The launch press conference was held at one of the four B-cycle stations that have been installed in the downtown area.  The backdrop was the new BCBS/Wellmark headquarters that was underconstruction just across the street.  Elected officials touted the use of alternative transportation; Wellmark officials (the main sponsor) touted the system as a great addition to company wellness initiatives for the 75,000 people that work in downtown Des Moines.  [Also of note: the Des Moinians at the podium kept referring to the fact that they were striving to be the "Wellness Capital of the U.S." We're not gonna let them get away with that, are we?!]

I get this all the time.  (ha)
The bikes are made by Trek, and have 3 speeds, upright handlebars with baskets attached, comfy saddles and quick release adjustable seat posts.  The Des Moines bikes had a very cool feature that the Denver bikes did not have:  individually named bikes with cleaver slogans on each.  They are fun to ride! 
Matt (left) takes a spin.

We got to talk to reps from B-cycle, board members from the community bike collective (similar to our community bike shop) who are coordinating the program, a rep from the Des Moines downtown association, and even the mechanic that will be tasked with maintaining the bikes.  All had great things to say.  A couple of guys we spoke to were very familiar with Omaha, and talked about how this system would be perfect for downtown, especially during events like the CWS.

After grabbing some lunch to go for the trip home, and after several unsuccessful attempts to find our way back to the interstate (including a couple dead end streets and a trip through a parking lot that we thought was a road), we high-tailed it back to Omaha.  We turned in the car, grabbed our bikes, and pedaled furiously to the pedestrian bridge, arriving just as the press conference was starting.  Mission accomplished.

Can we make this a reality in Omaha?  Cross your fingers and stay tuned!!

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