An interview with Pete Piccolo, Executive Director of Bicycle Colorado
Here in Steamboat Springs we are seeing a lot of people out riding during this pandemic, with a noticeable jump from past spring seasons. What has Bicycle Colorado been observing and hearing about recent trends?
We are hearing many stories like this from across the state. In Denver, where Bicycle Colorado is based, bike paths are full, and not just with die-hard cyclists — you see people of all ages and abilities on all varieties of bikes. According to data collected on the South Platte trail in the Denver metro area, there was a whopping 64% increase in pedestrians and 93% increase in bicyclists this spring. Like you, we’re noticing bike booms in communities statewide, and many of the riders are people who weren’t riding last spring. This is really great news, and we all need to continue to do our part to encourage these bicyclists to stay on their bikes post-pandemic.
With so many people out riding and recreating, what are the key things riders need to be considerate of?
We have published a comprehensive set of recommendations on our website, which is linked below. Here are a few highlights:
- If you think you have been exposed to COVID, don’t ride outside.
- Unless you’re riding with people from your home, now is not the time for group rides; ride solo.
- Always maintain six feet of distance between you and other other riders and pedestrians.
- Wear a face mask or other covering, especially if you’re riding in an area that is crowded.
- Don’t take risks — now is not the time for a trip to the hospital.
- On popular paths and trails that are crowded, be patient, slow down, and be courteous to others. Now is not the best time to aim for your PR.
How have Bicycle Colorado’s advocacy, CDOT, and legislation efforts continued during the current environment and has the focus changed at all? Have you had to implement significant changes with your office?
Some people may think that policy and legislative work would slow down in the midst of a pandemic. The reality has been that we’ve been as busy as ever.
First, when the reality of COVID hit home and stay-at-home orders began to surface in other cities and states across the country, our priority was to ensure that in Colorado similar orders listed bicycling as a permitted activity and bike shops as an essential service. In Colorado, eight counties implemented stay-at-home before the Governor issued his order. We kicked into gear to ensure the county orders were bicycle friendly, in part to also set a precedent for the state to follow. The state’s initial order did not list bike shops as an essential service, but after a few phone calls, the order was amended the following day so that bike shops could remain open for repairs.
Second, to create more space for people to ride, walk and roll, we’ve been advocating for “open streets,” which are streets that limit vehicular activity. Our work extends to a few front range cities but we’ve gained the most traction in Denver. Today Denver has 16 miles of open streets. Survey data indicates that these pedestrian and bicycle friendly streets are very popular so we’re exploring how to maintain them, even if on a limited basis (i.e., weekends) post-COVID.
Third, the state legislature has reopened for business on a very limited basis and their focus is on passing the state’s budget. The impact to the state’s revenue from COVID will be significant, such that the demand for funding across multiple state services/agencies will far exceed supply. Nevertheless, we are closely monitoring the discussions of the Joint Budget Committee — especially on the topic of transportation — for opportunities to secure funding for bicycle infrastructure. We also have our eye on the hands-free (distracted driving) bill. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic’s disruption of the legislative session, there are numerous important bills that will not benefit from public debate or a vote in 2020; the hands-free bill may fall into this category. If the hands-free bill moves forward, we’re prepared to engage.
Finally, we’re in regular conversations with bike race and event directors about the status of their events, identifying new dates later in the year, and the potential impact of new state and local orders regarding larger group gatherings. We want to be certain that new regulations on large group gatherings take into consideration that different large group events present different social distancing challenges (i.e., a concert in an enclosed venue is different from a bike event). Ensuring everyone is safe and healthy is the top priority and depending on the circumstances in the coming months, this may be achievable at a bike event.
What are some bright spots or major wins from the last 6 months that you are thrilled about?
It’s never easy to pass a law. Yet, even with an interrupted legislative session, we’re celebrating two wins at the state capitol — the governor’s signature on a new bike lane bill and the successful addition of an amendment to another bill that aims to increase speed limits on certain rural roads.
We’re also encouraged by the demand for our Bicycle-Friendly Driver training. Last year we visited more than 30 communities across the state to deliver this training. During COVID, we’ve been offering this training online and the response has been very positive. Our goal is to build on this momentum to achieve our goal of having every driver in Colorado complete this training.
Finally, to underscore your first question, it’s been wonderful to see so many people outside riding their bikes. It appears that many of these people are rediscovering their love of bicycling. To us, this is a silver lining of this dark COVID cloud.
If Bicycle Colorado could be sure of implementing one initiative or goal in 2020, what would you want to see happen?
Picking just one is incredibly difficult as there are so many compelling initiatives on our list. Also, to realize our vision of making Colorado the undisputed most bicycle-friendly state in the nation, multiple initiatives must be pursued simultaneously.
I’ll pick three from a much longer list of projects. First, secure funding at the state level and in certain strategic cities to dramatically accelerate the construction of quality bicycle infrastructure. Second, pass a hands-free driving bill. Third, significantly increase the number of people who graduate from Bicycle-Friendly Driver training by offering it through two new mediums — a digital app (interactive and gamified without a live instructor) and a web-based class with an instructor (related to this is increasing the amount of bicycle-focused safety content in the state’s driver training materials and testing).
Events are an important part of Bicycle Colorado’s fundraising efforts, but with many of those events unlikely to go off this year what can riders do to directly support the advocacy efforts of Bicycle Colorado?
The short answer is visit our website at bicyclecolorado.org and click the donate now button. We depend on this support to sustain our work so a donation of any amount is appreciated.
These are unprecedented times that make it difficult for some people to make a donation. We understand if you are unable to contribute financially and our hearts ache for all the people who have been impacted by the virus. If someone is unable to make a financial contribution at this time, then please stay educated on our work — sign up for our email updates and follow us on social media. It’s also very helpful to share Bicycle Colorado’s work with family, friends, and colleagues. Once we all get through COVID — and we will get through this — the need for strong and effective bicycle advocacy will remain. The more people that know about our work and why it’s important the better. Now is a good time to spread this word.