Denver’s B-cycles were a convenience for David Millis, a frequent business traveler who would ride them from his home in Curtis Park to Union Station to catch the A Line to the airport. But for him and many other users of the bike-sharing program, which operated for nearly ten years before shutting down today, January 30, B-cycle was more than that. It helped lead to a transportation epiphany.
“We started using them early on, and quickly moved to the annual pass,” Millis says. “We had this change of mindset, which was, hey, instead of bicycles are just fun for going out and riding occasionally, they can be used for getting around — going to the store, going to pick up things, going to the airport.”
As of today, B-cycle members will have to find other ways to get around, following the November announcement by the nonprofit Denver Bike Sharing that it would not renew its contract with B-cycle vendor Trek, which expired January 30. The 737 B-cycles scattered across town will soon disappear — some of them will likely be donated to charity — and their docking stations will gradually be removed over the next two months, says Mike Pletsch, Denver Bike Sharing’s executive director.
But Pletsch and other cycling advocates hope that before long, B-cycle — which became the first large-scale bike-share service in the U.S. when it opened in 2010, but had struggled with aging equipment and heavy competition from e-scooters in recent years — could be replaced by something newer and better.
“There’s a lot of opportunity here in the city of Denver that folks haven’t been able to capitalize on,” Pletsch says. “Whatever the next iteration is going to be, it’s going to have to be a close, collaborative effort of community partners in order to accomplish it.”
Over the next few months, Denver officials plan to launch a competitive bidding process to select one or more companies to operate bike-sharing and other “micromobility” services within the city. A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure says the city expects to issue a request for proposals (RFP) “in the coming weeks.”
“We’re in the final stages of conversations right now with two [vendors],” Pletsch says. “We feel very confident that we can go after the city’s RFP, that we can win it, and that we can have stuff back on the ground by July.”
On Thursday, advocates with Bicycle Colorado and the Denver Streets Partnership gathered at the soon-to-be-defunct B-cycle station outside Union Station to call on the city to embrace a “bold vision” for the future of bike sharing, e-scooters and other emerging micromobility technologies.
“While it’s sad that we’re seeing Denver B-cycle close their doors today, we are excited to see what the next evolution of micromobility will be here in Denver,” said Danny Katz, director of the Colorado Public Interest Research Group.
Nearly 20 percent of trips made in the Denver metro area are less than one mile, according to data from the Denver Regional Council of Governments, and getting people to switch from cars to alternative modes of transportation for these short trips is a top priority for city planners, air-quality regulators, climate activists and more. With Denver preparing to take a more active role in managing micromobility services, advocates outlined a list of principles they want to see the new program follow, including low-cost or free access and ensuring that services are equitably distributed across the city's neighborhoods — and using public funding to make that happen.
“One of the things that we’ve seen across the country is that these micromobility services, it’s critical that there’s public funding behind them,” Katz said. “Cities are stepping up to the plate and treating it just like every other transportation that we have out there. Whether you look at Memphis or Chicago or Los Angeles, there are public dollars behind those services, and we hope that Denver will treat it the same way.”
Getting commuters to cut down on car travel is a critical step for Mayor Michael Hancock's administration if it hopes to meet the goals it has set for alleviating road congestion, eliminating traffic deaths and reducing tailpipe emissions that contribute to unhealthy levels of air pollution and climate change. With technology changing fast, it's hard to know exactly what role bike shares and e-scooters will play in the transportation network of Denver's future, but advocates hope that with its new plans, the city shows the same pioneering spirit it did in helping launch the B-cycle program a decade ago.
“This is a huge opportunity for Denver,” Millis says. “I hope we don’t screw it up.”