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B-cycles to be available all winter for first time in Denver

B-cycles have now been available in Denver for about four years -- although the actual number of days adds up to something closer to three, since up until now, the bike-rental service has shut down in December and hibernated until the middle of March.

Beginning in 2013, however, B-cycle will be operational twelve months of the year, including throughout the winter -- and Denver B-cycle deputy director Nick Bohnenkamp thinks there are enough hardcore cyclists out there to keep it going strong.

The questions Bohnenkamp and his B-cycle troops asked in regard to expanding included "budgetary constraints: Can we operate over the over the winter successfully from a financial perspective?" he says.

In coming up with an answer, he continues, "we did some analysis regarding trips that have happened historically in early December and late March -- right before we shut down, and right after we opened up again. That helped us understand what kind of ridership we might have.

"We also looked at our membership. We have a really strong annual membership base -- around 3,200 or so -- and on the yearly surveys we do, we asked them, 'Would you use the system if we stayed open during this window?' And only a small percentage said, 'No, I would not.' Some people said they would use it less frequently, but a lot of other people said, 'We'd like this service to stay open, and we'd use it.'"

This reaction dovetailed with B-cycle's sense of its place in the community at this stage of its development. "We consider ourselves to be transportation," Bohnenkamp notes, "and to solidify bike-sharing as a true transportation option, we need to stay open year round."

Of course, this philosophy needed to jibe with Mother Nature, "so we went on NOAA's website and looked at historical precipitation and snow amounts," Bohnenkamp points out. "And it turns out that the winter of 2012 and the spring of 2013 were good examples of the effects weather can have on us. We had sort of a mild winter and a heavy-snow spring.

"When we opened in March and April, we saw cooler temperatures and a lot of snow piling up, but snow in Denver generally comes in large amounts and then melts off pretty rapidly. And a lot of times, the snow in the winter does the same -- it goes away quickly. And that should make our system reliable in the winter, too. If users can feel confident they can use the system safely, that's what's going to make it successful."

In this respect, the growing number of Denverites who cycle year-round should give B-cycle a big assist.

Continue for more of our interview with Nick Bohnenkamp about B-cycle. As Bohnenkamp sees it, "we're fortunate in Denver in that we have a lot of bike infrastructure, and Denver Public Works understands that. Anyone who's ridden the Cherry Creek Trail or any of the other cycling trails know they generally get cleared pretty early in the morning after it's snowed."

The one concession B-cycle plans to make to the season involves shorter wintertime hours. Whereas the service is available from 5 a.m. to midnight the rest of the year, it'll be operational from 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. from December 2 through the first part of March.

This decision was based on data from those periods before and after previous winter closures: "We saw checkouts increasing around seven and dropping off around nine, so we decided to open a half hour earlier than that, and close a half hour later, so we could give people access to the bikes if they needed a little extra time."

Bohnenkamp knows there'll be some surprises during B-cycle's first Denver winter. "I'm sure some curve balls will be thrown at us -- and we'll have some variances. If there's a 45 degree day in January, we may have people ask us why we're not open on our traditional hours. I'm sure we'll learn a lot."

In the meantime, Bohnenkamp believes that keeping B-cycle open "will not only help our users who combine bike sharing with public transportation, but will help them continue the habits that have become ingrained with them during the summer.

"Until now, we've taken B-cycle away from people during the winter and those habits had to be re-ingrained afterward. Now, that option is still going to be there -- be extended year-round."

More from our Environment archive circa October 2012: "B-cycle: The weirdest spots a bike has been found and more fun facts."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts