In a Bike-Share Desert, Elyria Swansea Bicycle Library Gives Kids, Families Freedom to Ride

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

When Grace Soulen tells some families about the new bike library in north Denver’s Elyria Swansea neighborhood, it literally doesn’t translate.

“I think it’s a great resource but I’ve noticed that people don’t seem to know right off the bat what a bike library is, especially in Spanish,” Soulin said Tuesday during the grand opening of a small-scale bike-share operation at Focus Points, a family resource center at 48th and Columbine. Soulin works there as a family development specialist. “So I’ve had to explain to people a couple times how you can rent a bike and come use it whenever you want.”

It’s that simple. For just $20 a year anyone can check out one of 40 or so bikes for two days at a time (or more, with permission). Customers don’t need a credit card, which can be a hindrance for unbanked residents. They just fill out a form — in either English or Spanish — and receive a membership card that entitles them to a bike, a lock, a helmet, and independence.

“A lot of residents in this area don’t actually have their own personal transportation,” says Sheridan Castro, the interim executive director of Focus Points. “So bikes are a great economical, affordable and healthy way for people to get around.”

Each bike comes with a helmet and a lock. Photo: David Sachs
Each bike comes with a helmet and a lock. Photo: David Sachs

Focus Points helps manage the bike library, but it’s also made possible through an initiative spearheaded by Northeast Transportation Connections, along with grant funding from the Regional Transportation District and a contract with the Colorado Department of Transportation. (CDOT’s I-70 widening, which will shove more cars through the mostly low-income, mostly Latino neighborhood, includes, ironically, an attempt to add biking options during construction.)

The bike library is one of two operations NETC has going. The other is out of Prodigy Coffee near the 40th and Colorado RTD station. B-cycle, the city’s traditional bike-share system, doesn’t serve either area, and the nonprofit doesn’t seem to be growing. Hence the hyper-local analog model.

“I’m trying to provide the community access to biking with no strings attached,” says Angie Rivera-Malpiede, NETC’s executive director. “I wanted to have a program for the working poor. To be part of B-cycle you had to join, you had to have a credit card, and the folks I was working with were the working poor — they didn’t have access to that.”

NETC and Focus Points are going beyond access, though. They aim to help people feel more comfortable riding in a neighborhood left behind by the bike lane boom of downtown and other wealthier neighborhoods. Reps from both organizations hope to activate lifelong bicyclists with group rides that help kids and their families navigate intimidating streets that will only get worse during CDOT’s freeway expansion.

“Globeville-Elyria-Swansea is not easily traveled,” Castro says. “It’s not easy to travel over a lot of the area because of all the industrial locations and infrastructure that we have around here — train tracks, highways, sound walls. It’s not very accessible in a lot of ways.”

Focus Points will lead a group ride every Wednesday morning over the summer, and NETC plans on scheduling group rides as well.

The bike library model has created at least one lifetime rider. Travis Robinson uses the Prodigy library and helped NETC get the Focus Points location off the ground. He says bike-share has opened him up to a healthier way of getting around and reduces his reliance on a car — and his family.

“I see it as in inspiration for children to do something else,” Robinson says. “You don’t have to wait until your parents are ready to drive you… and you also get to learn the lay of the land, get a good sense of where everything is.”

In a word, independence.

  • TakeFive

    This is but one really cool example of what shoving a few cars along their way can accomplish for the Elyria Swansea neighborhood. 🙂

    You can add my name to the pile of head scratchers when first I read ‘bike library.’

  • LazyReader

    There are no bike share deserts. Biking as a whole operates on one of three principals
    Where you want to go
    where you need to go
    Where you can go
    2nd, Bike sharing is really an urban phenomena for people who don’t have the storage nor wanna drag a bike up/down several flights of stairs. Which can be solved with lockable racks in garages or parking lots. Even gas stations and restaurants can make money with rent-able bike lockers. Lastly Bicycle-sharing has come a long way since the 1960s, when 50 white “free
    bikes” were scattered around Amsterdam, only to be promptly stolen.

    A second generation of coin-operated bicycles still got nicked.

    A third generation solved that problem with electronic docking stations and credit-card payments.
    There is a new possibility using simple proven technology.
    – Make them so ugly no one will ever steal.
    – No software updates. No GPS maps. No lithium batteries. No YK2 viruses
    – Make em heavy and unbreakable, that’s solid steel, not carbon fiber.
    – make them repairable by an 8 year old with 5 tools.
    – paint em pink so no juvenile delinquent will ever steal one.
    You can flood the city with enough pink bicycles and still cost less than a new subway terminal or light rail line.

    • Hugh Shepard

      People will still use bike share even when they do have a good place to store a bike. People do this because they either A) they don’t use a bicycle much on a daily basis and therefore don’t feel like buying one permanently but just feel like using one for a journey not made frequently B) They have to connnect with busses or subways on which it is always a pain in the ass and often illegal to take a bike, or C) they just want to have the ability to not bother with picking their bikes back up where they parked them (so they can have more flexibility and freedom on their journey).

      • Hugh Shepard

        Also, dockless bikeshare has some problems with vandalism and the bikes being improperly parked or parked in inaccessible locations. However, there are ways to solve these problems, with systems to regulate the service area of the bikes, as well as credit systems that dock points off users who damage the bikes or park them in areas where they are not likely to be picked up again.

        Of course, as one can see in China’s major cities, when a city of millions of people gets flooded with dockless bikeshare bikes, some end up thrown into rivers, abandoned on the sides of highways, etc… However, these problems are not that widespread, in that the vast majority of bikes do not end up like this. So I’d say that the jury is not out yet on whether this type of a system, if implemented in the right way, will work in the long-term.

    • MT

      Making a bike ugly has never stopped it from being stolen.
      That solid steel is worth money, no matter what color you paint it.
      Bike share bikes are set up to by maintained with special tools that only the company has to prevent theft of parts. Other than that they are very simple to maintain, so I’m not sure what your point is there.
      Subways and light rail serve very different needs than bikes, they compliment each other. We need both.
      Amazing how much you say without knowing anything.

      • TakeFive

        Interesting discussion on Phoenix thread about how many homeless chaps have managed to remove the locks and GPS on dockless bikes. Sometimes it’s their new ride; other times it’s just their free trip to wherever.

        • MT

          One of the downsides to the dockless system I guess. Little bit harder to keep bikes secure.
          I think I do prefer a docked system, but the docks have to be frequent and have a good coverage area. Dockless is an easy way to test out the demand and see where people might use the bikes, and maybe works better in a lower density area where it’s not possible to have frequent docks.

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