Reflecting the city’s long tradition of cycling culture, the city of Gunnison, Colo., attained Silver Bicycle Friendly Community designation last week. Gunnison City Manager, Ken Coleman, shares his community’s enthusiasm for biking and was proud to shed some light on his city’s love of cycling.
Our community culture has embraced cycling for some time. I can only speak to my time spent here in Gunnison, although we do have a picture in our council chambers with one on Gunnison’s founders, Alonzo Hartman, by his bicycle in 1882.
I moved to Gunnison in 1981, 100 years after Alonzo. My brother attended Western State College and after graduating began working for the school district here. I ended up relocating to the area and when I arrived he told me I needed three things: shades (it’s sunny), some telemark skis for those long winters, and a mountain bike.
After I settled here, he took me on a day ride over West Maroon Pass to Aspen and back. Although that almost killed me, I immediately went down to the Tune-Up Ski and Bike Shop to buy my first mountain bike. The owner, Chris Haas, talked me into a sweet little Univega number. Since I was all but broke, he let me take that bike, ride it all summer and make payments until we were square. Where else would that happen other than a truly bicycle-friendly kind of place?
Our community has cycling embedded in its soul. As you pass through the community there are bikes leaning against porches, parked in racks, resting by sign poles and ambling here and there with a lucky rider mounting the saddle. The townie scene ranges from utilitarian to outright ostentatious. Children converge on the schools each day in packs and you have to navigate a maze of bikes to get a cup at the local cafes.
The Red Zinger Classic bike race had been successful in Colorado and our local bike shop entrepreneurs brought some of the professional riders to our town for training. The Coors Classic followed the Red Zinger and, with it, our local sports enthusiasts hosted some stages. A citizen criterion also brought some cycling excitement to our downtown. The mountain bike scene grew up right outside our doors and we offered training to Olympians. Alexi Grewal, Connie Carpenter, and Rebecca Twig tuned up their ride for the 1984 games on our county roads. Davis Phinney was a regular at these events.
It wasn’t just the pros that were enjoying our venue, though. The town has had year round biking long before I arrived. It’s how folks get around here. There are many commuters enjoying the brisk mountain air each morning, and each weekend there are road and mountain bikes winding their way through the network of trails and scenic roadways. I guess it just seemed natural that we ARE a bicycle-friendly kind of place — so naturally we’d apply for Bicycle Friendly Community status.
Our city staff has picked up the ball and carried it to the goal line. The planning for trails and bike lanes, the events that bring the community together, the educational material, enforcement strategies, and actual building of infrastructure along with the BFC application were handled by city staff. Since we are a small community with a smaller budget we do not have a dedicated bicycle program director. I felt it was important, so I personally volunteered to help organize the effort.
Thus far, I’ve been learning by trial and error. We hope to improve our ranking with each application. I would love to see us roll out a solid school program that gets our youth educated to the benefits and proper use of bicycles. It only makes sense to give the young folks the right information up front so they can enjoy many years spinning their wheels.