Wheelmen, as bicyclists were known in the 1800s, have been at home in Colorado Springs since its founding.
That interpretation of the city’s culture was presented Saturday by Claire Swinford, Downtown Colorado Springs’s director of urban engagement. She gave a lecture at the Pioneers Museum titled “A Celebration of Bicycling from Past to Present” in an attempt to reset the tone of the city’s bitter public debate over bike lanes.
“Gen. (William Jackson) Palmer was interested in creating a place founded on egalitarianism. ... Egalitarianism is his mantra for everything,” Swinford said. And bicycling is an “egalitarian activity accessible to all.”
The city’s split over the new bike lanes was apparent at a recent debate co-hosted by The Gazette and KKTV 11 News.
Advocates applauded the city’s decision to narrow some streets to one lane to incorporate bike lanes, encouraging more people to ride bicycles, a healthier and environmentally friendly alternative to driving cars and trucks that will make the city more attractive to sought-after millennials.
But others, including a group calling itself Restore Our Roads, lambasted the city for making it harder to drive downtown to accommodate a small fraction of residents who use the new lanes and, they say, don’t pay the same taxes as motorists to maintain the roads.
Swinford and others who addressed the mostly pro-bicycle crowd of 35 who attended the lecture said it wasn’t them or today’s advocates who were promoting cycling in Colorado Springs — it was the city’s founders.
“They are the same people who wanted great access to trails and parks in the city, to embrace cutting-edge technology and build an egalitarian society,” she said, noting the inception of the Legacy Loop in 1912.
Eric Metzger, the executive director of the McAllister House Museum, agreed, noting that advocates for bicycle infrastructure spurred the movement to pave roads and create a national highway system.
The League of American Wheelmen, formed in 1880, struggled to ride down roads rutted by carriage wheels. They lobbied for paved roads, even before the invention of the automobile.
“‘The moment you become a wheelman, you automatically and instantaneously become an advocate for road infrastructure,” Metzger said, quoting an article from the turn of the 20th century.
Allen Beauchamp, another panelist, said that legacy has persisted in Colorado Springs and across the country.
“The roadways are not owned by anyone; they’re a public right of way,” said the coordinator for Trails and Open Space Coalition’s Bike Colorado Springs program. “We have unsafe roadways not just for bicycles, but also cars and pedestrians.”
Beauchamp noted the record 48 traffic fatalities in the city last year and that the city is on the same pace this year with 12 deaths through Saturday.
Beauchamp emphasized how bicycles unite a community.
Beauchamp demonstrated a handcycle — a tricycle powered by the hands. For those with a physical ailment that prevents them from riding a standard bike, it allows them to still feel the thrill of the trail, he said. Also available for attendees to try were the purple PikeRide bicyclists available for anyone to rent short or longterm in the downtown corridor.
“When we go out, we are our community,” Beauchamp said. “There is no divide.”
Twitter: @lizmforster Phone: 636-0193