• Fri May 12 2006
  • Posted May 12, 2006
Maggie Anderson - The Daily Iowan Issue date: 5/11/06 Mark Wyatt responded to my request for an interview with a question of his own: "Do you have a bike?" he asked. "Well," I replied, "yes …" And so my three-mile, 30-minute bike tour of Iowa City was born. Wyatt could have gone much longer. "I'm a junkie," he said, taking a swig from his water bottle at the Java House during our post-ride cool down. The health-conscious beverage seems appropriate, considering the 35-year-old's addiction. Carrying a sleek helmet and sporting fingerless gloves, hard-soled shoes, and an elastic band around his right pant-leg, you'd hardly mistake his obsession for anything other than the real wheel. As we rode across Burlington Street, Wyatt told me a fact of which I was already painfully aware. The busy, numerous-lane road is "obviously not made for bikers," he said. Yes, I replied, I think my two recent close encounters with right-turning traffic can testify to that statement's truth. But as we turned the corner, he said the city has been more diligent in recent roadway designs. The new Court Street Transportation Center, a $13.2 million facility that opened in November 2005, is a veritable transportation haven. This ramp exemplifies his idea of a "complete street" - the center provides 600 parking spaces, a Greyhound Bus terminal, an Iowa City Transit stop, cab stands, and 10 bicycle lockers. Wyatt owns seven bicycles (he has to pause to count), each with a distinct purpose. On this day, he spun in on his road bike, designed to be light and efficient and perfect for casual tooling around town. He also owns, among others, a folding bike (it will fit in a suitcase), two antique cruisers, and a commuter bike. Yes, a commuter bike. Rather than drive, Wyatt pedals the 81?2 miles - exactly 32 minutes - from his home in North Liberty to work in Iowa City at least three times a week and even more often now that the threat of snow has abated. The bike's rack and side bags allow storage of work papers and a change of clothes, and the two-wheeler is equipped with lights and fenders to ward off precipitation and nightfall. According to U.S. Census data, 0.3 percent of Iowans listed "bicycle" as their primary mode of transportation to work in 2004. Across the country, the figure is 0.4 percent - perhaps to be expected in a country long-gone in its romance with the automobile. As part of a national effort to increase bike use, Iowa City's bicycling advocates will hold local events to celebrate Bike to Work Week, May 15-19. Designated as a week to encourage both cycling novices and old hands, the community-wide venture will include free bike commuter breakfasts, a bike/bus/car race, and a leisure ride. Cody Gieselman, one of the event's organizers, said this year marks the first time local cycling organizations have collaborated to support Bike to Work Week. In May 2005, an informal ride drew 40 participants despite poor weather. But this year the committee members are much more prepared - they have been planning since January, and they hope for at least 200 participants during the May 17 main event, an easygoing ride from Chauncey Swan park to the Coralville New Pioneer Co-op. Bike advocacy and activities are not unfamiliar to those living in a college town such as Iowa City, but local cycling options have expanded in recent years. For example, Wyatt, though he works full-time as a county paramedic, also serves as the executive director for the Iowa Bicycle Coalition. The statewide cycling group originated in 2004 as a response to a proposed statewide bike-road ban, and now the group has 300 members statewide. The coalition's main goals include encouraging new bikers and working with city planners to create "complete" streets. Wyatt is also on the board for the Bicyclists of Iowa City, a 250-member group that demonstrates the established biking tradition in Iowa City - it was founded in 1976. The club holds nearly nightly rides for biking enthusiasts. Like Wyatt, Gieselman has her hand in numerous local cycling societies. In addition to her Bike to Work Week duties, the 27-year-old is the coordinator for the Iowa City Bike Library, 408 E. College. The facility, which began three years ago as a one-person operation out of a table at the Farmer's Market, has since gained a building and approximately 10 volunteers. Gieselman, an UI art-education graduate, said curiosity led her to check out the library in August 2005. The room was "a mad house," she said, with only one worker, founder Brian Loring, handling the crowd. "He handed me a kickstand and said, 'Can you put this on that bike for that lady?' " Gieselman said. Fortunately, she had some repair experience - she had worked at World of Bikes, 723 S. Gilbert St., for two years. The Bike Library, true to its name, offers bicycles for check-out in a manner similar to books in a public library. "The point is to get people on bikes and to keep bikes on the road," Gieselman said. Potential bikers can check out a bike for six months for only a nominal deposit fee - just $20 to $80, depending on the condition of the bike, and children's bikes are always $5. If renters return the bikes within the six-month period, their deposits are refunded. But the Bike Library actually encourages their patrons to keep their bikes. In what Gieselman consider a win-win situation, one more bike remains on the road, and the library gets "some sort of income" to continue supporting itself. And by the numbers, Iowa City wants to keep the Bike Library around. "We can't keep up with demand," Gieselman said, adding that she had just one bike ready for rental as of Monday. Part of the difficulty in maintaining adequate stock is inherent for a volunteer organization - it relies largely on donations and cast-offs found by the police, most of which require repair before they are rideable. But Gieselman said having a permanent location, a larger staff, and better tools has dramatically increased the number of bikes rented this year. During last year's entire seven-month season from May to October, the library loaned 84 bikes; this year, in just under two months, it has seen almost 50 pass through its doors. "I don't feel so bad, when I think about those numbers," she said. E-mail DI reporter Maggie Anderson at:

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