Pedaling Toward Sustainability—and Community

WE-cycle Introduces Movimiento en Bici Latino Outreach Program

Creating community, one pedal stroke at a time: That’s the vision of Mirte Mallory, co-founder and executive director of WE-cycle, the Roaring Fork Valley’s nonprofit bike-share program that offers an efficient, simple, sustainable transit alternative for residents and visitors.

Founded in 2010, WE-cycle began from the desire to provide a green transportation option to help Aspen attain carbon emissions and traffic congestion reduction goals articulated in the city’s 2005 Canary Initiative and 2012 Aspen Area Community Plan. While this environmental focus remains a foundational piece, the use of bikes to fundamentally transform a city’s culture by connecting locals and visitors to the town, the landscape, and each other in new ways is an equal and vitally important goal of the program.

“When people get out of their cars and head out on foot and on bike and interact with each other, it creates community –– and fosters a vibrant and sustainable culture,” says Mallory. “It changes the way a community feels, from one that is car-centric to one that is multi-modal. It energizes people, and makes them feel more alive. You become a part of a place and experience a city in such a different way when you go by bike.”

The experience of this transformation isn’t just theory for Mallory, it’s something she’s experienced first-hand. She spent part of her childhood in France and lived in Switzerland for a year after graduation from Dartmouth College. Those experiences, coupled with travels to cities where bikes are woven deeply into the culture, sparked her awareness about the ways in which cycling can transform the connections of daily life. Mallory wanted to bring that vibrancy and community back home to Aspen, a place where she not only has deep roots, but one for which she feels a keen sense of responsibility as a third-generation Aspenite from a family that’s very civically engaged.

Thanks to WE-cycle, thousands of people have now experienced that vibrancy in the Roaring Fork Valley. Students from the Aspen Music Festival and School regularly use WE-cycle bikes to cart their instruments to and from the Benedict Music Tent, RFTA commuters use them to travel the first and last mile of their bus commutes, and locals use them to run errands. Plus, locals and visitors alike pick up bikes and ride them to the Hunter Creek and Smuggler Mountain trailheads to keep their recreation carbon-free. The organization encourages social engagement with friendly contests such as querying riders on the most creative item they have toted in their WE-cycle bike basket. One impressive entry came from a rider who carted their pet tarantula through town.

The program is also achieving its original vision of reducing traffic congestion and emissions in the Roaring Fork Valley. WE-cycle’s overall ridership tripled to over 38,000 rides in its first four years of operation. It expanded its operations to Basalt (including Willits and El Jebel) in 2016 and now includes 190 bikes and 43 stations strategically placed in its service areas. The program is also working on a possible expansion to Carbondale and Glenwood Springs in the coming years, pending funding. It has also become a model program for other mountain towns looking to create bike-share programs.

For Mallory, it’s crucial that the bikes and the sustainable, vibrant, and healthy communities they help create are accessible to every demographic, including the local Latino population. WE-cycle was awarded a Better Bike Partnership Grant in 2016 –– in one of only nine cities nationwide to receive the honor –– to create its Movimiento en Bici (“Bike Ride”) program, developed to encourage ridership, reduce economic barriers to entry, and ensure the program’s cultural relevancy. Through Movimiento en Bici, the organization offers subsidized passes, a Spanish language helpline, and bike safety and riding classes with the support of partner nonprofits including Valley Settlement and English in Action.

“It’s really important that we provide equity in our services. We’re all vital members of this community,” says Mallory. “We need to ensure this service is available to everyone. Independence and mobility can be a huge barrier in this community: a barrier to getting to a job, to leaving one’s home, to being physically active.”

Despite the challenges of introducing a new transit option with a significant learning curve to a portion of the community with little historical relationship to bike culture, and who are often juggling numerous jobs and facing significant life challenges, WE-cycle is beginning to be embraced by our Latino neighbors. One woman began using it as a way to shorten her commute from a RFTA stop to her workplace and subsequently got her husband involved in riding bikes for recreation on the weekends.

“We think of the bikes in terms of agency, especially for women in this community. Of not always having to be reliant on your spouse to do things. Access to wheels can grow independence and confidence, which is huge,” Mallory says. “For the women, there was this sense of discovery and freedom and ownership. Some would tell me, ‘I haven’t ridden a bike since I was a kid, and now I’m going to ride with my daughter this weekend.’ Those to me were the stories that shared how these bikes can make a difference in people’s lives.”

The sum up, for Mallory, is that change happens when we’re willing to step out of our habitual comfort zones to help create a more sustainable community.

“WE-cycle invites an open mind,” says Mallory. “We’re a connector of people and places. The takeaway is that bike-share provides mobility to a community in a new way.  But you first need to try it. And once you’ve tried it, you’ll find that it’s opened up a whole new world to you. There’s nothing like getting on a bike and ending up with a smile on your face and feeling invigorated.”