Aspen area officials fund bike-share program

Mirte Mallory stands next to a WE-cycle station on the east side of the Rubey Park bus terminal in this Aspen Times file photo.
Aspen Times file photo |

Elected officials from Pitkin County, Aspen and Snowmass Village decided Thursday to contribute $100,000 to a bike-share program that serves the Aspen and Basalt areas.

However, members of the Elected Officials Transportation Committee decided against giving the WE-cycle program another $75,000 to pay for an experiment that would provide free passes to Pitkin County residents and workers.

The group initially appeared ready to approve the entire $175,000 funding request for WE-cycle’s 2017 budget. But Snowmass Village Mayor Markey Butler made clear she wasn’t for the project and a motion to approve the full amount appeared destined for failure.

Snowmass Village does not currently have WE-cycle stations, though a program official said future plans may include the “topographically challenged” burg.

At that point, Butler’s colleagues on the Snowmass Village Town Council took it upon themselves to convince the mayor of the worthiness of the project.

Councilman Bob Sirkus pointed out that $100,000 out of the transportation committee fund won’t commit the body to the project for more than a year, which would give the council time to take the village’s temperature about whether residents would use WE-cycle.

The idea to fund the $100,000 in operation costs grew out of Pitkin County Commissioner George Newman’s concerns that funding a free pass “is very easy to initiate but very difficult” to uninitiate.

Town Council members Bill Madsen and Alyssa Shenk both said they thought it “short-sighted” of town officials not to contribute funding to the program, and the motion to provide the $100,000 passed the entire committee unanimously.

The $100,000, however, will be subject to an opinion by Pitkin County Attorney John Ely, who currently believes the WE-cycle proposal might not qualify for transportation committee funds, which come from a voter-approved half-cent sales tax, said Pitkin County Treasurer Tom Oken. Ely thinks the proposal could be tweaked to be allowable if WE-cycle can prove its worth as an integrated part of the valley’s mass-transit system rather than a recreational program, he said.

Prior to that debate, WE-cycle Executive Director Mirte Mallory spent more than an hour trying to do exactly that.

The program, with 43 stations in Aspen, Basalt, Willits and El Jebel, emphasizes establishing bike stations at or near RFTA stops, especially bus-rapid-transit stops, she said. A RFTA “Zone Pass” allows passholders to also use WE-cycle bikes. RFTA maps feature WE-cycle station locations and WE-cycle maps feature RFTA stops and routes. And 69 percent of WE-Cycle passholders use it in conjunction with RFTA, Mallory said.

Also, 75 percent of WE-cycle passholders in Aspen are using the bikes for transit reasons and not recreation based on the short, seven-minute average time of use, she said. That number jumps to 99 percent in the Basalt area, Mallory said.

Together with the city of Aspen’s “Car To Go” option and experimental free electric taxi service started this summer, the three programs “work together to create a great network” built off the spine of RFTA, she said.

Dan Blankenship, RFTA general manager, also praised WE-cycle, saying it has the ability to minimize impacts by getting people to pedal to the bus instead of drive.

The transportation committee on Thursday also unanimously approved funding two projects for the 2018 budget year to the tune of approximately $2.7 million. Those include $800,000 for a Highway 82 underpass at Buttermilk Ski Mountain and $1.9 million for improvements at the Brush Creek Intercept Lot.

The Brush Creek project, which will include 200 new spaces, bathrooms and other amenities, also will be funded by a $1.9 million federal grant, said Brian Pettet, Pitkin County public works director.