Magazine Feature / People

Alumnus works to relieve traffic congestion during DNC

When the 50,000 anticipated Democratic National Convention attendees roll into town, there’s sure to be fanfare — and a lot of traffic. Mayor John Hickenlooper has announced street closures during the DNC, including parts of Speer Boulevard and Auraria Parkway.

But where many see obstacles, Will Handsfield (MMP ’08) sees opportunity. He wants to get as many people as possible riding bicycles in downtown Denver Aug. 25–27. He’s helping bring 1,000 bikes to Denver for a free bike sharing program.

Handsfield is president of Bike Denver. The local group is assisting the bike sharing effort by Bikes Belong, a coalition sponsored by the U.S. bicycle industry.

“The goal is to mitigate traffic during the convention,” Handsfield says.

Health insurance company Humana is sponsoring the program, and numerous bicycle manufacturers are donating products. All told there will be eight stations throughout downtown where riders can pick up and return bikes from dusk to dawn each day.

Attendants will be on hand to check out bikes and helmets, give safety talks, provide maps and locks, and help fit riders to the appropriate bike.

According to the Bikes Belong Web site, bicycles, which will be available to the public, will be “perfect for short trips between hotels, convention centers, restaurants and the convention arenas.”

Participants will have to provide contact information and a credit card to borrow a bike.

“For each mile that is ridden on a bike instead of driven in a car, approximately one pound of CO2 emissions is avoided,” explains Andy Duvall, one of the project’s co-chairs. Duvall is a University of Colorado-Denver PhD student whose dissertation research is focused on bicycle transportation.

Duvall says it’s difficult to predict what the overall impact will be because not all of the cyclists will be displacing car trips. For example, he says, some riders may have taken a bus or light rail or walked in addition to driving a car, if a bicycle had not been available. Some might not have made the trip at all.

“So the number of greenhouse gas emissions avoided — given the added complexity — is more difficult to determine.”

Duvall will be collecting data as part of his research. He says that Denver is among a group of cities actively exploring bicycle sharing as a way to augment public transportation.

Handsfield says that the bikes coming to Denver will go to Minneapolis for the Republican Convention, but he’s working to develop a permanent program that could be in place as early as next year.

“The long-term vision is to have an automated system,” Handsfield says, noting that Humana and bicycle manufacturer Trek are developing the technology for a self-service program.

“We’re going to start with 500 [bicycles] in the downtown area; then go to universities,” he says.

Handsfield and Bike Denver also have been working to improve the city’s street grid. He says bike lanes in Denver sometimes come to an abrupt end, which frustrates cyclists and drivers alike.

As for Handsfield, the road ahead is wide open.

“I may go to D.C. to work on a national level and make an even bigger impact using the knowledge I gained at DU in the public policy program.”

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