The Ottumwa Courier

June 10, 2013

Bicycle racks open up city to riders

Courier staff writer

---- — OTTUMWA — Officials are hoping new bicycle racks on city buses will gain popularity this summer.

Community Transformation Grant director Joni Elder said too often riding the city bus is stigmatized as being "only for poor people — and that's just not true." Taking the bus is the perfect form of alternate transportation, she said, and now being able to sling your bicycle on the front of a bus provides the public with more access to more of the city.

Nine bike racks on all nine city buses were funded last fall through the grant, costing nearly $12,000. The grant is to promote health, well-being and physical activity, making the bike racks a perfect project for a portion of the funds.

"A lot of people talked about how it came out of taxpayer funds, but it didn't," she said.

Since the Wapello County Trails Council is always working toward developing more trails on top of its already 10-mile system, Elder said utilizing the bike racks will give the public access to trails they currently might not be able to reach.

"If you live on the north side, you can ride the bus downtown and bring your bike down to the trails," she said.

Since the bicycles were installed relatively late in the season last fall, they didn't see much, if any, use during the winter. But bus drivers have seen that begin to change with warmer weather.

Ottumwa Transit operations manager Jay Allison said with more communities developing walking trails and bike paths and getting in a "mindset of healthier living," bike racks are a natural fit.

Securing a bicycle in the rack is a quick process, he said. All the rider has to do is pull a lever that drops the rack down, throw their bike into the channel and secure the magnetic bar over the front wheel, which will secure the bike throughout the entire ride.

"It sits down in a channel, so even if you forget the [magnetic bar], the odds of it coming up out of the channel are pretty slim," he said.

And the extra time it takes a passenger to secure their bike into the rack doesn't delay bus routes, he said.

Ottumwa Transit Advisory Board member Beth Brown said all major cities should take note and install bike racks on their buses.

"I think these would be great in all major cities, including Des Moines," Brown said. "It helps everyone. I'm glad the city paid attention to it."

Brown is confident that the bike racks will gain popularity as more and more people see them being used.

Wes Westmoreland, who launched the initiative to get bike racks on buses alongside Tom Ellis, said he's glad to have them on the buses and even happier that they weren't taxpayer-funded.

"It furthers the trails initiative, it helps make a healthier Ottumwa and it helps Indian Hills," Westmoreland said. "If students have class late at night, they can take the bus up north with their bike and then ride their bike back home. Plus it saves with the work of going up those hills. It also helps those who don't have a job or a license get to Iowa Workforce Development or the Social Security office. It gets them other places than just downtown."

— To follow reporter Chelsea Davis on Twitter, head to @ChelseaLeeDavis.