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Public works employees put cars in back seat

Program provides bikes for them to ride

Eric Nelson
The Idaho Statesman

Stuck in a creeping lane of downtown Boise traffic two months ago, Jennie Rylee asked herself a question: Why drive when I can peddle?

Rylee was sick of driving to meetings five minutes away, tired of the long parking searches and fed up with stop-and-go traffic that she frequently encountered while on the job as the Solid Waste Program coordinator for the city's Public Works Department.

Now she's peddling her problems away.

Rylee spearheaded the DASH bike program that began this week, which enables Public Works employees to ride city-owned bikes to downtown meetings and appointments.

The bike program is an attempt to set an example for the rest of the city and will hopefully catch on among city employees and local residents, said Chuck Mickelson, Public Works director.

Before DASH, which stands for Downtown Area Short Hop, Public Works employees checked out one of the 10 available department vehicles to travel for work outside of city hall. Rylee hopes DASH now will encourage employees to opt instead for the bikes.

"Biking around downtown is as easy as pie," she said. "Even a fat old lady like me can do it."

Public Works has two bicycles – one the department purchased for $60 and one Rylee donated – that are available during work hours for department employees. Within two weeks, seven additional bikes will be donated for employee use, complete with helmets and padlocks, Rylee said.

Although no Public Works employees have used the bikes yet, many have begun scheduling time to use them.
"I think we're all excited about the bikes; in fact, I just got done scheduling a time to use one," said Johanna Luce, a Public Works employee.

And the new program has caught the attention of Boise's mayor and City Council members, who praise the department's efforts.

"Every person on a bicycle is one fewer person adding to traffic congestion and smog," Mayor Dave Bieter has said. He said the transportation alternative is good for the environment and for physical fitness, too.

Not everyone shares Bieter's optimism, however.

"It's a good idea, but with only a few bikes, I just don't see (DASH) cutting down traffic," said Lyndi Ward, a downtown manager at Brick Oven Bistro.

Other cities have tried to implement community bike programs similar to DASH, but many have struggled to find success amid bike maintenance and theft problems.

Ken Rosskopf, founder of Decatur Yellow Bikes in Decatur, Ga., ran a nonprofit organization that reconditioned bikes, painted them yellow and put them in designated racks called "yellow bike stations" throughout Decatur. The bikes remained unlocked and were free for anyone older than 16 to use. But after 100 bikes were stolen within a matter of months, Rosskopf said his company had to begin charging people for use and offering incentives for the bike's return.
"For (DASH) to work, the city of Boise is going to have to make sure that the bikes are locked up and that they receive proper maintenance," Rosskopf said.

Rylee said that the problems encountered by other city bike programs shouldn't be an issue. The DASH program is for Public Works employees, not the general public.

"Bikes, helmets and padlocks are checked out through the computer and won't be left out for just anyone to use," Rylee said.

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