Downtown Bike Station will help encourage more people to ride

By Ken Stephens

The Hutchinson News

Jennifer Randall and Dan Brizendine are back at it, trying to pump some air into the tires of a movement to get more people riding bicycles in Hutchinson.

By June, they hope to open a Publik Bike Station in a garage at the back of Fire Station No. 1 at Avenue B and Walnut, with seven to 10 new bicycles available to check out and ride for free, parts available at cost for those needing to repair their own bike and a 24-hour air and tool station.

"We hope to have all things bike," Randall said. "Bike lane maps, bike education and safety pamphlets. We'd like it to be a community center where people can come to meet. This could be a meeting place for kids for programs on bike safety and for programs where they could learn to take care of their bikes."

While Randall had the vision for the bike station, the city of Hutchinson and the fire department donated the space for the bike station off the alley at the back of the fire station, and Brizendine has been providing the labor to make his wife's vision a reality by repainting the facade.

Randall's plan is to have the bike station open on weekends and at least one week day, staffed by a part-time employee who would check out bikes and help with repairs. The station could be open more hours with volunteer help, she said.

"I love the volunteer aspect," she said. "But to get the consistency we need to get started, I thought we needed a paid staff person."

She has a budget of about $10,000 for the first six months of operation but would like to recruit a few large businesses to sponsor the continued operation of the bike station.

"They could have their logo on the bikes," she said.

People can also support the bike station with a donation to the Hutchinson Community Foundation for the Downtown Hutchinson Revitalization Partnership's "Bike Project." Community Foundation President Aubrey Patterson said donors can make out a check to the Hutchinson Community Foundation and note in the memo portion that it is for the bike project.

The Bike Station, which is just half a block from the newly marked bike lanes on Avenue A and from George Pyle Park and less than a mile from the Jim Martinez Trail and Carey Park, will be the first of its kind in Kansas.

In some large cities, companies operate fleets of public bikes. People can swipe a credit card to rent a bike, pull it from a locking rack, pedal it across town and return it at another public bike rack.

Randall said she contacted those companies but was told Hutchinson was too small for them.

"Nobody could scale it down for five or 10 bikes," she said. "They didn't laugh. But they said they can't do it on that scale."

So she talked with Downtown Development Director Jim Seitnater, who knew of the space at the back of the fire station and worked with Deputy Chief Mike Miller to make it happen before he retired. Randall said Fire Chief Kim Forbes also was enthusiastic and there's a possibility of adding a second air and tool station outside Fire Station No. 2 at 20th and Main.

"There's nowhere in Hutchinson you can rent a bike," Randall said. "So if you are visiting or you have a friend visiting and want to go for a ride, there's no where to rent another bike. But you'll be able to come down here. I want to encourage people to use the trails and bike racks. We're all part of the same community."

Randall said the bike station evolved from her idea in 2010 to place distinctively painted used bikes in racks along Main Street for people to borrow, ride along Main and leave in other bike racks along the street. But most of those bikes simply disappeared, ridden away and never returned.

Although the bikes will still be free to ride, the bike station will require borrowers to show identification or swipe a credit card to create some accountability and incentive to return the bikes, she said.

"The earlier concept I wanted to be this, but it was all I could do then," she said. "It was kind of fun and whimsical. But it was always just part of the conversation about more bikes and trails. This is the evolution of what we started four years ago."

(c)2014 The Hutchinson News