Denis Coyne, owner of Bike Habitat, takes a new ebike out for a spin off Topsy Lane on Aug. 10, 2022.
Photo by Scott Neuffer.
“Build it, and they will come,” Denis Coyne, owner of Bike Habitat, said with a touch of humor.
The line is from the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” but Coyne, in a phone interview earlier this month, was referring to bicycle infrastructure and the kinds of paths and parking equipment that can make cycling not just a feature of Carson City’s great outdoor recreation, but essential to everyday life: commuting, working, shopping, dining, school.
“A lot of pieces have to fall into place,” he warned. “Carson is mostly into fitness and recreation cycling. Commuting does exist, but it’s not a driving force like with other towns. But people are asking about it.”
Carson City seems poised for a cycling rush, a change in how residents commute. The average price of gas in the Silver State is hovering around $5 a gallon, according to AAA. Coyne and other bike shop owners have seen an uptick in customers looking for alternative transportation. At the same time, city officials are making it easier to commute by bike, completing crucial bike lanes while planning more in the future.
The challenge, Coyne said, is the long distance from one side of town to the other. The problem, he said, are offices and shopping malls of the past designed for the automobile above all else.
“Just carve out a little bit,” he said. “Make biking inviting.”
Justin Chiazza, owner of The Bike Smith, agrees that people are looking at bikes with more practical purposes.
“We have seen an increase in customers shopping for bicycles as an alternative to driving automobiles,” he said. “Bicycles that accept cargo racks and are budget-friendly are a great option when looking for more economical transportation.”
But he also shares Coyne’s sense of challenge.
“Looking forward, one of the biggest challenges Carson City faces is how to add more bicycle lanes around town for safer travel,” he said. “This issue isn't unique to Carson City, but adding more bike lanes will encourage our citizens to hop on their bicycles and ride rather than drive.”
Coyne called the city’s progress in recent years “remarkable.”
“They’re buying bikes to ride down at the river,” he said. “That river trail is selling bicycles because it’s an easy trail, and you don’t have to be a mountain biker.”
Coyne said he sells “adult comfort bikes” that have mountain-bike tires but upper structures more like beach cruisers. The bikes are capable of handling both gravel and paved roads, he said. The biggest trend right now is in electric versions of these bikes that assist with pedaling.
“You can go 35-80 miles per charge,” Coyne said.
Chiazza is seeing this trend as well.
“Above all segments within our industry, electric bicycles have become the most sought-after type of bicycle. Their popularity has grown faster than anything I've ever seen here at the shop,” he said.
Carson City Trails Coordinator Gregg Berggren said so-called ebikes are creating “another dimension in opportunities for alternate transportation.”
He explained that the city’s Unified Pathways Master Plan, created in 2006, has seen 25 miles of paved pathways and more miles of bike lanes that “are able to link our neighborhoods with our downtown core.”
“These routes can be used for commuting to work, shopping, making connections to the JAC bus system, and for recreation,” he said.
Carson City Transportation Planner Scott Bohemier said the city is filling out a new application for the Bike Friendly Community, a program run by The League of American Bicyclists.
“This program helps to guide and improve conditions for bicyclists,” he explained “Using five E’s (Education, Encouragement, Equity, Engineering and Evaluation), each community that applies is graded on their performance in these areas. In 2018, Carson City was awarded a bronze level rating. Carson City has taken several steps in hopes of achieving a silver or gold level rating including adding new multi-use paths throughout the community, adding bike lanes along strategic corridors, and adopting a Safe Routes to School Master Plan.”
He pointed to the recently completed South Carson Street project and East William Street project as proof the city is becoming more bike-friendly, and more pedestrian-friendly in general. These projects are called “Complete Streets” that re-envision urban design itself.
“Access to key community resources such as parks, shops, grocery stories, and schools, is often limited to automobile traffic,” says an informational guide from Carson City Public Works. “Complete Streets seeks to develop integrated, connected networks of streets that are safe and accessible for all. Complete Streets makes active transportation such as walking and bicycling more convenient; provides increased access to employment centers, commerce, and education institutions; and allows more options in traveling so that transportation is less of a financial burden.”
Such reimagining and tangible improvements come at a cost, though. The price tag for both the South Carson project and the East William project are close to $20 million each. Federal grants have helped. For example, in 2018, the city was awarded a $7.6 million TIGER grant by the U.S. Department of Transportation for the South Carson project, according to Carson City Public Works. The William Street project, currently underway, received a $9.3 million federal RAISE grant.
It is a gargantuan collective effort, requiring cooperation between different levels of government and members of the community.
“As we continue this push toward a gold level,” Bohemier said, “we hope that more businesses will join the effort that will help increase the economy and tourism for our city.”
As Coyne said before, “Build it, and they will come.”
For information about the city’s progress, visit http://carsonproud.com/