After lobbying Aspen Mayor Torre to take up their concerns with city council, bike shops will receive their wish for the summer season, which is that they will be able to extend their rental customer service to outdoor right-of-way spaces in order to continue adhering to COVID-19 safety guidelines.
Torre brought the matter to council members’ attention during the comment period of the municipal body’s regular meeting Tuesday evening.
“As you know, the current state of utilizing right-of-way going into this summer has been approved for restaurants, not retail. This is not using retail for the bike shops but for their rental fleets,” he said. “This is a conversation I just want to get council input on.”
Generally speaking, the mayor — and by extension, the bike rental community — was met with support, but it wasn’t an immediate slam dunk. Councilmember Rachel Richards, for instance, voiced concerns that well-intentioned short-term solutions for one community may result in farther-off but very real consequences for others.
“We’re trying to assist our businesses in any way we can, so I’m not going to put out a firm no, but I do think there’s starting to be some real equity questions,” she said. “When we go to schedule bus schedules in the fall and we’re looking at how much is in the transportation fund, that’s when that bill comes due. So we may end up cutting bus routes during the off season to locals who need them,” she said, noting that the parking lost to businesses’ being able to use right-of-ways very much creates a zero-sum budget situation, as it means would-be parking fees going uncollected.
“This isn’t free space — it’s coming from other community needs; it’s coming from other community resources,” Richards said. “I envision that we’re going to see this as an ongoing request so we can be more bicycle friendly in locations that are not suited for bicycle rentals.”
Councilmember Ann Mullins recognized Richards’ point that many bicycle shops’ spaces are no longer adequate to service business levels, but she attributed that to the increased demand in the bicycle market that boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic, when public transportation and carpooling was limited and open-air activities were considered among the safest available.
“I am in support of letting them set up the way they set up last summer. If you recall, they were categorized as an essential service, and that was part of the reason they were allowed to open up and expand into the street,” Mullins said. “In defense of their spaces or their rental options, the spaces were adequate two years ago, but with COVID, the demand for bikes just exploded. And this, it seems to be continuing.”
Councilmembers Ward Hauenstein and Skippy Mesirow also echoed support for bike shops being able to extend their rental operations into public right-of-way spaces, as did Torre — but the mayor also issued a precaution to business proprietors in the bike industry in recognition of what he described as Richards’ credible concerns.
“I guess I would issue a bit of a warning about this going forward. I want everybody who is setting up in the right of way to know that these are not permanent fixtures; these are things we’re looking at as relief in these difficult times,” he said. “There’s no guarantee of them moving forward. It is truly the public’s right of way.”
Ultimately, the council voted in a motion to direct city staff to move forward with recommendations on how to equitably — treating bike shops similarly as restaurants, which had already been approved to operate in right-of-way spaces during this year’s summer season — allow bike rental operations to use the outdoor spaces as well.