The reports over the past year about market trends regarding Millennials not buying cars might be sour news to automakers, and the numbers and studies backing such claims are debated among some groups. But anecdotally, there is no denying that bicycles are back in fashion — especially in downtown Oklahoma City.
Just a decade ago, downtown was home to just a few rusted bike racks that were rarely used. But with the advent of Project 180, bicycles are hitting newly established bike lanes, and the Spokies bike share program is rapidly expanding.
Just over the weekend, the local social media community lit up Twitter when Deep Deuce resident Sid Burgess noted that the Spokies rack in Bricktown was empty.
All the bikes had been checked out. This sparked a conversation not just about the popularity of the bikes, but also photos and videos taken by Spokies enthusiasts, and interest for more stations.
The interest and enthusiasm by young professionals for biking also can be seen along Automobile Alley, where the success of Schlegal Bicycles led to a second bike store across the street from the first one at NW 8 and Broadway.
Downtown has seen the successful launch of bicycle races and spontaneous evening treks through the central business district.
Riversport Adventures also operates biking programs along the Oklahoma River, and Mike Knopp, director of the Boathouse Foundation, confirms he is looking at the possibility of adding a biking track to the riverfront attractions.
This rush to two-wheeled transportation isn't limited to Millennials. Tourists also are using the Spokies bikes, as evidenced by the station in the entertainment district accounting for 25 percent of all checkouts. At various festivals, families and empty nesters are riding the bikes with the attached double-sided baskets.
But the most vocal demand for bike lanes, racks, bike-sharing and activities in Oklahoma City's urban core is no doubt coming from a younger generation that a quarter century ago would have simply abandoned their hometown altogether.
Now they're staying. And their interests, in increasing numbers, evolve around working, playing and living downtown, and not relying on cars.
So what do the young professionals want when it comes to bike sharing?
They want a Spokies station along the river. They want more stations in Bricktown, MidTown and Film Row. They want stations outside of downtown — places like the 16th Street Plaza District, UpTown 23rd, the Oklahoma Health Center and Western Avenue.
Those ambitions will and won't be met. Though Spokies is operated by Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., it is not part of the downtown business improvement district. That means the program can expand outside the boundaries of the business district.
And that's just what is set to happen.
Jill DeLozier, spokeswoman for Downtown Oklahoma City Inc., reports that Spokies is breaking ridership records with 1,659 checking out the bicycles in June, and 1,149 bikes checked out in May.
The operation launched in May 2012. Rides for 2012 totaled 4,369. Rides for the first six months of 2013, meanwhile, totaled 5,343.
So you can see where this is all going.
The first Spokies expansion is just a matter of weeks away — the station is in storage, and bikes are being ordered for an addition along boathouse row. A sponsorship is set to be announced soon, and DeLozier reports that additional money will support an expansion of two stations per year. Film Row folks, you might be next. Ditto for the Oklahoma Health Center.
Expansions into the Plaza District, UpTown and Western Avenue, however, are far less likely. The operation requires stations be located no more than a half-mile apart. Could those outposts occur someday? Sure, DeLozier says, but it will take a while — likely years.
A decade ago, civic leaders gathered together and contemplated what major changes needed to take place to retain and attract the younger creative class. Little did they know the list included something as simple as a bicycle.
How Spokies work:
Find a kiosk. There are six Spokies bike kiosks downtown. Spokies bikes can be checked out between 6 a.m. and 2 a.m. seven days a week.
Choose among three types of memberships; one year, one month or one day. Each membership comes with free, unlimited 30-minute rides for the duration of your membership.
Swipe membership or credit card. A daily membership can be purchased for $5 at the kiosk with a credit card, but online sign-ups are required for monthly or annual memberships. Monthly and annual memberships also can be obtained by visiting the Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. office at 211 N Robinson, Suite 225, or by calling 235-3500. Select a bike and go for a ride. Choose a bike in the rack and enter the number on the kiosk's keypad. The bike's magnetic lock will release for removal. Return the bike when done. Spokies bikes can be returned to any kiosk 24 hours a day. Additional charges apply after the 30-minute rental period at all times at the rate of $2 per half-hour.