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Here’s a First: Hartford’s Downtown Now Offers Free Roadside Assistance for Cyclists

A staffer from Hartford’s downtown business improvement district responds to a call for a bike repair. Photo: Hartford BID

Bicyclists in downtown Hartford, Connecticut, have a new option if they need repairs on the go -- the area's business improvement district has launched a first-of-its-kind roadside assistance program.

Roadside assistance for bikes isn't a new invention, but the Hartford BID appears to the be the first business district in the United States to offer it -- for free, seven days a week. Anyone within its 55-block coverage area is eligible. Six of the BID's on-street ambassadors have been trained to fix flats and do minor repairs. The goal is to encourage more people to get to work by bike by giving them peace of mind about any mechanical problems that might threaten to derail their commute.

"I’m thrilled to be starting it here in Hartford,” says Jordan Polon, the BID's executive director. “We can get you fixed up to the point where you can take your bike to a real shop if it’s something that needs fixing.”

Hartford was designated a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community last year by the League of American Bicyclists, and Polon says it's important to offer services that encourage people to ride their bikes until the city's on-street infrastructure improves. "It’s always good to provide these additional services during the process of building it out,” she said. “It doesn't take much.”

The program launched on Bike to Work Day, which Hartford observed on May 19. Posters and outreach to local employers will begin soon, Polon said. In the meantime, the ambassadors have been working out kinks with the program and assisting people who are referred to them for help.

The service's first call came last month from Robert Trottier. By day, Trottier is the engineer for the nearby city of New Britain, but he took a day off to spend time with his son. They were bicycling in Hartford when his son's tire began leaking. "I didn't bring anything with me to fix a flat or change a tube," he says. While they were walking to take a bus home, they did a quick Internet search for a bike shop. They called a local bike clinic, which referred them to the BID.

“They showed up and we put the new tube on, so we were able to continue our ride,” Trottier says. “It’s about as good a situation as you could've asked for... They were a little green, but then again, I was their first customer!”

BID ambassadors are employed by Block by Block, a company that provides cleaning, security, landscaping and other on-street services to business districts around the country. The workers, who already provide basic automobile roadside assistance, were trained in bike basics at Bici Co., a bicycle education program of the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford.

Part of the reason the Hartford BID set the service up with Bici Co. is because it isn't competing with bike shops within its borders. “We probably would’ve gone about this in a different way if there were a bike shop in the district," Polon says. “That would be a reason to reevaluate the way we deliver it.”

The program cost the BID just $1,500 to launch, Polon says, including the cost of repair kits and training hours. She hopes other groups around the country follow Hartford's lead and launch their own bicycle roadside assistance services. “I have a friend who is an operations manager at the BID in Phoenix and she asked if they can steal it for their organization. That’s exactly what we’re hoping to see," Polon says. “As our city and other cities embrace non-car modes of transportation, this is a service that will only increase in use."

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