Barry Carroll has been bicycling for seven decades and has no plans to stop.
“I grew up in Kentucky on a farm and I had four siblings, and as soon as I could ride one of their bikes — that was probably way too big for me — I have been bicycling, so since about age 4,” Carroll, 74, said. “Like so many people, bicycling equals freedom for me.”
Since 2012, the Wichita Area Metropolitan Planning Organization has conducted annual counts of bicyclists and pedestrians during two days in 35 different sites in all of Sedgwick County and parts of Butler and Sumner counties. Between 2012 and 2020, bike/walk traffic increased by 31 percent, the annual count showed. This year’s count was scheduled for late September.
Carroll, the founder of Bike Walk Wichita, has been influential in shaping the changing bike/walk culture around Wichita.
As a kid, bicycling connected him to adventures and friends that awaited along the country roads in Kentucky. As a retiree, it keeps him active with his wife, Nancy, as they often bike from their home in Riverside to downtown Wichita or elsewhere for dinner. Leisurely rides with other bicycle enthusiasts are frequent.
“The first couple of pedal strokes when I’m on the bike and I can feel myself relaxing and thinking, ‘Ah, this is good,’” Carroll said.
Carroll’s experience in the social services field and working with citizen groups while working in the Wichita city manager’s office helped in getting BWW off the ground in 2010. He also participated in the city’s efforts to develop a Wichita Bicycle Master Plan. The plan was endorsed by the Wichita City Council in 2013. That year, Carroll was appointed by then-Mayor Carl Brewer to the 11-member Wichita Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board and is the board’s current chair.
Fueling the growth
In the years since the passage of the Wichita Bicycle Master Plan, miles of additional trails and bike lanes on city streets have been installed. According to the city of Wichita’s website, there are now more than 100 miles of bike paths in and around the city. The paths also can be used for walking or running, Carroll pointed out. More information about bicycling in Wichita can be found at wichita.gov/Bicycle.
Some of those paths were started well before the master plan, such as the Prairie Sunset Trail, an initiative that stems from the efforts of former Bicycle Pedaler shop owner Ruth Halliday, who since 1998 has led an effort to convert unused railway track corridors into bicycle trails. Another of Halliday’s efforts, the Andover Augusta Rails to Trails Initiative, has helped create the Redbud Trail.
Another effort that has helped increase bike traffic is the BikeShareICT initiative. Started in 2018, BikeShareICT allows individuals to rent bicycles placed at certain locations around Wichita.
April Lemon, BWW’s communications coordinator, said that many businesses have now installed bike racks, another sign of the growing bicycle culture in Wichita.
Several bicycle and walking clubs have started, as well, Carroll said. Occasionally, he joins the Wichita Geezers for rides. Other active groups include Women Hiking Kansas and Beyond and a “slow roll” group that frequents the Evergreen neighborhood. Both the Wichita Geezers and Women Hiking Kansas and Beyond can be found on Facebook.
Lemon said that the COVID-19 pandemic helped fuel some of the increasing foot and bike traffic.
“It was a thing people felt they could do safely and still be active,” she said.
For the aging demographic, bicycling and walking has several benefits, Carroll said.
“I have met so many people in the running, walking and biking communities who are so positive and upbeat. It makes it fun, and your mental and physical health becomes a byproduct.” He said he’s heard many stories from his fellow senior citizens about losing weight and improving their quality of life.
How to get moving
As part of its advocacy and education efforts, BWW has a program where donated and refurbished bicycles can be purchased or earned through volunteering with the group.
In return for donating 15 hours of time to BWW, an individual can receive a refurbished bike, a lock and a light, Carroll said. BWW also has given away bikes to homeless individuals or women in shelters who rely on the bikes for transportation.
BWW also maintains a calendar on its website, bikewalkwichita.org, where local bicycling and walking groups list upcoming cycling or walking events that are open to anyone to join. Occasionally, BWW also holds safety and education classes. Look for the Calendar link under the Get Involved menu on the website.