HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Maureen Hart was riding home on the Founders Bridge into Hartford when the tire on her bicycle went flat.
Stranded on her way home from a friend's house, Hart took advantage of a program she'd learned about just days before. While at a jazz concert in Bushnell Park, she and other friends who rode there were approached by a city bicycle "safety ambassador," who gave them a phone number to call if they ever needed roadside assistance.
Hart called that number and soon a bicycle mechanic was on hand, putting a new tube in her tire.
"This is such a cool service," she said. "I know people who live in Portland (Oregon) and that's a really bicycle-friendly city. They don't have anything like this. This is amazing."
The free roadside assistance initiative is run by the Hartford Business Improvement District. It is part of the organization's Clean and Safe program, which puts those "safety ambassadors" on downtown streets, giving free assistance to stranded motorists, providing security escorts and acting as another set of eyes and ears for police, said Jordan Polon, the business district's executive director.
The group added bicycle assistance in May to encourage bicycle commuting in the city and ease some the fears associated with it, she said.
Since then, Polon said the team has performed 42 roadside assistance calls for bicycles.
"Our research has indicated that Hartford is the first city in the United States of America to offer a free roadside assistance program for bicycles," she said.
Eddie Zayas is one of the district's "safety ambassadors." Like the vast majority of the others, he's a city resident. He wears a fluorescent yellow uniform and an identification badge and patrols on his bicycle downtown. He carries with him a two-way radio, a tool kit and three different sizes of bicycle tubes.
He looks for bicyclists who need help and takes service calls.
If a repair is too complicated, he arranges to have the bike taken to Bici Co., the same downtown bicycle workshop where the ambassadors received their training.
"But 95 percent of the time it's a flat tire," he said. "I can repair those in a couple minutes. People love it. They are always trying to pay me. I tell them, 'No, it's a free service.'"
The service comes as the city is working to improve commuting options, said Sandy Fry, bicycle and pedestrian coordinator for Hartford's Department of Development Services.
The city recently adopted a "complete streets" initiative, which means that any future road project must include bicycle lanes and options for pedestrian traffic, such as sidewalks. She said in many cases, it will simply involve restriping roadways. In others, it will involve widening existing roads.
"We've got the line in the sand now," she said. "Everything going forward is going to accommodate all road users, not just vehicles."