Denver is seeking to become a biketopia, enabling pedal-pushers a safer and more enjoyable ride or commute. The latest effort: a two-way study lane on one of the city's busiest thoroughfares, Broadway, complete with stoplights -- for bikes.
The new lane expands cycling access to South Broadway shops, but some merchants aren't sure it's what's needed. After all, it's taking up a lane and parking resources on the route.
But on the other hand, the lane will provide valuable data to the city about how to include more multi-modal transportation and shopping that will also likely increase pedestrian and cyclist safety as part of the implementation of the Denver Moves Broadway study.
As of 2015, Denver had 128 miles of bike lanes. That's over 40 more miles than the city had in 2011 when it reported 81 miles of bike lanes and shows the city is on it way to achieving a 15 percent bicycling and walking commute mode share by 2020. To achieve this target, however, requires more than just stenciling a bike rider on the street to designate a bike lane. It requires establishing a network of bike lanes throughout the city that afford appropriate protection for cyclists while not negatively impacting drivers.
While the Baker neighborhood has well-utilized north and south bike lanes on Bannock Street, two blocks west of Broadway and considerably sleepier, Denver Public Works Urban Mobility Manager Emily Snyder, observes that it has some other drawbacks.
"The network actually breaks down when you cross Speer. There's a section of bike lanes missing through the hospital districts between Speer and 6th," Snyder notes. "The Bannock bike lanes are great for the Baker neighborhood and access downtown, but they don't serve the businesses on Broadway."
Hence, the study on Broadway. "We know there are a lot of people riding bikes on Broadway on the sidewalks to get to those businesses," Snyder explains. "Just as people in cars and walking want to be along Broadway, so do people riding bikes."
Indeed, bicyclists often take to South Broadway's sidewalks in both directions. The new two-way bike lanes, which opened Aug. 15, should help alleviate that -- at least on the half-mile stretch with the bike lane between Bayaud and Virginia avenues on Broadway.
The lanes also include stoplights for bikes and enhanced stoplights with left turn signals for vehicles. "The left turn pocket allows for separate movement of a left turning lane and a bike lane," Snyder says. "It increases the safety of the turning movement. It's also been effective for cyclist compliance."
Lessons to learnA cyclist maneuvers between two turning cars.
According to Snyder, the study on Broadway is part of a larger effort to offer a cycling lane on Broadway that could extend from the I-25 light rail station to 16th Street. "This is a test of the design before making a multi-million dollar investment," she says. Indeed the city estimates that it cost $100,000 to install the test lane and the design and evaluation of it will cost $350,000. The complete project is expected to cost $5 million. "We wanted to make sure we got this section to work first."
As with anything new, particularly with traffic, there are concerns. "We're hearing from drivers that they want to avoid our area now because it's a cluster and they don't know how to navigate it and it's eating up a lane of an already congested driving route," says Erika Righter, co-founder of Hope Tank at 64 Broadway.
"From bikers, we're hearing that they still don't feel safe biking on it because they know that the drivers don't know how to safely drive and park around the lane," Righter exclaims. "The bike lane sounds awesome, but we would like to see an education campaign for drivers about safety with the bike lane as well as enforcement of tickets for people riding on the sidewalks."
That's one of the reasons why it's important to have a study period on such a busy route to gather more public input about what works and doesn't. Snyder says the department has a public outreach campaign for the project. "We had a major public meeting, but we did go door to door and knock on businesses," she says. "We went door to door and spent two days going to those businesses, dropping in talking to employees, leaving business cards, etc. We did our best to try and catch everybody."
Righter, whose store is just north of the actual study area, says she wasn't approached by anyone about the bike lane or a previous 'pop-up' bike lane implemented in 2015. "They said they dropped off flyers during the temporary demonstration, but there was no direct contact," she says.
"I only knew about the meetings because of another business owner telling me. I am not the only one who had no clue," Righter says. "They said they also got input from the business owners and that we were all for it, and that is also untrue. I only knew that the lane was actually going in this week because I saw a post on Facebook."
The lanes include stoplights for bikes and enhanced stoplights with left turn signals for vehicles.Better bikeways
The bike lane on the Broadway corridor is just one of many bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects going on in Denver right now. For instance, Snyder says Sunnyside now has two new bike/pedestrian bridges that have gone in recently and the Westwood neighborhood recently got its first neighborhood bikeway, which included making some major changes to a busy intersection. "We are making sure that projects are equitable across the city and that we are catching up in some of those neighborhoods that haven't seen as many improvements in the past."
At the same time, the city is also boosting its downtown cycling lanes and evaluating better ways to protect bikers with bollards or even curb-separated bike lanes as on 18th Street. "We are looking to implement a curb-separated, protected bike lane on 14th Street," Snyder explains. "We're looking to find new ways to add that vertical element that's more aesthetically pleasing than the white flex posts."
Indeed, the bollards, or flex posts, used to separate lanes pose a somewhat temporary solution, not a permanent fix. Bollards along the 15th Street bike lane are battered and broken a year after installation as motorists move to a left lane that's no longer there.
The city currently replaces the bollards every nine months. "We're moving to a different product to see how that durability holds up," Snyder says. Given the replacement schedule for the bollards, the city is looking at more permanent and visible means of protecting bike lanes. "The curb may have a higher initial up-front cost but over time might have a smaller life cycle cost," Snyder explains. "The unofficial cost of a curb is caught up to in about three years."
Back on Broadway, Righter says she wants to see improved public transportation for Denver's most vulnerable populations first and foremost. "Things like adding buses and sidewalk improvements for people with vision issues or those using wheelchairs. If the bike lane is a first step in that kind of work being done next,
and there is a clear and measurable increase of people using the lane, and we see more customers in our store, then it is a triumph!"
Photos by Kara Pearson Gwinn.