Plan for “Bike Safety” on Federal: Make People Bike Anywhere But on Federal

Federal - Current
The current typical layout of Federal Boulevard from Seventh Avenue to Howard Place. Image: DPW

As Streetsblog Denver reported last week, Colorado DOT and the Department of Public Works are adding space for car traffic on Federal Boulevard in the name of safer walking and biking. The premise that widening a street will improve safety goes against a mountain of evidence and experience. And in fact, if you dig a little deeper into the plans, it becomes apparent that the engineers’ bike safety strategy, as far as it goes, is not to make Federal more bikeable but to steer people on bikes away from the street altogether.

The document [PDF] that CDOT planners used to justify widening the street between Seventh Avenue and Howard Place identifies three major threats to people on bikes: First, there’s no bike lane. Second, pedestrians. Third, bad signage.

Because there’s no bike lane, people on bikes tend to ride on the narrow sidewalks, leading to conflicts between walkers and bikers. CDOT’s solution is to widen the sidewalks, which is the lone redeeming feature of the redesign. But it’s not enough. On a busy street, cyclists and pedestrians moving at different speeds shouldn’t have to mix it up on the sidewalk — that’s why it’s illegal to bike on most sidewalks in the city. Instead, cyclists should have dedicated lanes. This project doesn’t deliver on that score.

Planners also fear for cyclists’ lives because of bad signage. Two regional bike routes cross Federal where it’s being widened, but plans say that poor signage might lead to “bicyclists riding in traffic along Federal Boulevard which, due to narrow lane widths, numerous access points, and the high volume of traffic, is unsafe.”

So the project will include more signs. That way, people on bikes won’t mistakenly use a city street. Oh, and the five-lane street will become a six-lane street, and all the lanes will now be 11 feet wide, which will increase motorists’ speed.

The proposed changes to Federal Boulevard don't take the long view. Image: DPW
The proposed changes to Federal Boulevard. Image: DPW

Federal Boulevard has been the scene of two pedestrian deaths this year and more than 150 crashes in which a motorist struck a pedestrian or cyclist since 2010, according to OpenColorado.

In 2015, it’s common knowledge that adding lanes for motor vehicles makes streets more dangerous and generates more traffic. CDOT Director Shailen Bhatt knows this. He admitted that widening roads is a “20th-century mindset.”

Top decision makers may know the proposed design changes for Federal Boulevard won’t fix its problems. But what good is familiarity with modern street design best practices if Denver’s transportation agencies don’t follow through on them?

  • Mr H.

    “…that’s why it’s illegal to bike on most sidewalks in the city.” What sidewalks is OK to ride on? Not being snarky. Just curious.

    • mckillio

      There are a few, Bannock when it goes past 14th headed North to Civic Center is one.

    • David Sachs

      The sidewalk on Speer and 12th, for example, because the Cherry Creek Trail runs you right into a purely car-oriented area. Sometimes sidewalks are part of official bike routes. Also, you can ride on the sidewalk within one block of your origin or destination.

      • Mr H.

        That’s great. Thanks for specifying, David.
        Also, you’re doing great work here on the blog. Keep being the voice of reason for our community.

  • HumanInDenver

    #stroad

  • HumanInDenver

    Noun. Portmanteau of “street” and “road”: it describes a street, er, road, built for high speed, but with multiple access points. Excessive width is a common feature. A common feature in suburbia, especially along commercial strips. Unsafe at any speed, their extreme width and straightness paradoxically induces speeding. Somewhat more neutral than synonymous traffic sewer.
    Did you see what the traffic engineers want to do to our street? They’re going to turn it into a total stroad!

  • EMB

    Most sidewalks are quite dangerous for people on bicycles. Driveways, crosswalks, and alleys are all potential collision points with cars.

    We could use a serious road diet for Federal to provide accommodation for all users, but it’s not like making it legal to ride on the sidewalk will make anyone the least bit safer. It’s just the opposite, for both cyclists and pedestrians. (Sure, cyclists hit pedestrians on sidewalks and crosswalks, but a lot less often than cars hit cyclists on sidewalks and crosswalks. The latter kind of collision’s also a lot more likely to cause serious injury.)

    There are plenty of places where it’s legal to ride on sidewalks and there aren’t any pedestrians to speak of, and I still wouldn’t want anything to do with it, because it’s likely to get me hurt. There’s also the problem of what happens when I’d encounter another cyclist in the other direction (because it’s not like there are rules about what direction to travel on the sidewalk!) Sidewalk riding isn’t something to encourage except for children traveling slowly enough to slow down and look all ways at every curb cut.

    Maybe people riding bicycles will stop being so haphazard about traffic rules and safety when there are more of us out there, and dedicated bicycle facilities will help with that. Until then, I could do without wrong-way riders coming at me in the bike lane or sidewalk riders playing chicken with me while I’m waiting for the bus. Not all complaints about careless or ignorant cyclist behavior are about the convenience of motorists.

    Anyway, Federal’s awful, and this design’s an improvement but not enough of one. If they’re going with this I hope they at least throw in a lot of easily-crossable pedestrian islands in that median instead of just landscaping and a tall barrier to climb. Safe places to cross Federal are too few and far between.

  • John Riecke

    Late night, in the CDOT labs:

    “How shall we increase bicycle and pedestrian safety along this stretch of road tonight, Brain?”

    “The same way we do every night, Pinky. By increasing the speed and volume of car traffic!”

    *inevitably fails*

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