Yes, People Bike in the Winter, and Denver’s Bike Lanes Should Reflect That

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

This week is Winter Bike Week, with a whole bunch of events organized by BikeDenver.

You should check out BikeDenver’s website for the full list, but here are some highlights:

The events aren’t just for fun, says BikeDenver Executive Director James Waddell, but to show people that biking makes a whole lot of sense in the colder months — and to send a signal to city decision makers that bike lanes and trails are not seasonal amenities.

“It’s a public way to remind people that you can bike year round, that it’s possible, and it’s not just for the three percent hardcore riders,” Waddell said. Especially in Denver, where the average temperature during winter months is a mild 47 degrees (and as we know, usually sunny).

BikeDenver also wants to send the city the message that streets should be ready for the many people who already ride year-round for utilitarian reasons, not just for recreation.

This phenomenon is known in some circles as “transportation.”

“We’ve got to start transitioning from this mindset of people on bikes riding for a summertime, recreational activity, to the mindset that it’s a mode of transportation,” said Carina Gaz, BikeDenver director of engagement. “By hosting Winter Bike Week, we hope to elevate the voices of the winter cyclists who are out there already… and demonstrate to our city leaders that people are biking in the winter, and we need to figure out how to make that safe.”

This winter, Denver Public Works is using special equipment to plow protected bike lanes for the first time, and there has been a noticeable improvement. Still, the department needs to do a lot more to keep bike lanes as passable as roads for cars. Just look at the icy Broadway bike lane and the 11th Avenue bike lanes, which are not only missing stripes, but have been covered by glaciers for much of the winter.

“If we can present the case that these facilities [Denver Public Works] has been building are in fact needed year round, then hopefully it gives them more legitimacy in that whole budget crunching conversation,” Waddell said.

  • David B

    I’m thrilled to see Winter Bike Week! It does seem like the bike lanes downtown have been better recently. I think the sidewalk shovelers have mostly stopped shoveling into the freshly plowed lanes, which is a pleasant change.

  • EMB

    Having bike lanes and trails cleared and usable is absolutely necessary, but since I can’t get to most of the places I need to go without using streets that don’t have them, I’d love for there to be better plowing all around. It’s frustrating to try to get somewhere on my bicycle and be stymied by terrible street conditions, with no way to know what any specific streets are like before setting out. (What road cameras we can check online are all pointed at interstate highways.) Changing plans mid-trip is a lot harder in winter. For one thing, I can’t check maps or transit schedules on my phone while wearing my heavy gloves!

    I’m glad Denver’s improved its residential plowing policy, but I’d like for listed bike routes to be plowed well before we hit the six inch mark. That doesn’t cover the whole city, but it would be a big improvement to have known cleared routes.

    We could also benefit from plowing with an eye to the weather forecast. It’s one thing not to bother plowing four inches of snow when it’s going to be 60F the next day, but if it’s below 40F for the next week, the streets are only going to get icier over time.

    • Anthony

      Best comment I’ve seen on any online forum in months. Thank you, EMB.

    • MT

      Love the idea of plowing the designated bike routes.

  • Brian Schroder

    Sometimes I think there should be a daily blog / weather forecast for Denver bicyclists to find out where to ride or not ride based on the road and trail conditions.

    • David B

      I would love something like Waze for bikes. Street/trail construction, weather, etc.

  • Vertigo700

    I do give props to the parks department, which (usually) does a good job in clearing the bike trails. I use the Lakewood Gulch bike trail all the time and it gets cleared very quickly after snow. So do the Platte and Cherry Creek trails. The problem is definitely the bike lanes, which not only do not get plowed, they actually get snowed in by the plows on the streets. Definitely need to get some smaller plows to clear the lanes as well.

    • David B

      Agreed; even when I was riding the Platte trail circa 2000, the trail would be plowed before 7AM, and before large streets were plowed. Those folks were awesome.
      The south side of E/W streets can be pretty grim from the shade of vehicles and plow leavings.

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