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?