Denver Will Pick Up the Pace on Bike Projects in 2016

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From left, Aneka Patel, Emily Snyder, Aylene McCallum, Molly North, and Rachael Bronson, who gave a Denver State of Biking presentation on Tuesday. Photo: BikeState38

In 2016 Denver will see more bike lanes, bike-friendly intersections, and neighborhood streets that prioritize people on bikes, according to reps from Denver Public Works, BikeDenver, and the Downtown Denver Partnership.

The advocates and bike planners spoke to about 100 people Tuesday morning at the Denver State of Biking 2016 event, briefing the public on upcoming projects and the cultural shift they hope to achieve.

All in all, this year looks to be a big one for biking in the Mile High City. Here’s what to expect.

More Bike Lanes, Including Protected Bike Lanes

Denver Public Works now has a crew solely for biking and walking infrastructure, and it will install 18 miles of bike lanes citywide. Of those projects, two or three will be protected bike lanes. Look for protected lanes on Stout Street (19th to Downing), 14th Street (Market to Colfax) and 14th Avenue (Speer to Bannock).

“We are focused on shifting our infrastructure efforts towards those low-stress, high ease of use facilities,” said Emily Snyder, Denver’s Urban Mobility Manager.

For the record, Mayor Michael Hancock promised three, but the 14th Avenue lane might be delayed “pending an analysis of a floating bus island.”

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DPW wants 7 to 8 percent of trips to be by bike in 2020, but the city was at 2.5 percent in 2014. Image: DPW

A Better-Protected 15th Street Bike Lane

Anyone who uses the 15th Street protected bike lane — Denver’s first — knows the feeling of getting pushed back into traffic whenever a driver decides to park in it. It’s easy for drivers to occupy the lane because a porous row of plastic sticks is all that separates the bike lane from traffic. They’re flimsy and need to be replaced yearly.

DPW will test three more substantive separators this year: planters, concrete barriers (think a jersey barrier but prettier), and a pre-cast curb. “The experiment will help us understand operationally, maintenance-wise, and public perception-wise what works best,” said DPW Bicycle Planner Rachael Bronson.

DPW will also begin studying the abrupt end of the 15th Street bike lane at Larimer Street in hopes of connecting it all the way to the Highlands.

A Solution to Keep Cars Out of Bike Lanes?

It’s well documented. BikeDenver Executive Director Molly North said drivers parking in bike lanes is the advocacy group’s top concern based on member feedback. Will this be the year that something changes — with better enforcement and physical engineering that stops drivers from forcing people on bikes into speeding traffic?

North said she is working with DPW on a solution, but they haven’t reached one yet. “Right now there isn’t enough disincentive to park in the bike lane and there isn’t enforcement happening,” North said. “There’s no precedent in our city for people to know how to operate on the new bike lanes.”

It’s true — Denver needs a culture change. But its bike lanes need better protection, too. “If a car physically can’t fit in the bike lane, that’s better than not having the resources to have enforcement around the clock, ticketing, and having education,” Bronson said. “Those are my two cents.”

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Public Works also wants every household to be near a good bike facility. Image: DPW

“Neighborhood Bikeways” and Bicycle Detection

DPW plans to finish one or two neighborhood bikeways — streets with traffic-calming measures that prioritize people walking and biking. The department will also add bicycle detection to five intersections, so signals will be activated if a cyclist is present but not a car.

A More Accurate Portrayal of How Bike-Friendly Denver Is

Sharrows don’t make bicycling safer, and DPW knows that. The department still considers them a tool but has begun phasing them out in favor of more helpful bike projects. DPW no longer includes sharrows in its total miles of bike infrastructure, either:

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Image: DPW

Bike Counters on Arapahoe and Lawrence Street Bike Lanes

It won’t be the Eco-TOTEM made famous in Copenhagen and copied in Boulder, but the Downtown Denver Partnership will install two digital bike counters in the pavement along the Arapahoe and Lawrence street protected bike lanes. Leading bike-friendly cities use the counters as a visual to encourage biking and as tool to collect data. The public will be able to monitor the numbers online, though not in real time.

Snow Removal Improvements

DPW tries to plow bike lanes twice a day, Bronson said, but crews were using leftover equipment that kept breaking. The city will buy a plow specifically for bike lanes.

“We heard a lot from the city about plans they’ve done, and now we’re hearing a lot about experimentation, and the city is buying new equipment, trying out new features and has engineering ideas of how to improve our facilities throughout the city,” said DDP’s Director of Downtown Environment Aylene McCallum. “I think this is a vast improvement from where we were a couple years ago with just a lot of plans. So the best thing we can do is provide really constructive feedback, try out these facilities… tell the city what you like, what you don’t like, and why.”