#Streetfail: Slippery Bike Lanes Won’t Get People Riding

icy-bikepath
The cycle of the Lawrence Street protected bike lane: Get covered in snow, get plowed (left), get covered in snow again (right). Photos: Brad Evans

Yes! We have a fancy new protected bike lane on Lawrence Street in downtown Denver. Protected bicycle lanes are supposed to provide bicycle riders with protection, right? But that only works if the city prioritizes clear bike lanes as much as it does car lanes.

Crews from the Department of Public Works tend not to plow bike lanes as diligently as car lanes. Even when they make an initial sweep, as the above photos show, that doesn’t always get the job done. When the adjacent business/property owners cleared the sidewalk by dumping snow on the bike lane, no plow made a second pass to keep the bikeway clear.

Snowy cities that are serious about biking as transportation have plans to deal with these problems. Calgary, for instance, tells businesses next to curbside bike lanes to shovel snow onto the edge of the sidewalk, not into the bikeway.

In Denver, at even the inkling of snow, city and state plows get dispatched to completely clear roads for cars. Meanwhile, the meek policies around clearing sidewalks and bike lanes leave the most vulnerable users, people walking and biking, fighting over the dregs of leftover usable space.

Bikeways, like roads, are only usable if they’re maintained. To truly make bicycling and walking something that everyone can do safely — whether it’s raining, snowing, or sleeting — the city needs to figure out a way to ensure protected bike lanes and sidewalks are legitimate options no matter the weather.

The Hancock administration, by 2020, wants 15 percent of trips to be on foot or by bike. That won’t happen as long as protected bike lanes don’t work year-round. If we expect people to use these protected bike lanes on a regular basis, they must be treated as seriously as roads, not as an afterthought.

Brad Evans is the founder of the Denver Cruiser Ride and a self-described professional agitator.

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