Denver’s Latest Bike Plan Comes Up Short

DPW won't say what's holding up a study that has the potential to make streets safer.
Photo: David Sachs

Denver has waited with bated breath for Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration to release its Bicycle Safety Action Plan [PDF]. But the plan that Hancock unveiled two weeks ago, when he committed to eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries, isn’t what bike advocates were hoping for.

A good bike plan should lay out specific policies and goals that city agencies can be held accountable for. If Hancock committed to mapping a citywide network of safe, low-stress bikeways in the next year and building it out within 12 years, hitting specific targets along the way, that would be the basis of a solid plan. Advocates could track the city’s progress and assess how it measures up to its stated goals.

What Hancock has released, however, is much more vague than that. About the best you can say about the new plan is that it correctly identifies the main obstacles to bicycling in Denver, and suggests some good strategies and design templates as solutions, like building protected intersections. But it lacks the concrete goals and timetables of a good bike plan. Without those details, it could end up just like Denver’s last bike plan, a bunch of well-intentioned ideas that the city failed to implement.

Right now, Denver’s bike network is Swiss cheese. To the city’s credit, the “action plan” puts building a complete network at the top of its priority list, acknowledging the “challenging environments for cyclists to complete a journey.”

Here’s the plan to fix an incomplete bike network:

Link origin and destination points with routes, road infrastructure, intersection treatments and technologies and signage along the entire route. This will provide standardized infrastructure and level of service in Denver.

A number of origins and destinations can be selected, and infrastructure developed that will allow an average bicyclist traveling 15 miles per hour (mph) to cover one mile of route in 5 minutes.

Well, yeah. A city that’s safe for biking needs to build more bikeways. That’s been established in other Denver bike plans, and what does the city have to show for it?

The plan says Denver Public Works will find gaps in the network and begin to address them. What’s missing is a detailed framework for how Public Works will fill in the gaps, and how the city will pay for it.

Some to-be-determined amount of bike improvements will get incorporated into existing street design and repaving projects, according to the plan, which is a fine idea but doesn’t rise to the level of a specific goal and timetable that the city can be held to.

Beyond the $2.2 million in bike projects already budgeted for 2016, the future of Denver bike infrastructure remains foggy. The new bike plan recommends leaning on existing plans and creating yet another one — a transportation master plan that integrates bike projects into other street changes in the works.

Coordinating between agencies is necessary, but at some point, cities that are serious about making bicycling safe stop making plans to draw up more plans — and they start getting stuff done. So far, the Hancock administration hasn’t shown that it’s serious about getting stuff done.