The Unfinished Stout Street Protected Bike Lane Is a Failure of Leadership

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs

The plan for Stout Street was to install a bike lane, separated from traffic by parked cars, from 19th to Downing. In a sign that Mayor Hancock is out to lunch when it comes to implementing the city’s bike plan, Curtis Park residents stopped Denver Public Works from doing that.

Instead, people on bikes can enjoy the safety of a protected bike lane heading northeast out of downtown for just a half-mile. That part works well. But beyond 26th Street, riders are not physically protected from traffic, even though that’s what was laid out in Denver Moves, the city’s bike plan. Bicyclists get a painted buffer to Downing instead.

The reason, of course, boils down to private car storage on public streets.

“This was the first protected bike lane we have implemented in a neighborhood, so many of the issues were related to residents’ concern about the change to the curb lane, i.e., parking impacts, ADA access,” Rachael Bronson, a bike planner with Public Works, wrote in an email. After four public meetings and several other meetings with the organization Curtis Park Neighbors, the city agreed that “a phased approach” to the bike lane was best, Bronson said.

But there’s no timeline for a second phase that will extend the protected design to Downing — and no guarantee that it will be completed at all. It could happen the next time Stout Street is paved, Bronson said, “as long as the phase 1 findings are favorable and the neighborhood is on board.”

Gotta make sure there’s enough room to store your SUV before allowing bicyclists physical protection from cars. Photo: David Sachs

It’s a tough assignment when DPW bike planners pursue projects that local neighbors aren’t sold on. Which is why Mayor Hancock needs to step in here.

Denver’s streets belong to everyone. At some point, city leadership has to back up its planners and engineers and do what’s best for the public interest, instead of preserving a handful of parking spaces for a vocal few.

If the Hancock administration doesn’t have the fortitude to stick to its own plan and install another half-mile of high-quality bike infrastructure, will Denver ever have a bike network that most people feel comfortable using?

A few other notes on the bike lane: I rode it out of Lower Downtown and took the 14th Street bike lane to get there. There is no connection (or signage) between 14th and 19th, so getting there isn’t comfortable or easy unless you’re confident and know exactly where you’re going.

The bike lane ends at Downing Street, near the 30th and Downing RTD station — which is one reason why the route so important — but not right at it. Public Works will install signs to direct people on bikes to the station.

Photo: David Sachs
Photo: David Sachs
  • John Riecke

    They also need to replace the plastic posts with 3″ concrete buttons. I forgot where I read about them but they’d make a huge difference in slowing cars that don’t want to ruin their wheels. Also, doubling the number of posts or buttons would help keep cars out of the lane.

    • Sanperson

      Public Works told me Denver can’t use buttons because the city does not have snow plowing capabilities for that type of road feature.

      • John Riecke

        Lol, capabilities like driving in a straight line? How about if we put parking spot curbs parallel with the street, or do you think they would claim that the plows also can’t handle plowing streets with curbs on them?

        • Sanperson

          DPW said the plows would destroy the road features and damage the plows.

          • MT

            I can see how the buttons would be hidden by snow and easy to plow over, but a full height curb shouldn’t have that problem.

  • iBikeCommute

    The Champa/ Stout bike lanes are so emblematic of how DPW does business. Just drop the bike lane wherever they cause the least inconvenience without any concern for connectivity or actually getting you from point A to B (and back.) Champa has an unprotected bike lane all the way from Speer to Downing. Stout has half protected/ unprotected lane from Downing to Broadway and no bike lane from Broadway to Speer. What a fiasco if you are actually trying to get somewhere and back by bike in this city.

    If I had my druthers, I would focus on a protected lane in both directions between Speer and Broadway where there is a lot more traffic and double parking. Northeast of Broadway the street calms down significantly. Also the Champa intersection with Speer should get the same treatment that Arapahoe got. Cars take that turn down the hill way too fast.

    • Brian Schroder

      Exactly, how do you get to and from the bike lanes? By magic?

  • CHCalder

    I really think that instead of the staggered lines of paint, DPW should paint SOLID block of color running the entire bike lane, Visually that would really make a difference. The lines of color seem so whimpy. And I completely agree that the current biking system is very catch-as-catch-can—brought to you by a mayor who really has NO clue how to create a truly progressive, future-thinking city.

  • Guest

    I commute this route, so I’ve been testing it out since it was installed. I’m not in agreement that the protected lane “works well.” I’m dismayed by the design and it’s execution and feel more at risk than I did before it went in (save for the intersection with Broadway). My bike’s fully tricked out with lights, but based on a couple of near-misses, drivers don’t see you behind the parked cars at night — particularly eastbound cars crossing Stout. I have no clue what the threshold is for plowing the protected lanes, but the city didn’t clear the minor snows we’ve received thus far. The protected lane is a canyon within a canyon — shading is exacerbated by the adjacent parked cars, impeding melting. After the inch of snow we got Sunday morning and persistent cold, the bike lane was dry north of 26th Street by Monday evening, but the protected lane south of that intersection was still not clear on my Wednesday commute home. Add the snow and ice to the gravel, leaves, and road damage to be found at the road’s edge for a real fun time. I could go on — there’s no room for bikes to pass each other, it confuses pedestrians (more near misses), and then there are the drivers. I’d be all on board with a well done protected lane, but IMO, this is a fair-weather concept for recreational riders, not a solution for year-round commuters. I’m not a gonzo cyclist but a middle-aged woman, and I’d rather be large and in charge alongside the cars.