People Walking and Biking on Cherry Creek Trail Aren’t at War, They Just Need a Wider Path

Denver 7, the local ABC affiliate, led last night’s evening news with a story that claims pedestrians and bicyclists are “fighting over space” on the Cherry Creek Trail, the car-free artery that cuts through the city along Speer Boulevard.

The TV news got an important piece of the problem right — the trail is, at times, too narrow for people to pass each other comfortably. Some segments of the trail are just 9 feet wide, but the minimum should be at least 12 feet (the standard in the city’s new trails plan).

It’s a simple, common sense solution, but maybe not as interesting as an exaggerated story of conflict between two warring factions.

Mamdooh says “there’s a common disagreement about who should be using the trail — cyclists versus pedestrians.” She then interviews a few people who describe small challenges of sharing the trail, but none suggest it should be for one mode or the other.

Close calls do happen, but the ABC7 segment failed to provide data on actual collisions — perhaps because no such data exists. Denver police officers use a state form that does not document crashes between bicyclists and pedestrians.

So there’s no evidence of a legitimate public safety hazard, but ABC7 has decided it’s real.

David Pulsipher, Denver’s pedestrian planner, said any conflict on the trail is magnified because both people walking and people biking expect a friction-free environment in one of the few places cars aren’t allowed.

“Bicyclists and pedestrians alike flock to the trails largely because there is no conflict with the biggest threat to their safety – vehicle traffic,” Pulsipher said in an email. “Consequently, when bicyclists and pedestrians then have conflict with each other, it feels out of place/sync with the design of the environment.”

Here’s what we do know about trail safety issues: Between 2008 and 2012, 2 percent of all bike/car crashes in Denver happened at access points to trails. That’s something that deserves attention.

Another real, documented threat is drivers who careen off of Speer Boulevard and onto the trail below. It’s happened twice this year.

“We know that the most pervasive threat to bicyclists and pedestrians is vehicles (specifically speeding vehicles),” Pulsipher said. “We are aware that bicycle-pedestrian conflict can occur on our world class trail system, and we are examining these facilities to see where we can significantly exceed the minimum widths to provide a better trail experience for everyone.”

Bicyclists are pedestrians once they lock up their bikes. Everyone’s on the side of a safe trail that works for both types of active transportation.