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

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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.

  • MT

    The trail could stand to be wider in places. It would be nice to be able to walk or ride next to someone without blocking the path. Why do we think people on bikes or on foot are always alone?

    Better places to ride and walk on other streets could help too. The trail gets crowded because it’s one of the few places people feel safe riding or walking. I take the trail to work even though it adds a mile to my route because the streets are terrifying in comparison.

  • JZ71

    As someone who’s old enough to remember back to when there was no path, my take is that a) yes, a wider path would certainly be better, but b) a narrow path is waaaaay better than no path (otherwise known as first-world problems). I continue to be far more concerned about missing links, places where trails and paths just randomly end.

    • TakeFive

      Denver/metro is so blessed to have so many miles of off-road trails. And props to CDOT that’s also true all over the state. I’m never shy about plugging my fave: http://highlinecanal.org/

  • TakeFive

    Too easy not to poke fun…

    I get it. Those who drive cars go too fast but for cyclists on the Trail it’s like “looking for adventure” on the open road. 🙂

  • Cat

    “…one of the few places cars aren’t allowed.” I’m all for expanding the path, and I think the sections where there are separate paths for bikes and pedestrians are great… but wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were simply more places where cars weren’t allowed? Think of it… a network of streets with no cars… or at least where thru traffic was prohibited. I know it’s pure fantasy, but if anyone wants to share in my little dream world, here’s a post I wrote about it a few years back: https://ecocatlady.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-bike-lane-pipe-dream.html

  • JimthePE

    I don’t know if it’s been calibrated, but there is a methodology for determining hen a shared use path needs to be separated. https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/pedbike/05138/

  • This is a disturbing recent trend I’ve noticed in some anti-cyclist reporting–an attempt to stir up animosity between pedestrians and drivers. The people reporting this way it seems are often anti-pedestrian as well, but it is still an attempt. Frankly, I think it is doomed to fail as a policy though, pedestrians who actually walk quite a bit realize the real danger comes from cars.

    The only ones who claim to be pedestrians who do complain loudly about cyclists seem to be the same type of recreational users as the ‘cyclists’ who also claim everything is fine and dandy because when they ride to their neighbourhood park on a Sunday they don’t experience any problems.

  • Bryan Kiel

    The Cherry Creek was one of the dozen or so greenways I studied across the country for my thesis last year, and I was really impressed by the the core network of trails Denver had between this, the South Platte, and the confluence trails that connect to them. Improving these anchor trails to a world-class level as prescribed, mixed with the major work trail planners with Parks have done to bridge the first-mile/last-mile gap.. I think Denver is positioning itself as the top non-motorized commuting city in the country.

  • Dana Abbey

    Single-file etiquette would go a long way for both parties.

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