Why Is Denver’s “Alt Weekly” Peddling Anti-Bike Propaganda?

Clearly, the cyclists in this town have gone too far. Photo: David Sachs
Clearly, the cyclists in this town have gone too far. Photo: David Sachs

America’s urban weekly papers usually pride themselves on providing a perspective that veers from the establishment. In Denver, the establishment transportation paradigm centers on driving, parking, parking, and driving. And Westword, Denver’s longtime alt-weekly, just ran a story kowtowing to the car-centric status quo.

On Saturday, in what we can only assume was a desperate bid for clicks, Westword published a piece on its homepage with the headline, “Reader: Bicyclists Need to Be Careful and Obey the Rules of the Road.”

Okay, we’ll bite.

“Few things are as controversial as cyclists,” starts the piece, which no one wanted to attach their name to (the byline is “Westword Staff”). So it has been decreed: The moment you get on a bike, you are a controversial person.

Westword staff relied on an unimpeachable authority for their clickbait: Westword commenters. That’s why we’re treated to pearls of wisdom like this one from “Klay,” who writes: “Those motherfuckers seriously believe they own the road. Take that shit out on a county road or something. Not the middle of a city.”

Maybe random online comments do merit publication in an alt-weekly, because, if you think about it, “bikes don’t belong in cities” is an alternative perspective.

There’s also some pro-bike banter to achieve the journalistic holy grail of fairness and balance, setting up the inevitable conversation starter on Twitter, where Westword teased the article this way: “Are cyclists a problem in Denver?”

Great question. Stay tuned for future installments in this gripping series from Westword. Are dog owners a problem in Denver? Are vegetarians a problem in Denver? Are children in strollers a problem for Denver? Westword’s just asking, folks.

Apparently it still needs to be said that people who bike aren’t a homogeneous tribe — people from all walks of life ride bikes. And because this is Denver, which in 2014 averaged 1.55 cars per household, it’s safe to say that many people who bike also drive. Maybe some are “trying to save the planet,” as the anonymous collective at Westword declares, but most are just trying to get from point A to point B.

If there’s one thing all cyclists share in common, it’s that none of them want to die on their way.

But the closest Westword comes to addressing the genuine public safety problem of Denver’s inadequate bike infrastructure is warning people on bikes to stay out of neighborhoods with high rates of bike crashes, and to “avoid those critics that are hostile to cycling” — the same critics Westword is knighting as authorities on the matter.

  • gojoblogo

    Thanks for writing this article. Growing up in Denver, I saw the Westword as a progressive voice that understood young people, new ideas, and different perspectives. That just does not seem to be the case anymore, especially with transportation questions. I am surprised no one on the editorial staff is enough of a cyclist to push back and say “are we totally sure that we should be the peddlers of discontent and angst against bikes?”. But apparently that is not the case.

  • Kyle

    Cyclist do seem to be a “problem” in Denver.

    I moved here from Seattle at the beginning of the year, and I have gotten honked and yelled at while commuting by bike more in the last 3 months than I did in my 6 years in Seattle. All while following the rules of the road (I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t always obey all traffic rules, but every time some driver has yelled at me while roaring past at an uncomfortable distance, I have been totally within the law)

    • David Rapp

      Welcome to Denver Kyle. In my 20 years of Denver bicycle commuting I’ve learned a few things: 1) Cyclists are a convenient scapegoat out-group, 2) people driving cars are not their best selves, 3) cycling in Denver is dangerous for lots of reasons, 4) humans are terrible drivers, and 5) City leadership does not really care about protecting the most vulnerable right of way users.

      • Kyle

        Haha thanks David. I agree, but I also hope that as Denver grows into a more first-class city, that mindsets will begin to change.

        • DoTheTwerk

          What is an example of a “first class city”?? Just curious.

          • Kyle

            That’s a good question, actually. I’m not totally sure, but in regards to this topic, maybe somewhat tangentially, I think a first class city is one that utilizes efficient modes of transportation well, and doesn’t rely heavily on the space inefficient single occupant vehicle. So in the states, probably NYC, maybe Boston, Chicago?

          • DoTheTwerk

            Fair enough. I would also add SF to that list. However, I wouldn’t describe ANY of those cities as “bike friendly”. But there is mass transit infrastructure that is very well established and embedded in each culture. Denver has done as good of a job as anyone when it comes to cities that haven’t had the benefit of 50-75 year old public transportation infrastructure, IMO. Plus, it is more “bike friendly” than any of those cities (despite the present discussion!).

            There are a contingent of “cyclists” on this site that bitch and bitch and bitch about the city, the mayor, the residents, the population, the traffic, the architecture, the landscape, the law enforcement, etc. Other than lots of bitter whining, most of them have nothing to offer to this city, its livability or, most importantly, its economy.

            Thanks for engaging in a discussion!

          • Kyle

            I haven’t ridden in those cities to know how bike friendly they are.

            But I think that there are definitely cities that have done a much better job than Denver on the mass transit front than Denver who aren’t on the established East Coast (my old beloved Seattle comes to mind, among others). Trying to get around town at all on public transit has been pretty tough for me thus far. But it does seem like Denver is heading in a really good direction. I have loved living here so far and am excited to see the city continue to grow!

          • FrancisOfAscii

            For cycling, Amsterdam is the gold standard.

  • DoTheTwerk

    Simple rule for cyclists: Obey traffic rules (stop signs, etc) and get the full respect of the road. Don’t obey traffic rules? Get out of the way.

    It’s really not a hard concept…

    • 8FH

      I’m not sure you’re getting the point here. Cyclists break the rules. So do pedestrians. So do drivers. The rule-breaking by drivers (speeding, failing to yield when turning, changing lanes/opening doors without looking, parking in crosswalks/bikelanes/daylighting zones, etc) is dangerous where rulebreaking by other road users is generally either annoying or harmless.

      Everyone should follow the rules; almost nobody does. Also, this is probably not the forum to be saying these things if you want to go unchallenged.

    • scottbchristopher

      @DoTheTwerk, simple rule for drivers: Obey traffic rules and don’t terrorize vunerable road users. In case you missed it, all road users – drivers, cyclists – obey traffic laws (or break them) at the same rate.

      If you give infrastructure to each form of transportation: cars, bikes, peds, transit, safety and courtesy happens.

  • deadindenver

    Denver is a “Smoke Screen Liberals” kinda of town. It’s mainly about virtue signaling but not actually doing. In the last Presidential election, Denver voted overwhelmingly blue. You would think that denotes certain attitudes about the environment and climate change etc. In recent polling from University of Colorado’s “American Politics Research Lab” questioning concern for Climate Change that seems to hold true. Yet, were one of the highest Single Occupant Vehicle (SOV) rates in the entire country. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, perhaps the poster child for Smoke Screen Liberals everywhere, talks the talk but doesn’t come anywhere near walking the walk when it comes to pedestrian safety and real infrastructure for bicycle commuters. That in conjunction with commentators like DoTheTwerk, one can pretty much sum up the state bicycling in Denver, which is average at best.

    • SiriatApple


    • TakeFive

      I’ll pick one nit.

      Going back as far as Mayor Bill McNIchols in 1968 can you think of a more multimodal-friendly mayor than Mayor Michael Hancock?

  • SiriatApple

    As a cyclist who obeys traffic laws, I can say with certainly that Denver and every other American city are full of self entitled jerks on bicycles ( I refuse to call them cyclists) who think that the laws are for everyone but them.

    • TakeFive

      Props for honesty.

    • What do you refuse to call the self-entitled jerks in cars?

  • CarFreeinDenver

    I just moved into the heart of downtown and decided to go car-free. As a relatively new cyclist, I’ve struggled with a lot of the issues raised in this story and the comments.

    As an Army Brat I was fortunate to live in Germany for several years of my childhood. One thing that has always stuck with me from my time there was the early education around cycling. During elementary school (and repeating nearly every year through middle), children are taught the rules of the road as a cyclist. In some cases they even have smaller-scale mock towns for people to ride around in, practicing their hand signals, reading & obeying signs, and even some basic bike maintenance. You learn how to ride a bike in various situations from trails to bike lanes and even narrow city streets without infrastructure. By learning this from a bike-perspective well before getting behind the wheel of a car, everyone is more aware and the laws are basically ingrained.

    I know I am currently part of a car-free minority even in Denver, however what’s gained by pitting cyclists against drivers? Like most things, education can serve as a platform for discussion and learning. There is a future where we can all share the road – let’s build it together!

    • Kyle

      Congrats on going car free, that’s awesome.

      I think it would awesome if part of getting a drivers license was spending a certain amount of time cycling on the road, and a certain amount of time walking along the road as a pedestrian (especially crossing crosswalks in particularly nasty areas). Everyone would benefit, s you said!

      • MT

        Same for traffic engineers 🙂

  • SilvioRodriquez

    What car drivers complaining about bike riders sound like to me