Denver Public Works Is Letting the City’s Bike Lanes Rot

Hard-won improvements to the bike network have gone missing for weeks at a time because the city hasn't restriped bike lanes after paving projects.

A bike crossing, obscured by tire marks, once took riders onto the Arapahoe Street protected bike lane. Not anymore. Photo: David Sachs
A bike crossing, obscured by tire marks, once took riders onto the Arapahoe Street protected bike lane. Not anymore. Photo: David Sachs

Maybe no one told Mayor Michael Hancock that it’s okay to bike commute wearing work clothes before he threw on some Spandex for a Bike to Work Day photo op last month. It was a trivial display of solidarity from a mayor whose streets department can’t even keep the city’s meager bike network in good condition.

If Hancock biked to work more than one day a year, he might notice that Denver Public Works has let several bike lanes go to seed, removing protective posts from some of its bike lanes and neglecting to restripe others after a repaving.

These are not minor hiccups. Some of the city’s most important bike routes have been rendered useless for weeks, and in some cases more than a month has gone by without DPW restriping bike lanes on fresh asphalt. The bike map depicts a network that simply doesn’t match reality right now.

Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Public Works Executive Director Eulois Cleckley.
Mayor Michael Hancock and Denver Public Works Executive Director Eulois Cleckley.

In an email, DPW spokesperson Nancy Kuhn blamed the delays on coordination with contractors and the complexity of protected bikeways “compared to a simple striped bike lane.” This from the city department that brags about filling every single pothole within three days of a complaint.

It’s not a good excuse. It takes days, not weeks or months to stripe a bike lane or put down some plastic posts. Whatever system is in place to follow up a paving project with bike lane markings needs to be improved immediately. It’s time to flood 311 to get these lanes fixed, if you haven’t already. (Tweet or email us if you spot others).

The 23rd Avenue bike lane is straight up gone

23rd Avenue today, left, and 23rd Avenue previously.
23rd Avenue today and the reminder from Google Maps of the bike lane that once was. Photo: David Sachs

So much for “complexity.” This is just a simple, striped, unprotected bike lane. It’s been more than a month since DPW paved 23rd Avenue east of Colorado Boulevard. The bike lane still hasn’t been repainted.

The Arapahoe Street “bike lane” isn’t protected anymore

One of Denver’s first parking-protected bike lanes, on Arapahoe Street, is gone.

The correct markings for the bike lane, let alone the green bike markings and plastic posts to keep cars out, are nowhere to be seen on most blocks. In their place are some errant and confusing white lines.

arapahoe before and now
Arapahoe Street today and the archived incarnation via Google Maps. Photo: David Sachs

Arapahoe is especially dangerous east of Broadway, where a contraflow section of the bike lane is supposed to enable people to bike safely against car traffic. Bollards and markings are still missing here.

contraflow2
The “contra-flow” section of Arapahoe Street. Image: David Sachs/Google Maps

The Lawrence Street bike lane isn’t doing much better

The Lawrence Street protected bike lane opened at the same time as the Arapahoe Street lane to great fanfare. When they were new, both lanes attracted lots of bicyclists. But three years later, Lawrence is missing almost all of its plastic posts and some pavement markings. It’s nowhere near as good as it used to be.

lawrence
Parked cars are encroaching on the bikeway, which is missing bollards on almost its entire length. Photo: David Sachs

Kuhn said DPW staffers “anticipate” reinstalling the Lawrence and Arapahoe Street bikeways by the end of July, but there’s no hard date.

Squiggly spray painted lines on Stout

Stout before and after
Stout today and as it was captured for posterity by Google. Photo: David Sachs

When it was first conceived, the Stout Street bike lane was supposed to be physically protected from traffic with a row of parked cars for its entire length. Those hopes were dashed when DPW watered it down after the city caved to NIMBYs.

Now riders are dealing with a joke of bikeway with intermittent striping and no protective bollards. Instead of legitimate street markings, it looks like a 4-year-old spray-painted the bike lane back on after a repaving.

The new Stout Street parking lane. Photo: David Sachs
The new Stout Street parking lane used to be a bike lane. Photo: David Sachs

Motorists have reverted to parking right up against the curb, as they have on most of these bikeways.

Champa Street’s missing pavement markings

champa missing marks
Bike stencils and proper buffer markings are still missing on Champa. Photo: David Sachs

For weeks, Champa Street was a complete mess, with the bike lane totally missing. It’s less of a mess now, but it’s still missing pavement markings.

Champa and Stout may return to normal by the end of July, Kuhn said, or maybe August. Who knows?!

While other cities are adding more and better protected bikeways, DPW is letting Denver’s bikeways deteriorate. Despite their simplicity and low cost, these bikeways take an inordinate amount of time, advocacy, and political energy to build. After all that effort, Denver is showing that maintaining its bike network just isn’t a high priority.

  • Washergrampa

    Thank you for highlighting this issue and hopefully getting some traction! I inquired about the 23rd Street bike lanes and it took almost a month to get a straight answer: two weeks to even get a response from DPW, then two weeks of back and forth with an engineer who was unsure if they would restore the original striping or implement the Denver Moves recommendations to stripe bike lanes to Quebec. Still waiting to see what DPW actually does.

  • iBikeCommute

    I was hoping DPW would upgrade these bike lanes with raised concrete or planters but apparently they can’t even get them back to their previous state. This would be unacceptable for automobile infrastructure.

    • CA2010

      And the money to do this would come from…where? Perhaps this would be possible if we started taxing bikes via registration….?

      • iBikeCommute

        You might have a point if DPW funded road work with car and gas taxes but it all comes from the general fund so no reason not to use that money for bike infrastructure as well.

  • Micah

    Should the cycling/bicycle commuting community organize an activism event to draw heightened attention to this? I’ve resorted to biking on sidewalks, to be honest, despite knowing it’s a violation.

    • Or better yet, just organize an event to draw the bike lane lines themselves.

      • Stacy Liles

        it’s a good idea. Any legal concerns with doing an action like that? Perhaps could do it with chalk?

        • Yes, it might be considered vandalism, so it certainly could lead to citation or even arrest. My advice would be to look at the MUTCD and the City’s plans for that street, then try to match those as closely as possible. That should remove the usual excuse of it being a “nonstandard treatment” as a reason why the City then feels that they have to remove it.

          • Brian Schroder

            Psst. You’re supposed to plan this sort of stuff on the dark web.

  • Camera_Shy

    This makes me sad.

  • Brian Schroder

    Arapahoe St is pretty bad and the before the paving it was horrible to ride on with all the potholes in the bike lane. Right now no one knows where to go or where to park. There’s about 20 ft maybe even 25 ft of chaos. It’s not heavily traveled by cars even at rush hour so I just take the whole lane?? street??. You’ve got to take what you get which is nothing at this point.

  • JOSHUA

    I thought Denver was a very progressive bike city and since I’ve moved here I ahve been very disappointed. There is a major lack of any organized lanes and bikers seem to be on both the sidewalks and the road…while usually not even stopping at stop signs. I came from Nashville and there are definitely many more bike lines and very maintained. As well as a lot of connected greenways. It kind of makes it a downer to live here.

    • Brian Schroder

      Progressive people have moved here and some are starting to run for public office, but right now there is a lack of progressive leadership, vision, or action from elected officials. Colorado used to be a very conservative state so there’s a lot of history and deep rooted politics to go up against. Colorado isn’t like California or the East coast and many people want to make sure it doesn’t get that way in any shape or form.

      • JOSHUA

        I thought about the fact that the elected officials are more conservative despite what people see Denver as. I guess I figured that those officials would have been replaced by now and some big chances would have already been implemented. I see Denver as a citizen here very conservative in many instances and in not a great way. Hopefully it will change soon.

      • Camera_Shy

        Conservatives don’t seem to get that for every bike in a bike lane there’s one less car in their way. Imagine 25 bikes on Arapahoe during rush hour – that’s 25 cars that are not blocking or inconveniencing a car. Mind-blowing!

  • JOSHUA

    Where do I even get information on this and/or complain…talk to someone. Denver seems a bit unorganized.

    • iBikeCommute

      DPW employees are listed here (minus fanganello)- https://www.denvergov.org/content/dam/denvergov/Portals/705/documents/ManagersOffice/PW-directors-org-chart-121117.pdf

      I cannot find emails for any of these public servants. It seems the only way that public works wants to be contacted is by 311 which has proven entirely useless in my experience.

      I did get an email from the Sierra Club that- “Tuesday morning, Mayor Hancock will be hosting an exciting press conference at Denver’s Civic Center Park to announce city’s climate plan. We know this plan will include good news for our health and planet.” Might be a good opportunity to let him know that making streets bike friendly is a big part of fighting climate change.

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