Updated: Another Bicyclist Dead and Bike Opponents Still Reject Marion Safety Upgrades
July 26, 2019 1:54 p.m.: This story has been updated to include the name and age of the victim and details about the nature of the crash from other media.
Alexis Bounds, who was riding in a bike lane near the Denver Country Club, died Wednesday after a driver crashed into her at about 3:57 p.m., according to Denver police and the medical examiner’s office. She was 37.
David Anton crashed his work vehicle into her while he was making a right turn at about 20 mph. He failed to yield to the cyclist, who had the right-of-way, according to police. A witness told other media that he was driving a garbage truck and may not have seen Bounds.
Police cited Anton for careless driving resulting in death. Bounds is the second bicyclist to die on Denver’s streets in two weeks.
“A bicyclist was killed less than two weeks ago,” thought Tenly Williams when she heard of the crash. Just 30 minutes before the cyclist died, she and her nine-year-old son rode their bikes through the exact location of the collision. “No. Not another cyclist death,” she thought.
The fatality happened where East Bayaud Avenue meets South Marion Street Parkway. It is the far end of Marion Street, a historic parkway where the city is planning safety improvements to the existing bike lane. But a group of neighbors are fighting to stop the upgrades and their organizer, Patsy Brown, says yesterday’s death hasn’t changed her mind.
“All I care about is preserving the beauty of the parkway,” she said about the leafy street with a grassy median where she lives. “These small oases of design beauty are going to become more and more rare and it seems imperative to protect them.”
But bicycle advocates are fed up with the “Not In My Backyard” mentality that often slows down street safety improvements. Shortly after the Denver Police Department issued a tweet about the fatality last night, Piep van Heuven of Bicycle Colorado expressed her frustration.
“I don’t want to hear more NIMBY hogwash that someone’s interpretation of ‘historic’ is more important than keeping people from dying,” she tweeted.
Yesterday’s death is the second in the last five years where a pedestrian or cyclist died on Marion Street, according to Heather Burke, a spokesperson for the Department of Public Works. Though the street’s total distance is just four blocks, 37 crashes have happened in that timeframe. Six included a person on a bike and two included a pedestrian.
Williams and her son were on their way home from a movie when they rode their bikes across the location of the crash shortly before it happened. News of the fatality made her question the route she chose.
“It’s sad and frustrating that the safest route we could possibly take is where somebody died,” she said. “It crossed my mind, ‘What was I doing there with my son?’ And I thought about how it could have been me, my son, or both of us.”
Much of the controversy about changes to the bike lane stem from a slide DPW showed in a presentation at the first community meeting about the proposed changes, says Brown. A rendering showed Marion Street lined with white plastic soft-hit posts to divide the bike lane from vehicle traffic, which neighbors say would be ugly.
“[DPW] said they were going to use vertical separators, plastic posts,” said Brown. “In a normal neighborhood, that would probably be great. But on this particular four-block parkway, the design guidelines put out by Parks & Rec since the 1980s, it’s very specific about what you can do to the physical street.”
But the Parks and Recreation Department has no authority over the street itself.
“The parkway designation doesn’t prevent Denver Public Works from managing the safety and operations of the transportation network,” said Burke. And bike advocates, who have welcomed plastic posts for past bike lane projects, think they’re unattractive, ineffective and don’t want them there, either.
“So far, Denver’s default protected bike lane is white [plastic] bollards,” says van Heuven. “Bicyclists don’t like them. They’re just ugly.”
Denver does not space plastic posts closely enough to prevent cars from entering bike lanes, she says. And other approaches to designing bike infrastructure, like using landscaping to separate traffic from the Brighton Boulevard bikeway, are safer and look better.
“There’s an element of the bike community asking, ‘Why can’t we have nice things? Why are you always doing the cheapest things, which are the plastic bollards?’”
After a recent public meeting, many assumed the posts were no longer being considered, but today DPW wouldn’t go that far.
“We’re still early in the design stages,” said Burke. “It’s too soon to know what types of protection elements will be included in the final design.”
DPW will present five design options for the bikeway changes in a community meeting later this fall.
Amy Kenreich, who rides on Marion Street with her children, Hayden, 5, and Dylan, 10, says she doesn’t think many the neighbors who signed the petition have considered all of the facts.
“I would guess that the people signing the petition are not seeking out all of the information before they sign it,” she said.
A recent University of Colorado Denver study of crash and street design data from 12 cities found that roads with protected bike lanes make streets safer for all road users, including cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.
Kenreich wants her neighbors to know that through good design, the parkway can remain beautiful and become more safe.
“I want some people to be more open,” she said. “They could have the bike lane, and they can have beauty, and we could have safety.”
More information about the proposed changes to the Marion Street Bikeway can be found at the project’s website. Bicycle Colorado issued an online action alert where supporters of the project can contact the appropriate members of the city council.
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