Denver Slow to Repaint Crosswalks and Bike Lanes After Road Construction
Streetsblog discovered an appalling lack of oversight and unexplained delays in the way crosswalks and bike lanes are replaced after utility work and road construction wipe them out — a dereliction that puts pedestrians and people on bikes at risk of injury and death.
We asked the Department of Public Works about four streets where crosswalks or bike lanes had fully or partially disappeared for extended periods of time, including on East Yale Way in Southeast Denver. Utility work tore up the bike lane there in the early spring and it was not replaced until this month.
“From what we understand, there was a delay in re-striping at this location due to miscommunication between the utilities and their contractors,” said Nancy Kuhn, a spokesperson for DPW. “Our city team put in temporary striping until the utility’s contractor could come back with permanent striping.”
Michelle Roche, whose 14-year-old son was killed there, first told the city in March that the white lines marking the street’s bikeway had disappeared. She said the delay is inexcusable.
“Ultimately the city is accountable, not the contractor,” said Roche. “It’s not acceptable that weeks and months can go by with no stripes being put in place. That delay can result in lives lost.”
With the city on track to reach the highest level of traffic fatalities in a decade, the problem of unrestored street safety elements after road construction extends across the city.
Last month, pedestrian Jonathan Rose tweeted a video where a driver nearly hit him while crossing at Speer and Downing. The busy, multi-lane street had been repaved a month earlier. As 9 News documented, lane markings for cars had been restored, but the crosswalks were left blank.
“As you can tell, the cars have no idea what to do here,” Rose wrote.
Whenever construction or utility work happens, city policy requires permit holders to install temporary road markings immediately after construction. On major roads and medium-capacity collector streets like Yale, permanent markings must be installed 48 to 72 hours after completion.
Streetsblog asked the city about three other locations where road markings were partially or fully removed and never replaced.
- 16th Street around Pearl and Washington Streets: The bike lane was partially removed. DPW’s response: Utility work ended in September and officials followed up with the contractor.
- 22nd Street & Blake: The crosswalk was never repainted. DPW’s response: Utility work is ongoing.
- Blake & 34th Street: Construction barriers were put in the bike lane. DPW’s response: City work is ongoing.
On Yale Way, the underground electricity and water work extended over several months. Work often stopped for weeks at a time. Though the pavement was patched throughout the process, no temporary road markings were put in place.
Jack Todd, a spokesperson for Bicycle Colorado says that’s not good enough.
“We need to think about bicyclists and pedestrians on the same level we think about drivers,” he said. “That means giving them the same consideration. That means giving them viable and safe options to get around before, during and after construction.”
The months-long wait for a temporary bike lane alarmed Roche. After a driver hit and killed her son, Cole Sukle, while he was riding a skateboard in 2016, she spent a year fighting for a more visible bikeway.
“Where my son was killed on Yale, the original bike lane was very minimal. It was very skinny,” she said.
Drivers coming from Colorado Boulevard often move dangerously fast on the curvy street, Roche noted.
“We worked really hard to get some [street safety] improvements, and almost as soon as all that work was put in, it was dismantled with little thinking about maintaining basic safety during the ongoing construction,” she said.
The city’s failure to make sure road markings are restored promptly stems from the small number of people who verify street projects are completed. DPW has 16 right-of-way inspectors, according to DPW. But they oversaw 19,655 street occupancy permits last year.
The city’s inability to enforce its own rules may contribute to the increasing number of road deaths in the city. With 64 people dead on Denver streets this year, the rate of killing has increased significantly since 2016 when Mayor Hancock made a Vision Zero pledge to end all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.
“If we agree human lives are the number one priority, not the convenience or speed of cars, then we have to look at our processes and everything we do,” said Roche. “Waiting weeks or months to put basic bike lane striping back in place is not in alignment with the priorities of Vision Zero.”
In response to Streetsblog’s questions for this story, DPW committed to evaluate its practices.
“We will perform a review of our current policies and permit requirements … and see what improvements we can make,” said Kuhn. “We acknowledge there is always room for improvement.”