As Denver becomes a major bike city, can it put safety first?

See also: Dan Peterson, R.I.P.: Remembering hit-and-run victim who elevated bike-safety concerns

As Denver becomes a major bike city, can it put safety first?

Very early on July 22, thirty-year-old Dan Peterson left his home near Washington Park and hopped on his red Raleigh road bike. It was around two o'clock Sunday morning, and Peterson, who'd spent Saturday night celebrating a friend's birthday, was off to visit another friend. He hadn't been to her house before, but she'd given him the address and he said he'd bike over.

He never made it.

At Speer Boulevard and Lincoln Street, Peterson collided with a black 1999 Subaru Legacy. The crash threw Peterson off of his bike. The car didn't stop.

Emily Snyder, senior city planner with the Department of Public Works, likes bikes.
Emily Snyder, senior city planner with the Department of Public Works, likes bikes.
A "ghost bike" memorial was erected at the corner of Speer and Lincoln Street for Dan Peterson.
A "ghost bike" memorial was erected at the corner of Speer and Lincoln Street for Dan Peterson.

When the cops arrived, Peterson was alone in the street; an ambulance took him to Denver Health. The Subaru was nowhere to be found. Nor was Peterson's bike.

Witnesses told police they'd seen the car, with a woman in the driver's seat and a male in the passenger seat, dragging the bicycle for several blocks. A few streets away, it had stopped for a moment, and the male had jumped out, pulled the mangled bike from under the vehicle and thrown it in the Subaru, which then drove off.

"It's horrible," says Abby Laib, a close friend of Peterson's who hurried to the hospital. "If they just would've stopped, we probably would've been comforting them."

That morning, while friends were gathering at the hospital, a woman who lives in Hudson reported to the Weld County Sheriff's Office that her black 1999 Subaru Legacy had been stolen. It was recovered the next day, abandoned in Aurora with visible damage and blood on the windshield.

There was no bike in it.

By then, Peterson had passed away. The car's occupants have never been located. Nor has Peterson's bike.

"To hit someone and run is just unfathomable," says Sarah Goff, another close friend of Peterson's. "But finding out who it was is not going to bring him back. The horrible deed has been done."

A few days after the hit-and-run, a group of cyclists who didn't know Peterson chained a white-painted bike with a bouquet of yellow flowers at the intersection where he'd been hit — a "ghost bike." Similar memorials have appeared across the country to commemorate those who died in bike crashes. The monuments are common in places like New York City, where fatal bicycle accidents are all too frequent. But the sight was new in Denver, and the all-white bike stood out at the busy intersection as an eerie symbol of the rapid growth of cycling in Denver — and its potentially devastating consequences.

At the same time this high-profile accident was making headlines, several city agencies were already discussing their concerns regarding bike safety in Denver, preparing for an unprecedented meeting on what the city can do — and needs to do — to address the challenges ahead.

*****

Standing in a warehouse on Brighton Boulevard in August 2008, John Hickenlooper, then the mayor of Denver, addressed a crowd of hundreds preparing for a mass bike ride. They were headed for the Green Frontier Fest, a kickoff event for the Democratic National Convention and the city's Greening Initiative.

"He said, 'There's no reason why we can't get 10 percent commuter [bike] mode share by 2018,'" recalls Parry Burnap, then-director of the Greening Initiative, part of the local host committee working on the 2008 DNC, which brought presidential candidate Barack Obama — and a lot of national attention — to Denver.

"Everyone looked at each other and went, yeah, and that became a goal of the biking advocacy community," says Burnap, who today is the executive director of Denver Bike Sharing, the nonprofit that owns and operates B-cycle, Denver's bike-share program. "It was electric.... It was all wrapped up in this magic moment."

Early on, Hickenlooper had declared that he wanted to make the DNC "the greenest convention in the history of mankind," Burnap recalls. And so he'd established the Greening Initiative, with Burnap at the helm, to focus on the environment; that effort involved ten sustainability components, including bikes.

With support from the Boulder-based Bikes Belong and a sponsorship from Humana, a health-care company, Burnap and her team were able to secure 1,000 bikes for the roughly 35,000 guests in town for the convention, as well as anyone else in Denver who wanted to use them. The bikes were free to ride, and they were stationed at six staffed locations across the city. The DNC bike program quickly became a mini-pilot for an urban bike share, the kind that has been successful in European cities but hadn't been tested on any large scale in the United States.

"That was one of the big, exciting things we brought to the community," Hickenlooper, now the governor of Colorado, recalls today. "And we said, 'If it works, we're gonna try and keep it.' Well, it worked like crazy."

The average person who rode a bike during the convention took four trips, he says. "The first time I went down there and everyone was on bikes, it was so cool," Hickenlooper adds.

By the end of the DNC, it was clear that this was the start of something much bigger, remembers Steve Sander, who did marketing for the convention and was a major player in bringing the bike program to Denver. In just four days, visitors and residents alike had taken 5,552 rides on bikes. "I said, 'You know, what do you think about being the first city in the U.S. to launch bike sharing?' And [Hickenlooper] said, 'Let's do it,'" Sander recalls. "I'll never forget that moment."

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51 comments
Spandino
Spandino

I miss my friend...Think about you everyday Danny

coloradobikelawyers
coloradobikelawyers

Unfortunately, this article only reinforces many of the biases that are held by many, if not most, motorists.  Of course there are a minority of bicyclists that feel the rules of the road to not apply to them.  However, most bicyclists understand the unique dangers that face them when riding on the road and take the appropriate precautions.  However, these types of accidents still occur no matter how safe you are riding your bike.  Our law firm represents many cyclists and their families that have been injured or killed while following the rules of the road.  These accidents are far to frequent and they destroy the lives of not only the cyclists but their loved ones as well.

 

If you are a cyclist and are not sure if or how the laws apply to you, feel free to check out our website. Quick food for thought:  you can receive a DUI on a bike C.R.S. Section 42-4-1301.

 

Please be safe out there!

joemiddleclass
joemiddleclass

I love biking but the issue I find is that too many bicyclists ignore the rules of the road, ride with headphones, ride at night without lights or improper lighting, ride under the influence, run lights or stop signs, ride the wrong way down one way streets. Denver is a great city for biking but for their own safety, like motorcyclists they are forced to be a bit more vigilant. I've been stopped for a burned out tail light but never seen a bicyclist stopped for riding at night without any lights. I have too many friends who think that using their bike for transportation to avoid a DUI is a great thing.

 

Responsible bicycling is as important as responsible driving. If police enforced rules of the road on bicyclists as fast as they do cars many problems might be solved. Sharing the road responsibly is important. Bicycles are great for health of people and the air we breathe and over crowding of cars but riders have to be as responsible as drivers if the sharing is going to work.

Bradley Langston
Bradley Langston

I am always frightened by the number of cyclists at night with no reflectors or lights.

annqueue
annqueue

Hi, my name's Ann. (shake hands.) I ride a bike. I'm just trying to get where I'm going. I don't run red lights unless the sensor's broken and the light won't turn green for me. I occasionally ride on downtown sidewalks - at walking speed - because I'm terrified of downtown rush hour traffic. When I do this most pedestrians aren't aware there's a bike behind them, because I'm not trying to pass them. If the sidewalk's crowded, I walk my bike. I don't want to hit anyone and never have, and would much rather ride in the street, but sometimes it's just too dangerous. I always wear a helmet and don't ride with headphones. One time, if I had had headphones on, I probably would have been t-boned and killed by a driver who motored straight through the red light at 45 mph. When I drive I'm very aware that I'm controlling a ton of steel capable of injuring or killing, and try to drive accordingly. I've never gotten so much as a speeding ticket.

 

Am I your enemy? Should I really be the target of such vitriol?

 

"We have plenty of bike paths - stay there."

But the places cyclists need to go aren't on bike paths. They need to go to the businesses and residences where everyone works and lives, and very few are on a bike path. At some point you have to use the street to get to your final destination.

 

"Rush hour is bad enough - don't clog it up further."

If we had dedicated cycling facilities, we wouldn't clog it up. We'd free up space by reducing the number of cars sharing your car lane. The majority of cyclists are also drivers, and when they're on their bikes they're not in cars in front of you. This also means the majority of cyclists DO pay gas taxes. Also bicycles cause orders of magnitude less damage than cars and heavier vehicles, and creating more space to move people by adding a bike lane is far cheaper than adding more car lanes. The problem is there's not a place where bikes *belong* at the moment. Create that - as the article talks about - and things get much, much easier for everyone.

 

Here's a website that might help explain some cyclist behavior that can be mystifying if you don't ride regularly. I wish this were part of standard driver's education.

http://cyclingsavvy.org/hows-my-driving/

 

druid06211
druid06211

The real problem is that bicyclists seem to think that they are sacred cows.  They are exercising, and therefore closer to the right hand of God.  Get a grip.  Be defensive.  Cars are bigger.  And use common sense as to where and when you ride.  We have plenty of bike paths - stay there.  Rush hour is bad enough - don't clog it up further.

Bobster
Bobster

There is ZERO enforcement of the scumbags who ride bikes on sidewalks.  The DPS is appartently only useful when it comes to beatdowns.

 

The mayor and police chief are dunces.

 

SxPxDxCx
SxPxDxCx

Every one of these anti bike posts seem to just blame the cyclist.  As if all motorist in this town are just driving around following all the traffic rules and it just the angry swarming cyclists that are breaking all the rules.  I don't disagree that cyclist sharing the road need to follow the rules but so do the motorist.

 

Daily I look out my window of my office and see cars that just don't bother to stop at the stop sign at the street corner.  Most drivers seem to not know what the big white stop line painted in front of cross walks means.  I see drivers all the times the just roll up into the cross walk to stop.  If they bother to come to a complete stop at all.

 

Here is a pop quiz for all you motorist?  When making a left hand turn onto a two lane road what lane are you always supposed to turn into?  No it's not what ever lane you feel like.  It's the left hand lane.  Conversely if you are making a right hand turn you need to pull into the closest lane on the right hand side of the road.  How often do you see motorist follow that rule?

 

Currently on 6th Ave and I-25 there are section of the road that are stripped with solid white lines and signage that says "No Passing Stay In Lane".  Almost every time I'm passing through one of those sections I see people ignore both the strips and the signs. 

 

My point bringing this up is there are lots of motorist in this town that are either ignorant of the traffic rules or just blatantly ignore them.  That isn't an excuse for cyclist behaving badly but no cyclist ever ran a red light or stop sign and killed the driver of a car.

 

 

 

 

 

cov87_1999
cov87_1999

I sometimes commute 18 miles to work and love the fact that I can do this on 17 miles of bike paths. Of course I choose to ride 17 miles on bike paths and if it was 17 miles on Denver's roads I may not enjoy bike commuting so much. I have biked to work in every city I have lived in including Portland  (great), San Diego (terrible), Coventry (good) and Sydney (not so good). Denver is good but there is a definite need for education for bike riders and car drivers. Both equally to blame in my opinion. But we have to continue to encourage people to bike; I think we are where Portland was in the mid 90's

patricia.calhoun
patricia.calhoun moderator editortopcommenter

we'd like to publish some of these comments in our print edition -- ideally with your full name. if that's okay, e-mail me at patricia.calhoun@westword.com.

propylene22
propylene22

Ass hat hipsters with no brakes riding down the middle of busy streets when there are bike lane streets a block away..

bugsycook
bugsycook

Owners of cars pay for registration once a year on their cars to help cover the cost of maintaining roads. If bicyclists expect to be able to take up the same space as a car on the road then they need to start paying yearly registration fees as well to help pay for the roads - otherwise, get the F outta my way!

bugsycook
bugsycook

Mr Peterson contributed to his own demise. He was riding the wrong way on a very busy street at 2am - he was probably drunk too -  and ran a red light to boot. Don't feel sorry for him at all. Bikes need to follow the same rules as cars and stay to the right hand side of the road - period, end of story - or become road pizza.

Wilson
Wilson

The wailing complaints of motorists that I always see on these blogs fall under two categories; inconvenience and jealousy. Inconvenienced because they have to slow down and pay attention. Jealous because bikes can break the law more easily (run a stop sign, ride on sidewalks, etc.) and get away with it. wah. Dan Peterson is dead. Before the accident he was breaking the law (riding the wrong way without lights) and paid more of a price than any ticket you will ever pay. Before the accident, his killer was breaking the law too, driving a stolen car. You probably have a choice...you're not breaking the law when you see a rider, but you can choose to then, and pay the price yourself. Bike riders don't bother me. I'm not in a hurry. I had one just miss the back of my car the other day (ran a stop sign). My passenger was outraged. I just shrugged it off, because I wasn't breaking the law, would've stopped and called the police if there was a collision, then sought compensation from the rider for all damages. (By the way, you are required by law to report a vehicle/bicycle collision). Calm down. And counter your jealousy with the belief that the rider you see today weaving in and out of traffic will pay for it someday, they all do. Or you can run them down or get into a fight and pay yourself. They're not going away. And you don't want to be the one paying for their stupidity. Calm down.

CO_Native
CO_Native

An article about bike safety with a picture of the chair of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee and a bike planner from the UK riding around Denver without helmets on - brilliant!  I am an avid bicyclist and this illustrates the problem perfectly, many bicyclists need to be educated (including the advocates apparently) on how and where to ride on the streets safely. Riding down one-way streets (13th and 14th specifically) that do not have bike lanes when there are streets with bike lanes only several blocks away (12th and 16th) does not make any sense. 

DangerDangerDanger
DangerDangerDanger

Perhaps we need some reform to traffic laws (treat a stop sign as a yield, stop light as stop sign, etc) and then people will be more likely to follow them.  

 

Cyclists should signal. Cars should also signal.

 

Some specific infrastructure changes could also make a big difference.  The bike map is great, but too few people use it.  The story pointed out one of my biggest pet peeves which is the piecemeal nature of our cycle infrastructure.  I go from bike lane to sidewalk to unmarked bike route to within about a quarter mile at one point on my commute.  It took close map reading and multiple passes on the bike before I was confident that I was doing it right; most cyclists can't or won't take that kind of time.

 

AgendaBuster
AgendaBuster

~~~

Wow, I agree with poster Mike!

 

These bicycles are never useing lights at night. How can anyone see them. I don't agree with not stopping! However, who sees these bicycles out at all hours of the night with no lights on?

 

The problem here is the Bike Riders are driving around stoned and drunk....... and so are the car drivers!!!

SamTLevin
SamTLevin

@mkmccalmont thanks! Almost nothing gets more crazy passionate comments than articles about biking...

bill
bill

what a total crock, please dont lump us pedestrians in with the cyclists. 

 

get the cyclists to follow the traffic laws, stay off the sidewalk, and be halfway aware of their surroundings, and the safety problem will solve itself.  

 

Currently they ride anywhere they can, think they own the road, the sidewalk and the bike trail. Pedestrians are nothing more than interference for them, most will purposely graze pedestrians who arent yielding the sidewalk, or get rude and offensive.

 

Then they bait drivers and tick them off too, Screw denver cyclists, they suck.

plpllawson
plpllawson

This new generation of bicyclists are annoying and dangerous. With their feeble lights they should not be on the streets at night. It's just plain ignorant.

 

And the last thing anyone wants to deal with when they are going up the mountains is having to deal with passing them. Most of us want to experience the serenity and beauty of the mountains, not a hundred goofy people on their bikes on one of those bike tours or what ever they call them

Harley101
Harley101

Now--a question:  How to instill safety with the morons who ride bikes--weaving in and out of traffic, maybe come up with a license--say $50 to ride the bikes, and another $100 or so for licenses FOR the bikes--hey, we can make a lot of money.   And of course, require liabilty insurance! 

kalamitykarla
kalamitykarla

Start handing out traffic tickets to those cyclist who, ride the wrong way on a one way,  ride their bikes on the sidewalks of downtown Denver and nearly run YOU down while you are walking.  Put police of bikes and start handing out tickets, once they have to start paying for their actions and attitude, maybe then there will be respect for Traffic Laws that apply to ALL vehicles YES a Bike is A VEHICLE!! 

jrodenver
jrodenver

 @druid06211

'There are plenty of bike paths - stay there' tell you what, go and get a map of bike routes, and then pretend your car is a bicycle that can only use those routes. Try to create your route to work using only those bike routes. I think you get the idea...

jrodenver
jrodenver

 @Bobster

 So we cycle on the road, we get motorists shouting at us to use the sidewalk, we cycle on the sidewalk, we get angry pedestrians.

UrbanSnowshoer
UrbanSnowshoer

 @SxPxDxCx I would agree with what you have said; however, I would also add one more grievance: cars (especially taxis) who think the bike lane is a parking space. 

Michael564
Michael564

 @propylene22 What a ridiculous statement. Akin to "Old-ass fogeys with bad attitudes, driving on bike-filled streets, when there is a perfectly good Interstate a few blocks away." Bikes belong on the same streets as cars -- that's the law. Drivers need to just grow up and accept that fact. BOTH need to follow the laws.

Justme
Justme

 @bugsycook Holy shit, did your parents have any kids that lived?

UrbanSnowshoer
UrbanSnowshoer

 @CO_Native It depends which part of 13th and 14th you're riding on. If you're riding around Speer and  Broadway, there is  a bike line.

joem
joem

 @CO_Native I ride 13th and 14th Avenue because the lights are timed. It takes me half as long to get where I want to go on those streets than it does 16th Avenue.

mkmccalmont
mkmccalmont

@SamTLevin Hoping some wise cyclists chime in here soon...

impercipient
impercipient

 @bill generalize much?  I'm sure that there are bad cyclists out there but I doubt any of them "bait" cars.  Most of the time I stop but sometimes I roll a stop sign.  car drivers say that about stop signs, but not red lights.  cyclists say that about both.  What we really out to do is turn 12th into a cycling only rode and do the same with washington.  

jrodenver
jrodenver

 @plpllawson

 Yeah, those horrifically fit people damn them. The road isn't for all Americans, it's for those that want to go skiing. 'America...where at least I know I'm free'.

yaya
yaya

 @Harley101

I have to pay $150 for a permit to wear a coat over my lawfully carried firearm (it is free to carry it openly) which is a constitutionally protected natural right. Biking on city streets is a privilege and since they are not paying taxes via gasoline I agree a permit is a great idea. Actual enforcement of traffic laws is another.

mmtt
mmtt

Build infrastructure where it's safe to ride a bike, and you won't have to worry about bikes being on the roads.  @Harley101 

jrodenver
jrodenver

 @kalamitykarla

 Traffic laws, and road infrastructure in this city, has been built around the motorized vehicle, not the bicycle. You build something for one use, it's tough to impose another mode of transport on that same infrastructure and laws, hence you have the situation we have now. Cyclist levels are rising, but the infrastrucuture or training (for drivers and cyclists) isn't there.

propylene22
propylene22

 @Michael564 Seriously there are streets that bike have no business being on. Anything with upwards of  4 lanes and 45+ speeds.  Bikes on these roads are just creating a hazard to themselves and everyone else. I rode my bike as my only method of transport for 3 years. It's not hard to get where you're going on side streets, and is usually much faster than taking the main thoroughfares.  

CO_Native
CO_Native

 @joem Are they "timed" because you ride 30 to 35 mph and keep up with traffic or is it because you weave between the cars stopped at the lights making those same cars pass you several times before they get off 13th or 14th?  How many "close calls" have you had on 13th or 14th?

impercipient
impercipient

 @yaya  @Harley101 Are you in a militia?  Do you think the framers had any idea a glock 9 could be carried around underneath a petty coat?  You strike me as the guy who wants less government not more...unless it is convenient to your opinion.

yaya
yaya

Who will pay for this?

 

"Hey neighbor, let me forcefully take the money you have earned to fund infrastructure only I will use since I am too stupid to follow traffic laws"

jrodenver
jrodenver

 @propylene22  

 

If it's much faster than using main throughfares, why do cars use main throughfares? Why does anyone?!

DangerDangerDanger
DangerDangerDanger

 @CO_Native  @joem I'm with @joem on this one.  Cyclists who use their bikes as a primary mode of transportation need to get places and need to be able to do it quickly.  12th is not efficient.  Neither is 7th.  That said, vehicular cycling is not a solution, it's just obnoxious.

 
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