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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.
John Hayden (left) and Jonny Rotheran take a bike ride through Denver.
Sam Levin
John Hayden (left) and Jonny Rotheran take a bike ride through Denver.
Dan Peterson died after his bike collided with a car in July
Dan Peterson died after his bike collided with a car in July

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."

And that moment left its legacy. "We have this amazing transformative convention here in Denver," Burnap says, "and of all the work we did, bikes seemed to be the thing that really shifted the way people imagined the city." After the convention, Hickenlooper told the group that had worked on the DNC bike program that he wanted 1,000 bikes in Denver as part of a permanent bike-share program by the following spring.

It was an ambitious goal, but one that sent a strong message: Denver would be a trailblazing city for cyclists.

On April 22, 2010 — Earth Day — B-cycle officially launched; by the end of that year, the program had 500 bikes spread across fifty stations around town, making Denver the first city in the country with a citywide bike-sharing program. (Washington, D.C., had already tried a small, ten-station pilot.) Today, B-cycle has 53 stations around the city and nearly 3,000 annual users who pay $80 for a yearly pass; there are also around 40,000 casual users who can pay $8 for a 24-hour pass. And B-cycle will add another thirty stations by next spring, Burnap says.

But bike sharing is just one piece of the puzzle in Denver's rapid transformation into a more bike-friendly city. Even as B-cycle got under way, the city was shifting the focus of its overall transportation planning to include bicycles, hiring a planner primarily dedicated to bike infrastructure. This move, combined with the growing strength of BikeDenver, a bike-advocacy group, has catalyzed the overall expansion of cycling in the city.

Denver, says Hickenlooper, is "poised to become just the international magnet for biking...it gets people healthier. It gets cars off the highway, and in many ways, it allows you to experience your community."

*****

On a late Tuesday afternoon, John Hayden and Jonny Rotheram are perched on their bikes at the corner of 16th Avenue and Broadway, watching cars and bikes go through the busy intersection. They grimace as buses and large cars make sharp left turns from Broadway onto 16th, driving right over the painted image of a cyclist facing the opposite direction — a symbol that designates this as a street where cyclists are encouraged to ride.

They watch as a young woman with a guitar on her back rides her bike across Broadway toward the 16th Street Mall, narrowly missing two RTD buses going in opposite directions.

"This whole area needs to be redesigned," says Hayden, the chair of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, a volunteer advocacy group.

"Have a prioritized cycling crossing," suggests Rotheram, a bike planner from the United Kingdom who's now a transportation consultant here.

"16th Avenue — this is a primary street for bikes," adds Hayden.

"Bikes should be given priority here to get across this road and get to downtown. And then downtown should be cyclist-friendly," Rotheram says.

Rotheram and Hayden are cycling together around the city to study its current bike infrastructure. As the head of the MBAC, Hayden works with the city on a wide range of issues affecting cyclists, including infrastructure. On their ninety-minute ride through downtown and beyond, the two note all sorts of flaws in Denver's current system, from gaps in the network of streets and paths for cyclists to confusing or nonexistent signage to streets unnecessarily accommodating cars and parking to the detriment of cyclists.

"You have to plan for the whole city — it's not a little bit here, a little bit there," Rotheram says, explaining to Hayden the "cultural shift that cities have to go through" to make urban centers accessible and safe for cyclists with a linked network of streets. "It needs to be a whole strategy [with]...connections and access."

Over the past five years, the city has more than doubled bike infrastructure, from sixty miles of lanes and sharrows (bike markings indicating that cyclists have room to share the road) to 137 miles today. That comes out to about twenty miles of new pavement markings each year. In 2011, the city added two miles of sharrows and sixteen miles of bike lanes; the Denver Department of Public Works will have installed another eight miles of sharrows and seventeen miles of bike lanes by the end of the year.

The driving force behind this major push is Emily Snyder, who joined Public Works as senior city planner in 2009, with a specific focus on both bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. For Snyder, the issue is personal. She got her master's degree in transportation planning, with a specific focus on bike planning, and she's a year-round cyclist — even when it snows. Most people she works with know her as "Emily, the bike girl," she says, adding that she owns only "half a car." She shares it with her boyfriend, and together they own a total of nine bikes.

She hates parking that car, and finds cycling much less stressful and much more rewarding than driving. "For me, it's fun," she says. "I enjoy being out. I'm an active person, and I like integrating that activity into my day. And I'm a city planner. I love the city. On my bike, I get to experience more of it."

When Snyder came on at Public Works, the city had just adopted its October 2008 Strategic Transportation Plan, in which Hickenlooper and then-Public Works manager Bill Vidal promoted an overall reimagining of how the city views transportation — with a shift away from car-centric planning. A core part of this "multi-modal" vision was cycling. In her first year on the job, Snyder focused on rolling out B-cycle and also establishing Denver Moves, a planning document that has become the city's blueprint for building cycling infrastructure.

"The biggest obstacle is that Denver is a constrained city. We are not building a whole lot of new roads...and that space has already been purposed for something," she says, explaining the difficulties of thinking about bikes in a car-centric city. "The biggest challenge, I would say, is reclaiming that space for bikes and looking at the various trade-offs, whether that's a turning lane, whether that's an additional travel lane, whether that's parking."

Tensions often arise over competing interests on city streets, sometimes in opposition to biking infrastructure that sacrifices car parking or lanes, sometimes from bike advocates arguing that the city needs to be bolder in designating space for bikes, even if it means losing a few parking spaces. Snyder says Public Works has put bike lanes in all "the easy ones" — streets where there is room — and is now looking toward the areas that require more thought and compromise.

Denver Moves, the plan released in May 2011, lays out several goals, including a "15 percent bicycling and walking commute mode share" by 2020, which essentially means that at least 15 percent of commuters won't be using cars in Denver eight years from now. Another goal of the plan is to have a built network so that every household is within a quarter-mile of a "high ease of use" stretch, separate from motorized traffic.

Many bike advocates say that Snyder has done a good job making cycling a key part of this city's transportation efforts. But she's only one person.

"The city's infrastructure is now behind the demand of people wanting to use it," says Hayden. "The number of cyclists is increasing faster than we are putting lanes down to meet the demand."

"It's certainly a resource issue," says Mayor Michael Hancock. "This is all going to take time. It's not going to get done overnight."

The city is still in an early phase of building bike infrastructure, according to Aylene McCallum, the Downtown Denver Partnership's transportation and research manager, who tracks cycling trends and has advocated for more bike facilities. "We're in the experimental stage," she says. "There's still some nervousness to try some things out. There's a lot of enthusiasm, and I think that's what's really helping the push."

The potential is obvious: Denver has a good climate for biking, it's a fairly flat city, and it's known for its cycling culture — an advantage that sets it apart from other cities. In addition to the mountain-bike tourism across Colorado, the urban center has organizations like the Denver Cruisers, who do group rides on Wednesday nights, and events like the USA Pro Challenge, which has ended for the past two years in Denver, marking it as a bike city. And Denver has eighty miles of paved off-road trails, like the Cherry Creek and South Platte bike paths, which in some spots weave through the heart of the city. All of this is laid out in the city's official bike map.

Denver residents are definitely using those amenities.

Based on U.S. Census American Community Survey data, there has been a 57 percent rise in Denver commuters biking to work since 2005, and a 132 percent increase over the last twelve years. About 2.2 percent of Denver commuters now bike to work, which is four times the national average of about .5 percent bike commuters. A June report by the Downtown Denver Partnership estimates that around 7,000 employees ride bikes to downtown every day, which comes out to about 6 percent of those working downtown — with an average one-way commute of 3.57 miles. And B-cycle reports an average of about 844 checkouts a day so far this year.

If Denver is able to fill gaps in its bike infrastructure network so that cyclists can get around with ease, this could become a top-tier city for cycling, enthusiasts say.

"This is something I tell the advocates a lot: It will all get done, it's just a matter of how fast," Snyder says.

Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado, the statewide advocacy group, says he thinks Denver could be one of the best American cities for bikes, if it just built a transportation system that supported them. "What we're really talking about is paint," he points out. "Paint is cheap. We've got tons of concrete already. It's more just using what we have efficiently. It's just signage and setting that expectation.

"We have one of the strongest riderships for cities in the country just with the number of people biking to work," he adds. "But we are kind of middle, mediocre, in terms of the amount of bicycle facilities."

But while infrastructure is a significant piece, the changes required aren't just physical, advocates say. The city also needs to encourage behavioral changes, so that cyclists follow traffic laws better and drivers learn to share the road and treat riders with respect.

Because no matter who is at fault in a bike-vehicle crash, the motorist almost always wins.

*****

Sandi Peterson was surprised to see just how much outdoor gear her son, Dan, had owned. A few weeks after he died, his brothers flew to Denver, collected all his belongings and drove them back home to New London, Wisconsin, in a U-Haul.

"We laid them all out in the garage," she remembers. "He had everything you need for anything that was outdoors and active — goggles, equipment.... Biking was just one of those things."

Sandi had met up with Dan in South Dakota just a week before he died. "As long as I can remember, he's loved the outdoors, loved animals, loved all sports," she says. "He was in the best shape I'd ever seen him in."

Dan, who'd grown up in Wisconsin and lived in Madison for a few years before moving to Denver in 2010 for a career in marketing and public relations, did own a car, but he liked to bike as much as possible. He also loved to hike, snowboard, go to concerts, fly-fish, hunt, play kickball, softball — anything that got him outside.

In many ways, he was exactly the kind of young resident increasingly defining Denver — an athletic, adventurous type drawn to a city that has the dual appeal of a growing urban environment that's just an hour away from beautiful mountains.

"He loved the city. He loved the mountains, and he definitely liked the people," says Dan's brother Matt. "A lot of them are transplants, and they all moved out there for similar reasons."

And they shared similar concerns after his death. How could accidents like this be avoided? Peterson had been going the wrong way, according to police reports, and didn't have lights. Had the driver failed to share the road? Was she not paying attention?

No matter who was at fault, Peterson had paid the ultimate price.

Her friend's death raised concerns about bike safety, Laib says. "I live in Cap Hill...those roads are so narrow," she notes. "But I don't know what we'd even do about it — raise awareness? The city was built for a certain capacity, and we're so over that already. It's hard to keep up with cars and cyclists and everything."

"I think some people just have a hatred for cyclists here," says Goff, another friend. "Denver needs to have more bike lanes. I've been to Portland — the community is appreciated out there."

But in metro Denver, incidents of road rage seem to be on the rise. In a recent video that went viral, two Longmont cyclists filmed a driver honking repeatedly at them for several minutes for no apparent reason other than to piss them off; the driver was later cited for "misdemeanor harassment." A few weeks earlier, an allegedly drunk cyclist in Boulder reportedly swerved right in front of a vehicle, argued with a driver and eventually pulled out a knife; he was arrested.

And people who work for the city itself are not immune from problems. At a Denver City Council retreat in June with Mayor Hancock, several members lamented the fact that an ex-councilman had been hit while cycling on his way to a Bike to Work Day event. And earlier that week, a 61-year-old council staffer had been hit by a car while riding her bike, bouncing off the hood and breaking her collarbone.

A common challenge for riders and drivers alike is that people often aren't aware of the rules and how cyclists should fit into the flow of traffic. Generally, bikes are supposed to function like vehicles, with the same responsibilities and rights. Cyclists must obey all traffic laws and cannot ride against traffic. Denver's municipal code notes that riding on the sidewalk is prohibited unless that sidewalk is part of a designated bike route or the cyclist is within one block of preparing to mount or dismount at a "parking speed" of no more than six miles per hour. For safety's sake, advocates encourage cyclists not to weave in and out of traffic or between parked cars, and also to keep to the right and signal often. Although bikes can maneuver more easily than cars, they don't go as fast and they take a lot more energy to brake and start again. On busy roads or streets without an obvious path for bikes, this creates special obstacles.

Since cars are supposed to treat cyclists like other cars, if a driver wants to pass a cyclist, he must allow at least three feet to do so. When there isn't room to pass, advocates recommend that bikes actually move to the center of a lane so that they can clearly be seen. Like cars, bikes must yield to pedestrians.

Of course, bikes are not cars.

*****

Around twenty people filter into the Parr-Widener Conference Room in the Denver City and County Building and take seats around the large table. It's a Wednesday morning in August, and representatives from across the city, including the Department of Public Works, the Denver Police Department, the city's marketing team, the Department of Environmental Health, and the Mayor's Office of Sustainability, as well as advocates from major cycling groups, are all in attendance.

The agenda? Bike safety.

The group is here to discuss how the city can launch an effective educational campaign focused on bike safety — and the discussion quickly turns into a philosophical debate over how a city can actually create safer streets, who bears responsibility in crashes, how and why there are tensions on the road, and what kind of messaging can encourage safety without demonizing bikes or cars.

Sander, the city's former marketing director who is now heading the bike-safety effort, tells the group that they should stick to a focused goal of starting some kind of campaign. A cyclist himself, he proceeds to tell a story about another cyclist biking the wrong way on Blake Street and cutting in front of him. "Certainly bicyclists are as much to blame as motorists for the increase in accidents," he says. "And today's meeting is about, is there a role for a public-safety campaign and how could we use a public-safety campaign as a rallying cry to get everybody to focus on how their behavior might affect what's going on on the streets?"

The attendees have colorful printouts from cities such as Portland, Minneapolis and San Francisco, which have already launched advertising campaigns focused on cycling and sharing the road. The major impetus for the meeting, Sander explains, is that more and more cyclists are commuting to work and in downtown — and perhaps as a result, the city is seeing a record number of crashes.

Scott Christopher, a law enforcement liaison with Bicycle Colorado, offers an even bigger-picture view, one that explains just how important it is that Denver be bike-friendly. "We are also seeing growth in the number of cars out there," he says. "To kind of frame it, we've got a lot of people that love where we live and more people coming into where we live.... This is a great place to live. We want to retain businesses and residents here, and we want to attract new ones, and this is a big part of the pot."

This larger context is key: The number of cyclists is booming when compared with the city's overall population. Metro Denver has a population of nearly 2.9 million and a growth rate that has consistently outpaced the national rate. By 2020, Denver's population is expected to increase to more than 3.2 million, according to the city's Economic Development Corporation. More residents means more drivers and cyclists — and more conflicts on the road. But if the city supports cycling in a meaningful way, Christopher notes, bikes could be an important part of the solution to the challenges that will arise from the city's overall growth.

The fact that the city is taking a close look at safety is a good sign, says Snyder of Public Works. "It's a symptom of where we're at," she explains. "We're kind of a victim of our success."

According to a recent DPD report, auto-bicycle accidents have increased 13.2 percent over the past ten years. This report, prepared for the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee by the DPD's data analysis unit, notes that the city's Traffic Engineering division says that motorists are at fault in slightly over 50 percent of the auto-bicycle accidents. The report also shows that the top three neighborhoods for auto-bicycle crashes through August of this year have been Five Points, Capitol Hill and Civic Center.

Another useful finding is that the number of crashes was much higher this summer compared to previous summers. In June, for example, there were 45 accidents compared to an average of 27 in years prior. And this May, there were 37 accidents compared to an average of 20 in earlier years. Through August 23 of this year, there have been 163 reported auto-bike accidents, which is slightly higher than during the same time period last year. But the number of bike violations involved in an accident has grown dramatically: In 2007, there were 53 total violations, which rose to 88 in 2010 and 116 in 2011. This year through June, there have already been 82 violations associated with accidents. (There can be more than one violation per accident.)

Bike fatalities are still relatively rare in Denver. According to data going back to 2004, this city has averaged 1.6 bike fatalities a year. There were two in 2010, one in 2011, and one so far in 2012.

But there are important caveats to these stats. First, many auto-bicycle collisions go unreported, since cyclists may not make an official report if they aren't seriously injured. And although the number of cyclists in the city is rising dramatically, studies show that, in general, the more cyclists there are, the more the per capita rate of crashes declines, because bikes have a stronger presence on the scene and drivers are more aware. For that reason, some bike advocates aren't that concerned with the net jump in crashes.

But they are concerned about the focus of this campaign. Hayden, the MBAC chair, says he doesn't want the effort to concentrate on requiring bicyclists to stop at stop signs, although technically that's the law. That places unnecessary blame on cyclists and discourages folks from biking — which ultimately is bad for safety.

Hayden is one of the more critical voices at the safety campaign meeting, frequently reminding others at the table that infrastructure is not yet where it needs to be — which makes it all the more important that the campaign doesn't waste money emphasizing the consequences of cyclists breaking traffic laws.

"Am I worried about bicycle safety? A little bit," he says later. "But I'm worried about overall public health a heck of a lot more. I'm worried about the obesity epidemic a heck of a lot more. I'm worried about the consequences to future generations of unsustainable oil-based cities that we're building."

City officials, though, have said they want the campaign to focus on positive and inclusive messaging, and Piep van Heuven, executive director of BikeDenver, is quick to remind those gathered around the table that most people who ride bikes also drive cars and walk, so an "us vs. them" framing of the discussion doesn't make much sense.

"The hardest thing...is that when you begin to talk about the tensions between people driving cars and people riding bikes, everyone tells that one story," she says later. "The last jerk that ran the red light, or someone in a car that threatened them or crowded them.... Getting the focus of the discussion off of those vignettes and into the broader sphere of civility is really the challenge."

Before the meeting ends, Snyder tries to put everyone on the same page. "For us to be a successful bicycle city, it's all of these things working together," she says. "It's the infrastructure moving forward as fast and as good as it can. But we could build amazing infrastructure and...nobody would know where it is or how to use it. So it's all of these things. It's an education campaign. It's continuing to work on infrastructure. It's enforcing it, because that also helps, for everyone to use the road safely.... We need to spend money, and we need to give attention to all of these components to be successful as a multi-modal city."

*****

Mayor Hancock wants to make Denver a world-class city where everyone matters. But do cyclists matter more than others?

Funding of bike-pedestrian projects — which include bicycle pavement markings, new trails and trail maintenance, and also major projects like bridges and underpasses for bikes and pedestrians — has increased dramatically in recent years. In 2006, the city spent $2.1 million in this area, which grew to $4.5 million in 2007, $7.7 million in 2009, and $10.5 million in 2011. Hancock likes to emphasize the vision of moving people and not just cars. "We're really working to build a culture where it's very multi-modal," he says. "It makes sense for us economically and it makes sense for us environmentally." Hancock, who says he tries to ride a bike once or twice a week for exercise, points out that cycling is a tourism draw, too: "There's nothing more gratifying to me than seeing families riding their bicycles...and enjoying themselves."

But bicycle accidents are not good for tourism. "It's a concern," he acknowledges. "We don't want people hurt. We don't want any unfortunate fatalities.... We have to build that culture that acknowledges the fact that bikes will be on the road...and bikes are expected to observe laws and the rules of the road as well."

And in this, Denver may be lagging behind other cities."Biking in Denver is something that's new," he says, "and we'll learn from some of the best in the country."

Bicycling Magazine lists Denver as the country's twelfth-best city (with a population of 100,000 or more) for bikes, based on infrastructure and bike culture. The 2012 report of the Alliance for Biking and Walking ranks Denver ninth for cycling to work and Colorado fourth in the states category for commuting to work on a bike. The Alliance also lists Denver as the sixteenth-safest city to bike. Meanwhile, according to the U.S. Census, out of 43 cities with a population of more than 400,000, Denver is sixth for the number of people per capita who commute by bike.

When judging infrastructure, the Alliance counts number of miles of bike lanes and "shared use" paths per square mile; about twenty cities have better ratios than Denver. Public Works officials suggest that Denver ranks low in this category because it isn't a dense city; while the core is built up, it's still a pretty sprawling city. "We're strong, but I think we're right below that first tier," Snyder admits. "There are those cities — Portland, New York, San Francisco — that have more resources, more staff dedicated to it...so they are able to effect change faster."

Bicycle Colorado's Gruning says he was completely taken aback when he visited Portland and saw how highly bikes were valued, with infrastructure to match. "I rode for four straight days, and I didn't have a single incident of conflict or confusion with a motorized road user," he says. "It's a win-win for everybody when you really design your roads to be used by everybody."

A Downtown Denver Partnership report notes that a survey of transplants in Portland found that 62 percent said the city's friendliness toward bikes was a factor in their decision to move there.

Gruning points to a range of studies showing direct and indirect benefits of increased cycling and better infrastructure — from retail boosts to health benefits. "We've designed physical activity largely out of our transportation infrastructure, and that has had major consequences for our public health," he notes. This is the big picture that advocates like to point to when examining Denver's progress: Cycling helps make cities healthier, more livable and more competitive in the 21st century.

Van Heuven, who became BikeDenver's first full-time executive director in 2008, says she often promotes this larger context when she advocates for cyclists' interests: "To see how can we improve our community via this element, the bicycle, which is really a real simple solution to so many societal problems."

But there are growing pains — sometimes fatal ones — involved.

*****

More than fifty people came to an impromptu service at Cheesman Park honoring Dan Peterson the day after he died. They hung posters and made speeches; a chaplain from Denver Health even came out and said a few words. For the family, it was meaningful that, in the wake of such an awful tragedy, they could be with the dozens of friends Dan had made in his new home.

"Dan had told me, 'Don't worry, Mom...there's so many awesome people here that I feel like I have a second home here, a family away from home,'" Sandi Peterson recalls. "I could see that." She met many of these friends at the hospital, and says it helped that Dan had so much support in his final hours.

"I told them, 'It's kind of you to be here,' and they all said, 'Dan would have been here with us until the end. He would've been the first one here and the last one to leave. That's just the kind of person he was.'"

Almost three months after his death, they still wonder what kind of people could have left Dan dying in the street.

"Accidents happen. That's why they are tragic accidents," says Sandi. "But to leave him there, that was hard to think about.... I don't know where their mind was. I have no idea who they are or if they regret it."

Laib has tried to piece together the details of the accident, what brought Dan to the intersection of Speer and Lincoln when he should have been on South Lincoln. "You have to think it was his time and something brought him there," she says.

Instead of dwelling on the still-open police investigation, friends and family members try to focus on gestures like the ghost bike memorial.

"It just shows you what kind of people are in Colorado," says Mike Leake, another friend. "There's not just...hit-and-run-type people. There's really down-to-earth, good people who put up bike memorials.... Those are the type of people who are in Colorado, and that's the type of person Dan was."

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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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