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.
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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