Auraria's new bike lane eliminates downtown "dead zone" for cyclists, advocates say

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Cycling just got a lot easier for students and professors who pedal to the downtown Auraria campus -- and for Denver bikers trying to make their way around it. This week, officials unveiled a new bike lane that goes straight through the downtown campus, eliminating what bike advocates call a major "dead zone" in the downtown infrastructure for cyclists.

The roughly half-mile lane, which officially opened for use on Monday, runs on Curtis Street from Speer Boulevard to 5th Street. This location provides connectivity to bike routes on Arapahoe and Lawrence streets and also offers easy access to the Auraria West RTD Light Rail station.

"I've been here for five years, and the most consistent question I get is, why can't we ride bikes on the campus?" says Jill Jennings Golich, a campus planner who led the design effort. "The Auraria campus is a commuter campus. Students and staff need to get to the campus in some way...[and] we really did not provide good access for bicyclists."

In addition, she says, the new lane opens up the campus for cyclists in the surrounding area. This is something that the city's main advocacy group BikeDenver has pushed for for years.

"The Auraria campus, which is a huge piece of real estate right in the heart of downtown, used to be an enormous dead zone for anybody on a bike," says Piep van Heuven, BikeDenver's executive director. "It's one of the key connectivity projects in Denver in the last five years."

Looking at the city's bike map and the major gap in the network created by the campus, which is home to Metropolitan State College of Denver, the Community College of Denver and the University of Colorado Denver, a solution was clearly needed.

The bike lane opened in time for the start of the fall semester, and Golich says she is committed to trying to make the area accessible for cyclists and safe for pedestrians -- all of which is a part of the latest master plan for the campus.

The connections to the Cherry Creek trail are key, she says, adding, "It's not just about getting around the campus, it's about getting to the campus."

The campus currently has 164 bike racks and a total of 1,400 bike parking spaces, Golich says. A survey showed there were 606 bikes parked on campus at the peak time of Monday afternoon from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. last fall.

Continue reading for more on the lane and to see bike maps of the new facility. Before this lane was open, Van Heuven explains that a cyclist in downtown trying to get around the campus would have to go down to the Cherry Creek trail and several exits north or south of the campus. And getting to the RTD station on 5th Street was almost impossible on a bike, she says.

"It's gonna be safer and more convenient," she says.

As the city continues to try and meet the growing demand for bike infrastructure, connections in the network have proven to be a key component of their efforts. We most recently reported on the plan of the city's Public Works department to add protected bike infrastructure on 15th Street downtown -- which would also provide a link that advocates say is much needed to make cycling safe in the heart of the city.

Prior to the new Auraria lane, much of the center of campus was considered a "dismount zone" -- meaning students who ride bikes and cyclists passing through would have to get off and walk.

That's part of the reason that this new infrastructure will make such a difference, Van Heuven says.

"It's like the Auraria campus is throwing its doors wide open by changing their policy," she says. "It's a watershed moment."

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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