Bike lane on 15th Street: Will it enhance safety or continue to leave cyclists vulnerable?

Because bicycling continues be a popular mode of transportation for traveling around the city, the safety of cyclists is a growing concern among riders and city officials.

But some community members and activist organizations think the city needs to take things even further -- an opinion they're expected to express at a meeting scheduled for tonight.

Currently, the Department for Public Works has plans for the construction of a bike lane on 15th Street. The plan includes the installation of plastic material to separate the bike lanes from vehicle lanes, a "bike box" on the corner of Cleveland and 15th street, green pavement markings for a "mixing zone" where vehicles and bikes share space, and a special signal -- a queue jump -- giving bicyclists a head start on vehicles on the corner of Lawrence and 15th street.

While encouraged with these additions, Piep van Heuven, executive director of BikeDenver, worries that cyclists will still be vulnerable riding along a street with heavy vehicle traffic.

"We are excited; we're always excited when the city commits to increasing bicycle facilities," she says. "But we were very disappointed when we saw the design, because it didn't have any vertical separation. The fact that it has not been designed with any protective elements is of some concern."

Vertical separation markers such as a curb, planters, flexible plastic poles or even street parking would provide more safety to cyclists, van Heuven believes.

The city's proposed plan is described as a "pilot program," meaning it will be monitored and evaluated for effectiveness and could be subject to change based on those evaluations. Despite this, many in the bike community question why the city is not willing to experiment with more protective barriers, instead of fewer or none at all.

"I think the fear our there is, if we're not willing to experiment with vertical protection now, then are we really going to do it?" van Heuven asks. "And because this is a high-profile and high-priority project, our question is, if not here, where? And if not now, when?

A public meeting will be held tonight, Feb. 7, at 5:30 p.m. in the Wellington Webb Municipal Building in room Room 4.I.5. The meeting will be open for public comment.

See the city's bikeway proposal below.

15th Street Bikeway Update

More from our Follow That Story archive: "The ten worst Colorado bike collisions of 2012."

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Charles Trowbridge