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Wheeling and Dealing: Another Bike Infrastructure Snarl in Capitol Hill

Some neighbors are concerned over the diverter installed at the corner of Franklin Street and East 14th Avenue
The diverter at the intersection of East 14th Avenue and Franklin Street.
The diverter at the intersection of East 14th Avenue and Franklin Street. Benjamin Neufeld

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A traffic diverter on the corner of Franklin Street and East 14th Avenue has become yet another flashpoint in the city's campaign to create "community transportation networks" with infrastructure improvements including bike lanes and bikeways.

The project is "a bold program aimed at rapidly expanding safe and comfortable transportation options within three areas of Denver," according to the Denver Department of Transportation & Infrastructure, with the focus currently on large sections of northwest Denver, central Denver and south-central Denver. But no matter where bike-safety features show up, confusion and conflict tend to follow.

The latest controversy involves Franklin Street in the Cheesman Park and City Park West neighborhoods, seven blocks north of where neighbors are disputing whether newly installed bollards that demarcate a bike lane on East Seventh Avenue are even useful, much less aesthetically pleasing. In this case, a traffic diverter installed on the corner of Franklin and 14th in mid-June prevents drivers from heading north on the 1400 block.

"I've heard from numerous, numerous friends and acquaintances who are unhappy about it, and there's quite a bit of chatter about it on social media sites, primarily focused on the diverter," says Brad Cameron, president of Neighbors for a Greater Capitol Hill, one of two registered neighborhood organizations that represents the area. Although he notes that he's not speaking for the RNO, which has not taken a position on the project, the conversations he's had indicate that there is a "lack of understanding of the city's logic and why they think it was necessary."

According to Scott Vickers, a longtime resident of the 1400 block of Franklin, the diverter is "unnecessary, ugly and confusing. It's hard to know what [DOTI is] trying to achieve here."

The diverters are "paint/flex posts or concrete that prevent vehicles from turning or traveling through onto a particular street, but still allow people walking and bicycling to do so," notes DOTI's website. In this case, cars are prevented from heading north on Franklin across 14th, or from turning north onto Franklin from 14th. Bicyclists, meanwhile, can pass through the diverter.

Much of the concern focuses on a driver's "need to try to get across Colfax," Cameron says. "Unless you live in the neighborhood, the thought would be, 'Well, you just go around the block; what's the big deal?' And well, it isn't that easy, because you're crammed between the one-ways of 13th and 14th, and then you have Colfax, which is a very busy arterial."

The diverter cuts off most of the neighborhood's access to the signal at Franklin and Colfax; the next signaled intersection that gives drivers a safe opportunity to cross Colfax or turn left onto that street is two blocks east, at Williams Street. "Is it the end of the world? No," Cameron notes. "It isn't just aesthetics; it's the real impact."

And then there's the mystery of why cars heading south are allowed to make U-turns in order to park on the east side of that block of Franklin, then exit to the north. No parking is allowed on the west side of the block, making the U-turn a necessity for street-parking residents.

Caroline Schomp, vice president of the group, doesn't think the city did enough to engage residents of the area. "The city's contention that it engaged in a robust neighborhood engagement process just simply isn't true," she says. "The neighbors along Franklin between 14th and Colfax say that they were never contacted by the city."

"Between 2020 and 2022, as this project on Franklin Street was discussed, DOTI held virtual community meetings, distributed public surveys, met with community leaders, presented to Registered Neighborhood Organizations, and held virtual office hours to gather community feedback to determine where this bikeway should be located and what the bikeway should look like," counters Nancy Kuhn, spokesperson for DOTI. "Before we began construction, we distributed flyers in the mail to impacted homes."

Vickers says he doesn't recall receiving such a flier.

But according to the other RNO representing the area, Capitol Hill United Neighborhoods, the city's public engagement process on this particular project was more than sufficient. "We’ve worked with DOTI since early 2020 and engaged our membership and other neighbors to do the same," says CHUN president Christopher Mansour. "This included sharing early concerns that were voiced by residents and passing them along to city planners. CHUN is committed to being thought partners around these and other issues. The number of pedestrians and bikers currently being injured or killed on Denver’s streets is unacceptable."

One of the fliers DOTI says it mailed to residents near the Franklin Street project.
According to Kuhn, the Franklin Street project is split into two parts: From Cheesman Park to East 17th Avenue, DOTI installed a neighborhood bikeway corridor, "with signage, striping, and vertical elements along the corridor to prioritize people walking and bicycling." From East 17th Avenue to East 21st Avenue, DOTI put in a dedicated bike lane with some buffered portions.

DOTI determines what type of bicycle infrastructure goes where "based on vehicle speeds and volumes," she says, adding that the goal of the bikeway corridor is to limit vehicle speeds to under 20 mph and vehicle volume to under 1,500 vehicles a day."

"The intent of the diverter at 14th is to ensure we reach the vehicle volume threshold, and the intent of the bollards and other intersection treatments is to slow cars down to less than 20 mph," Kuhn continues. "Where we have vehicle speeds and volumes that are far in excess of those thresholds and we don’t think intervention can lower them, we stripe dedicated bike lanes." That's what the city created north of 17th Avenue.

"Research has shown that neighborhood bikeways and protected bike lanes — like you see in much of downtown — are the safest and most comfortable bicycle facility types and will help us reach our goal of more people bicycling in Denver," Kuhn adds.

Rob Toftness, an active biker and a co-founding member of the Denver Bicycle Lobby, says that he appreciates the diverter, even if drivers sometimes ignore the restrictions. "I like that you can take Franklin from Cheesman now and more easily connect to 16th Avenue. The diverter means there are fewer drivers breathing down your neck, in my opinion."

"We're glad that DOTI has been installing diverters on their newly constructed neighborhood bikeways, like Franklin," says Molly McKinley, policy director for the Denver Streets Partnership. "These treatments help limit traffic volumes, which makes it more comfortable to ride a bike. There are countless unobstructed north/south streets in the neighborhood, yet very few that are safe and comfortable for people riding bikes, and none that are truly protected."

Even so, she adds, "I think DOTI could do more to educate drivers how to navigate new infrastructure, like this diverter, to help cut down on confusion.

"We're seeing this type of pushback across the city when something new comes in on the street," McKinley continues. "Change is uncomfortable, especially when it happens on your street. But the reality is that we all live in a city where things in the public realm are going to continue to change to meet our city's climate, air quality and safety goals, and you don't own the street in front of your home."
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