There's no greater ambassador for cycling in Denver than Brad Evans, the man behind the Denver Cruiser Ride, an event scheduled on Wednesday nights from mid-May through the end of September (including tonight) during which costumed participants bring outdoor fun and unbridled joy to the streets of the Mile High City.
So it's a shock to hear him speak disparagingly about the ability to cycle safely in the area. But he does.
In his words, "it can be scary to ride bikes in Denver."
We contacted Evans in regard to numerous high-profile reports about cycling accidents. Typical is Mark Shelton's story about being targeted by a hit-and-run driver near the intersection of 12th and Holly; Shelton suffered severe road rash in the incident (an enormous scrape stretched from his shoulder to his buttocks), for which no one has been arrested or charged.
Bike-rage matters such as this one are bound to escalate over time, Evans believes.
"As more people buy bikes and there's less infrastructure for those bikes, there's conflict," he notes. "Pretty much every study says that when ridership gets to 10 percent, that rage goes away. But Denver's nowhere near 10 percent, and as anybody who rides bikes in downtown knows, it's a scary, scary thing when you're riding in unprotected lanes" — meaning lanes that are striped but don't include a physical barrier (planters, curbs, parked cars, posts) that keep them separate from vehicle traffic.
Granted, more bikes lanes of every description are being installed in the metro area. For instance, Blake Street has been converted from two-way traffic to a one-way street with bike lanes on either side from 35th to Broadway in RiNo. But as Evans points out, "We're trying to add this infrastructure in a car-based system, and it's complicated to create that kind of sharing place."
Denver Cruiser Rides seldom provoke overt expressions of anger from drivers, Evans feels, "because it's hard to get mad at people dressed as pirates." But even he's not immune from outbursts, many of which are fueled by confusion over cycling regulations that can differ from one jurisdiction to another. As an example, he offers a personal experience involving someone who should presumably know better.
"I remember I was riding down Broadway one day with my kid in the bus lane, which is also the bike lane, and a fire truck was coming and started blowing its horn — like, 'Get out of the road, you need to be on the sidewalk!'" he recalls. "So I followed with my kid over to the fire station, and the lieutenant was fuming mad. But Denver is one of the few municipalities in the state where you can't ride bikes on the sidewalks in most places."
Most, but not all.
"Denver has a system where you can ride on the sidewalk in some places, because the path turns into one and it's marked," Evans continues. For instance, "there's a pedestrian path and bike path on 15th at Little Raven, and I've gotten yelled at there. One night, someone yelled at me for being on the sidewalk and I skidded to a halt and said, 'This is a bike path.' But the average driver doesn't know that, and neither does the average pedestrian."
In recent years, plenty of Denver officials have made comments about the need for cycling infrastructure. In 2011, the city released Denver Moves, a plan shared below that pledged to create "a biking and walking network where every household is within a quarter mile (five-minute walk or two-minute bicycle ride) of a high-ease-of-use facility" en route to "a 15-percent bicycling and walking commute-mode-share by 2020."
Noble goals. But, Evans says, "they came up with a plan and never funded it" — and he's not the only person to make such an observation. A 2015 report released under the auspices of former Denver auditor Dennis Gallagher (it's also on view below) features a sub-section titled "The Historical Lack of Adequate Funding Demonstrates That the Denver Moves Initiative Is Not a City Priority." The item reveals that "since 2013, the City has appropriated a total of $2.8 million in funding for Denver Moves...representing slightly over 2 percent of the original plan cost estimate."
"Lots of good plans but no good money," Evans says. "And yet look what they're doing with the stormwater system" — a reference to a plan to build a thirty-acre "detention area" that will result in the closure of Denver's City Park Golf Course for a year-plus. "They're putting $300 million into that, and their argument is, they need to protect the public. But there haven't been major flooding deaths in Denver in decades" — a University Corporation for Atmospheric Research chart points out that ten people died in South Platte flooding circa 1973 — "and look at how many people have died on bikes" (five people in the Denver area in 2014 alone).
Evans acknowledges that "bike riders need to follow the rules a little bit more, or at least know what the rules are." But he insists that the city can and should do more to increase cyclist safety.
"We've made places for pedestrians and places for cars," he says, "but if you're on a bike, we need to build infrastructure — not just piecemeal it and hope that nobody dies."
Tonight's Denver Cruiser Ride theme is "Coloradical!" Click for more information, and look below to see the "Denver Moves" plan and the aforementioned 2015 audit.