While Denver aspires to be a great cycling city, the lack of a fully built-out street network means plenty of local bike riders simply don't feel safe pedaling from one side of the metro area to the other even on glorious fall days like this one. After all, traffic fatalities have already surpassed last year's total, and efforts to reduce residential speed limits aren't moving as quickly as advocates would like.
Rather than wait for solutions, Avi Stopper, who's been traveling by bike in Denver for a quarter-century, decided to find a way to help cyclists now. He's the creative force behind BikeStreets.com, which uses crowdsourcing to identify Mile High City streets that are cycling-friendly and provides maps showing routes to get riders to terrific spots safely.
Below, see examples from five major categories: parks, food, culture, activities and beer. And the latest BikeStreets.org guidebook, which presents safe-biking directions to what Stopper refers to as "25-ish" destinations, is accessible at the bottom of this post.
Stopper sees the effort as "much more than cartography. It's a community effort to see if we can get lots of people using these routes. It's a virtuous circle. As more people get out, you'll have parents confident their kids can get out and ride safely, as well as older folks and people in their neighborhoods who haven't previously felt comfortable getting out on bikes. So the map is the more visible manifestation of the project, but really it's about community organizing — a tool for catalyzing people to get out on bikes."
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A lot of the information that Stopper has collected has been hiding in plain sight: "The vast majority of it is drawn from what I think of as neighborhood folk knowledge from volunteers and contributors from across the city. Like rather than riding on 23rd in Park Hill, I ride on 22nd, one street over, which is sandwiched between two bike facilities, 23rd and Montview. Those have pretty conventional bike lanes, usually referred to as sharrows or door zone bike lanes, and they have very significant traffic volumes moving at very significant speeds. But it's much better on 22nd, which is why you often see families riding together there."
He made a similar discovery on his own commute. "I live on the west side of Washington Park, and I worked down in the Santa Fe Arts District for seven or eight years — and the conventional way to get there is a door zone bike lane on Emerson, a one-way northbound street that's very narrow. Cars are parked on both sides, and if you're riding in the bike lane, you're routinely passed by cars that are two feet off your handlebar going 35 miles per hour — and the left painted line of the bike lane is essentially worn away. So one day, I decided that I'd had enough of that experience and started riding one lane over, on Ogden. It's a quiet, tree-lined street, and even though cars still pass you, it's a qualitatively different experience. After that, as I tried to get to other places in town, I started looking for routes with different characteristics — and as I was riding them, I would see other people out there that you don't usually associate with bike commuting. People of different ages, different socio-economic levels, different levels of ability. You'd even see basketball hoops oriented facing the street, which tells you that people are using these streets on a human scale. It was amazing and pretty magical."
Alternative byways like these can be found all over Denver, Stopper says. When the first version of the map was put online in June 2018, "I think there were about 200 or so miles of trails and kind of quiet neighborhood streets. But it's grown in the ensuing year or so to about 400 miles of trails and neighborhood streets. We also ran a Kickstarter campaign in March to print and give away 20,000 copies of the map. We got those back in early July and mid-August, and it took about six or seven weeks to give them all away. One thing that's been super-awesome is how much the local business community appreciates that more people on bikes is a positive. We have a secondary map on our site that lists all the places where you could get a physical copy, and we're in the process now of working on a second printed version — so we'll hopefully resupply those locations soon. A mobile app is in the works, too. We're trying to do everything we can to make it as easy to follow the routes as possible."
BikeStreets.org "is unique to Denver," he notes, "but we think it's a methodology that can be used elsewhere. Since I've been leading this effort, I've heard from folks in other municipalities that have similar interests. I don't think anyone is quite as far along as we are, but people in a lot of cities want to ride bikes in their community irrespective of how far behind a city is in creating a comprehensive network of protected bike facilities."
The idea, Stopper maintains, "is that more people should start using these streets — and it's pretty remarkable when you get out there and see other people riding bikes around you. It's a feeling of strength in numbers, and as people cycle around their neighborhoods and the community, it's going to reduce cut-through traffic and neighborhood traffic speeds and make it that much more delightful for people. These routes will increasingly become happy places to walk, roll and ride a bike."
Here are five safe-cycling routes from BikeStreets.org, supplemented with guidebook text:
Verbena Park, East Colfax
Tuck into the trees and take a snooze. Post-nap, head south and roll the loop around the Aurora-Kelley Road Reservoir, Westerly Creek and Great Lawn Park.
Pochitos Tortilla Factory, Sunnyside
How many tamales can your bike carry? Might as well bring the cargo bike. You’re gonna need it to shlep home all the green chile you’re about to buy.
Wings Over The Rockies, Lowry
How’d they land all these planes in Lowry? Fascinating aeronautical history abounds.
Disc Golf at Lakewood/Dry Gulch Park, West Colfax
Disc-less? No worries. Buy one at Little Machine Beer on the way over.
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Declaration Brewing Company, Overland
Forty taps and a gigantic beer garden. Wacky vibe and lots of random stuff to post on Instagram.
Click to read "25-ish Great Places to Ride a Bike in Denver."