Doug Linkhart, ex-councilman, hit while cycling to Bike To Work Day event

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This was not how Bike To Work Day was supposed to go.

Sitting in on part of a Denver City Council retreat yesterday, Westword learned that ex-councilman Doug Linkhart, who ran for mayor last year, was hit by a pickup truck while cycling to a Bike To Work Day event with the mayor and current councilpersons.

Fortunately, he's fine, but the incident did prompt a conversation between council members and the mayor about road safety regulations and the interactions between cyclists and vehicles.

But before we get to that dialogue, here's a rundown of what happened to Linkhart yesterday morning.

According to Linkhart, he was heading west on 23rd Avenue -- on a bike route -- approaching Downing Street when a pickup truck went to make a left turn and collided with him.

"I was going straight. He turned left in front of me, and...hit me across the side, and I fell down," Linkhart recalls.

Linkhart, who is currently the manager of the city's Department of Environmental Health, didn't suffer as much damage as did then-Governor Bill Ritter during his 2010 biking accident; he was hospitalized for multiple rib fractures. However, Linkhart was scraped up badly, his bike got a bit bent and he had to get several stitches in his leg.

"I kinda went flying," he said. "I kind of plowed into the sidewalk. I had a helmet, which didn't help."

Linkhart, going straight, had the right of way over the pickup truck, which was turning left.

"The guy gets out and says it's my fault. He said, 'You gotta watch your turns.' I told him, 'I'm not turning,'" notes Linkhart, adding that he finally convinced the driver that he was in fact in the wrong.

For Linkhart, it was a sign that the city does need to do more to address safety risks for cyclists.

"We have a long ways to go to educate cars to look out for bikes," he says. "They are not looking for bikes. It's going to take awhile before Denver gets to the point of Portland and other places where bikes [and cars]...share the road peacefully."

That will require a serious shift, he believes. "It's changing the culture that's...important. You can change the rules, but changing the culture where you share the road is so important."

He says he doesn't bike to work too regularly, but tries to cycle or ride the bus once or twice a week.

"I recognize that bicyclists put themselves at risk out there," he says. "These things can be tragic. I guess I was lucky."

Page down to read about the Denver City Council's conversation with the mayor about bike safety, prompted by Linkhart's incident. Little did Linkhart know, his collision prompted a debate about cycling during the mayor's roughly hour-long visit to the Denver City Council yesterday morning as part of its all-day retreat.

Councilwoman Susan Shepherd raised the concern, noting Linkhart's crash as well as another bike accident involving a city employee earlier this week, in which the woman ended up breaking her collarbone and is currently taking time off.

"I very much appreciated getting to cycle down to Civic Center Park with you and I appreciate the comments you made...[about] being committed to multi-modal in this city, but I'm particularly disturbed by the fact that...Doug Linkhart was hit on the way down to meet us today," Shepherd said to the mayor, noting that the other bike accident happened on Monday. "And that is just appalling to me.... If we really want to focus on multi-modal, which is one of my top priorities, it's got to be safe. We've got to pursue everything, including educating drivers." Other Council members then brought up the fact that cyclists need to be educated too, since they often run through stop signs.

"And you can get a ticket for that and should get a ticket for that," Mayor Michael Hancock chimed in. "It's about the safety of you and the motorist." (Linkhart told us that he would favor the kind of regulation where cyclists can treat stop signs as yield signs and stop lights as stop signs -- which, in actuality, is how a lot of bikers do treat those signs).

Hancock went on to say that Denver has looked toward Chicago as a model and is thinking carefully about how it implements bike lanes, as well as looking at potential protected curbs for such lanes when possible.

"To make it safer for all of us, there's got to be a culture change," Hancock said. "Motorists have to get used to acknowledging and respecting bikers, and bikers have to get used to acknowledging and respecting the traffic regulations that you have to abide by."

Shepherd told Westword afterward that she really wants to see cycling become an integral part of local transportation, but she's still really concerned about basic safety.

"This is a big shift for Denver, because everyone's really attached to their cars," she said.

More from our Politics archive: "Video: Fight Back Colorado to target lawmakers who killed civil unions bill"

Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin.

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