Downtown Denver Seniors Worry About New Bike Lane That Cuts Off Access | Westword

Downtown Residents Frustrated, Afraid Over New Bike Lane: "I Cannot Fall Again"

"It's an accident waiting to happen," says one resident of the Windsor Condominiums. "Somebody better do something about it."
Dozens of Windsor residents have gone to their building's board "confused, frustrated and scared" over the bike lane situation.
Dozens of Windsor residents have gone to their building's board "confused, frustrated and scared" over the bike lane situation. Hannah Metzger
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Over the last five years, Denver has installed 166 miles of bike lanes throughout the city as part of an effort to improve traffic safety. But residents of one downtown building say a new bike lane has had the opposite effect.

The sidewalk in front of the Windsor Condominiums, at 1777 Larimer Street, used to serve as a loading area for the 200-plus people who live there. At least half of the residents are senior citizens, according to the building's management, and many need to be picked up and dropped off outside of the building. But since August, a bike lane lined with posts and bumpers has severed the sidewalk from the street — and from the residents trying to get home.

Late last month, 82-year-old Bob Paolini was getting out of a friend's truck when he tripped on the bike lane's bumper, falling backward onto the asphalt. He fractured his pelvis. Two days later, the injury led to another fall and another fracture. He ended up spending 22 days in the hospital.

"I don't think my accident is going to be the last," Paolini says. "It's a mess. There are too many things that can cause falls."

Paolini was released from the hospital on February 19; he now has to use a walker while he goes through physical therapy. He's hesitant to leave the building at all, he says: "I cannot fall again and go through this all over again."

Paolini isn't the only Windsor resident who's had issues. Some of them bought into the project when it opened in 1981 as one of the first downtown condo developments, and the loading zone was a welcome amenity to new downtown dwellers.

One woman with impaired vision recently tripped over the bumper after exiting a car, stumbling into the bike lane as a bicyclist shot by, says Jack Walker, an 81-year-old who has lived in the building since 1995 and is a bike rider himself. The woman fell back and "barely caught herself" on the car door, Walker adds, describing the incident as one of countless close calls shared with him by other residents.

"The city says [the bike lane] is safest the way it is. It's not safe. We can prove it," Walker says. "We are afraid it will be a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed."

Windsor officials have gone to the city with their complaints for months, but the proposed solutions do not address residents' safety concerns, they say.

While Walker and other Windsor leaders stood outside of the building speaking with Westword, numerous e-scooter and bicycle riders whizzed by in the bike lane. One bicyclist sped by so fast that the resulting gust of wind caught the attention of the group's members, who turned to see a blur traveling down the street. "That is exactly what we're talking about," Walker says.

"If he hit an old person getting out of a car, it would kill them," adds Mike LaMair, a Windsor boardmember. "Unfortunately, I think it's going to take somebody having a serious accident. Then that'll get [the city's] attention."

In response to complaints, the city designated one parking space in front of the Windsor as a loading zone where cars can stop to pick up or drop off residents; there are plans to add a second parking space to the zone in the next month or so. But the bike lane still separates the loading zone from the curb, and the posts and bumpers are still in place — maintaining the same setup that led to the injuries and near-injuries of residents.

At the end of the block are another loading zone space and a handicapped parking space that used to be located directly in front of the Windsor before the bike lane was added. These, too, are now split from the curb by the bike lane, though they do not have the posts and bumpers.

"We will continue to work with the Windsor," says Nancy Kuhn, spokesperson for the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure. "We have listened to their concerns and worked to address them, adjusting our original design and implementing their follow-up requests as possible."

Since the loading zone in front of the Windsor is separated from the curb, it creates accessibility issues for residents who use walkers and wheelchairs. Vehicle ramps cannot land directly on the sidewalk; instead, these residents must go down the bike lane and into the path of the parking garage exit to get to the nearest curb ramp. Or they must get dropped off at the end of the block and travel uphill to the building, which can be strenuous for senior residents.

The bike lane has also led to other problems, says Windsor general manager Jonathan Cole. Delivery drivers now frequently park outside of the building's parking garage, blocking the exit lane; others park inside of the bike lane itself, restricting access for everyone.

A mail carrier who stopped outside of the Windsor says the bike lanes have made it difficult for delivery drivers to do their jobs. "There's no parking for anybody. That's our problem with this. We can't park to deliver the mail," says the carrier, who asked to remain anonymous.

Even with a loading space like the one in front of the Windsor, delivery drivers are often nearly struck by e-scooters and bikes when they step out of their trucks, according to the carrier: "They just fly. You don't see them. I'm coming out and they're right there already."

Windsor residents want the same bike lane setup that's outside the Sunset Towers senior living community, located just two blocks away on Larimer Street. At Sunset Towers, the bike lane bends around the building's designated loading zone, so the loading zone is directly on the curb instead of being blocked by the bike lane.
click to enlarge The Sunset Towers loading zone, with the bike lane bending around it, and the Windsor loading zone, with the bike lane running through it.
The Sunset Towers loading zone (left) and the Windsor loading zone (right).
Hannah Metzger
Kuhn says the city allowed a "non-standard design" for the bike lane outside of Sunset Towers because its loading zone receives more than two dozen pick-ups/drop-offs every day from RTD's accessibility and senior ride services, each of which lasts several minutes.

"We asked Windsor if they had had a similar situation with multiple buses picking up and assisting people with mobility needs multiple times per day, and they said no," Kuhn says, adding that implementing such a design in front of the Windsor would also result in removing all parking spaces on that stretch of Larimer, including metered spaces and the designated handicapped space.

Windsor officials say the reason they don't have as many RTD pickups as Sunset Towers is because their residents rely more heavily on family, friends and more expensive alternatives such as ride-sharing apps like Uber and Lyft to get around.

The city has pledged to install more bike lanes in Denver since 2018, as part of its "Vision Zero" plan to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. The plan centers around increasing the number of residents who walk and bike for transportation while decreasing motorized vehicle trips. Although traffic deaths have not dropped, Denver surpassed its five-year goal of adding 125 miles of bike lanes in May, with advocates now setting their sights on connecting the bike pathways and protecting bike lanes with physical barriers to separate them from vehicle traffic.

But even the staunchest advocates for bike lanes say they need to work for pedestrians, too.

"Protected bicycle lanes can and should be designed to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities, including people who use wheelchairs or walkers and who need to park adjacent to the bike lane," says Jill Locantore, executive director of Denver Streets Partnership, an advocacy organization under the nonprofit Bicycle Colorado.

While the Windsor's new loading zone doesn't accommodate the needs of senior and disabled residents, Locantore says the handicapped parking space at the end of the block does. Still, she thinks the city should keep assessing bike lane projects after they are implemented, "to ensure that they are functioning as intended and not creating any unintended problems, while also allowing time for people to get used to the new configuration."

The Windsor residents aren't the first people to have problems with new bike lanes.

In August, the city made numerous adjustments to bike paths installed at the intersection of East Seventh Avenue Parkway and Williams Street after residents denounced the initial design as confusing and dangerous, with one biker even crashing and ending up in the hospital. The changes included removing some posts around the bike lane and adding stop and yield signs. 

Walker hopes the city responds to the cries of his community in the same way. He "loves the bike lanes" and uses them all the time, he says, but adds that the city must prioritize pedestrian safety in addition to the safety of e-scooter and bike riders.

"This is not safe, this is truly not safe," Walker says of the Windsor design. "It's an accident waiting to happen. Somebody had better do something about it."
click to enlarge A bicyclist riding by the Windsor Condos at 1777 Larimer Street.
"If he hit an old person getting out of a car, it would kill them," Mike LaMair says of a speeding bicyclist (but not this one).
Hannah Metzger
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