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New 15th Street bike facility? City exploring major new link in cycling system

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As the number of cyclists in Denver continues to grow rapidly, the city is racing to keep up, building new infrastructure that helps bikes and vehicles safely share the road. The city is now exploring the best options for a bike facility on 15th Street, a major link in downtown, to be completed in 2013.

"It's imperative for providing access from east to west in downtown," says John Hayden, chair of the mayor's bicycle advisory committee.

Since 2010, cycling avocates have been pushing for a bike facility on 15th Street, which they say would make cycling in downtown much more accessible and safer for cyclists in the center of the city.

Bike lanes and cycling infrastructure are most successful in cities when the facilities are actually connected -- a problem Denver is trying to address as it expands its network. As is clear from Denver's current bike map, cyclists coming toward downtown from the east would likely be riding in the bike lane on 16th Avenue. But once they actually reach downtown, there aren't really any good options except 15th Street, which has no bike infrastructure and has buses passing through it -- making it especially challenging for cyclists.

Some kind of lane on 15th Street would also be a good complement to the lane on 14th Street, which only goes one way, advocates say. Cyclists coming to downtown from the south, from the bike lane on Bannock Street, would also greatly benefit from easy access to a facility on 15th Street to get through downtown to LoDo and beyond. From the Cherry Creek path, cyclists currently can exit on Bannock, ride through the Golden Triangle to a sectioned-off bike lane in front of the City and County Building and eventually end up at 15th Street.

There are a wide range of options for bike facilities, from sharrows -- markings that indicate that drivers should share the road with cyclists -- to "cycle tracks," which are protected lanes that are separated by some kind of barrier or marked by an actual change in the surface below the lane. At this time, the city is exploring different options, but advocates are pushing for a facility that has more protection beyond a painted lane, since 15th Street is quite busy.

"It would almost certainly be heavily used," Hayden says. "The reason it's so important that it's there and separated is because far more people feel comfortable biking on a facility.... It increases bicycle use and bicycle safety."

Page down to read more of the city's plan for 15th Street. Right now, there are also several bike lanes that run perpendicular to 15th Street, including ones on Champa, Arapahoe, Lawrence, Welton and others -- making this proposed facility all the more vital to the network. It would also discourage cyclists from riding on the 16th Street Mall, which is generally illegal.

Public Works reports that at least 100 bicycles travel down 15th Street between 4 to 6 p.m. during rush hour peaks.

Hayden says he thinks the city would likely put in the infrastructure on the opposite side of the street from the bus stops.

Right now, without any kind of path for cyclists on 15th Street, "it feels pretty stressful, even for an advanced cyclist," he notes.

A spokeswoman for Public Works, which partners with bike advocates and oversees this kind of transportation infrastructure, says the city recognizes that 15th Street between Cleveland and LoDo plays an important role in the bike network. She says the city is currently assessing traffic operations on the corridor to determine the best possible facility to be installed based on the needs of the area -- though a specific type of facility has not yet been decided. "We're always looking for the safest option," the spokeswoman says.

"It is critically important," says Aylene McCallum, transportation and research manager for the Downtown Denver Partnership. "It creates a safe, major connection into the heart of Denver."

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Follow Sam Levin on Twitter at @SamTLevin. E-mail the author at Sam.Levin@Westword.com.

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