"Pop-up" protected bike lane shows how concept would be good for Denver, activist says

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Last week's Bike to Work Day was a big success, with a large number of Denverites taking to two wheels rather than four. And those who peddled on a LoDo section of Wynkoop were greeted with something new -- a "pop-up" protected bike lane, which created a safety barrier between cars and cyclists.

The lane was only temporary, and it's now gone. But BikeDenver, one of the organizations behind the notion, would love for such lanes to become a familiar feature downtown -- and one's on the way.

"We're definitely fans of protected bike lanes," says Ryan McCann,BikeDenver's policy and outreach manager. "We actually helped advocate for a protected bike lane on 15th Street -- and we should have one in 2014."

The call for a protected bike lane on 15th Street received plenty of support, including from those who signed a Change.org petition that went live in March, complete with this photo showing a protected bike lane:

That same month, the city agreed to the basic notion of a protected bike lane on 15th Street. Here's a Denver Public Works diagram of the plan, originally shared by Denver Urbanism: As Denver Urbanism points out, the plan isn't final, so this illustration is subject to change -- and McCann confirms that alterations in Denver's initial approach have already taken place.

"We weren't happy" with the first plans put forward by the city, "and we put our foot down," McCann reveals. "We thought it would be a fully protected bike lane" -- meaning one that used either bollards (the sort of posts typically used to reroute traffic) or more decorative items, like planters, to create a barrier between cyclists and drivers. "And we said we couldn't give our approval for it unless it was. Then we went to city council members and educated them about what protected bike lanes are and presented data showing that other cities have these and made arguments about the economic and safety benefits and the ability to increase ridership, which is something Denver is trying to do -- get more people on bicycles and not using their cars."

Continue for more about protected bike lanes, including more photos. As of now, the 15th Street approach calls for a "buffered" bike lane -- "just paint on the ground, with probably two-to-three feet of spacing from the bike lane to traffic," McCann explains -- to be put in place later this summer. But by 2014, the lane will be physically separated from traffic."

Will this be the first protected bike lane in Denver? Not quite, but close. There's already one in front of the City and County Building, but McCann says "it's really a one-block showpiece that shows what one should look like but really doesn't connect" with a broader route. And McCann says it's possible another, thus-far undesignated protected bike lane could beat 15th Street to the punch -- although given how long approval for the latter has taken, the odds of that happening are fairly small.

In addition, cycling advocates created the pop-up protected bike lane on Wynkoop for Bike to WorkDay. "I was out at two or three in the morning laying it down," McCann points out. "We thought that for one day, it would be really nice if cyclists had that lane to use and wouldn't have to worry about cars using it and impeding the right of way" -- and the feedback he received from cyclists afterward was wholly positive.

The lane was removed by Public Works on June 27, with workers washing away the green paint used to designate the space -- and not charging BikeDenver for doing so. In addition, BikeDenver representatives heard from a Public Works spokeswoman that future pop-up protected lanes are possible through the permitting process.

Looking back, McCann believes "our demonstration was fairly successful. It's nice the city wasn't too upset and revealed to us that the proliferation of protected bike lanes is still being discussed and prioritized. It was also very cool to hear that the city is open to staging demonstrations like ours again, which, in the future, will help educate the community and increase awareness about the significance of infrastructure such as protected bike lanes -- though it will be nice when the day comes that there are so many protected bike lanes that we don't have to stage these. I eagerly await the day."

Indeed, McCann points out that protected bike lanes are common throughout Europe -- "They're as natural as breathing" -- and they're starting to be adapted in American communities such as Chicago, New York City, Portland, Oregon, and Madison, Wisconsin.

"Those cities don't just have one protected bike lane," McCann says. "They have multiple protected bike lanes."

He hopes Denver will soon follow suit.

Continue for more photos of the pop-up protected bike lane courtesy of BikeDenver.

More from our Things to Do archive: "Photos: How not to be a dickhead on Bike to Work Day."

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