Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) recently wrapped up construction of a new protected bike lane on West 17th Avenue between Sheridan and Federal boulevards in the Sloan’s Lake and West Colfax neighborhoods. They should be applauded for their efficiency in building out this bike lane in a short time frame of six months since the first community meeting on it.
As a neighborhood resident, I’ve seen it often take years for a bike lane project to go through numerous iterations and designs. So it was quite refreshing to see this done so quickly and efficiently.
First of all, DOTI coordinated the installation of the bike lane with the scheduled repaving of the street to save money. By building the bike lane at the same time the street was scheduled to be repaved, the department reaped economies of scale vs. having the repaving and bike lane installation done as two separate projects.
The coordinated scheduling also reduced the impacts of detours and construction on the neighborhood by doing two projects at once, delivering a quality of life improvement while doing routine maintenance.
Second, their process for community input was swift but meaningful. It didn’t drag on for years. They heard from the community and quickly made decisions that incorporated feedback from residents.
Communications about the design of the bike lane started in March of 2022. They got input from the community and quickly made decisions. They informed the Registered Neighborhood Organizations, offices of the two local city councilpersons, and had both virtual and several in-person open houses in the neighborhood to gather input.
Third, the project incorporated designs that make the street safer for all community members. The protected bike lane design used along much of the corridor has not only shown to make the street safer and more comfortable for people that bike, but also research from University of Colorado Denver shows it also makes the road safer for pedestrians and drivers by calming traffic.
With two elementary schools, one middle school, and one private high school along the corridor, it will be a welcome amenity for families that want to bike to school.
In addition, DOTI included a pedestrian island to make the road safer to cross into Sloan’s Lake Park, and added additional crosswalks and upgraded pedestrian ramps compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act along the street for better accessibility. The bike lane has also made crossing West 17th Avenue easier for pedestrians by narrowing the gap to cross the street.
The design isn’t perfect. For example, the bike lane designs at intersections like Federal and Sheridan could use some improvements as the design puts bike riders sandwiched between two car lanes a mere inches away from vehicles. A protected intersection design could allow for massive improvements in safety and comfort for people that bike and walk across two of Denver’s high-injury network arterial streets.
Nother safety issue with the design is that the protected bike lane goes away for several blocks near the commercial area between Stuart and Osceola streets to preserve on-street parking. This means people on bikes will be riding close to parked cars, at risk of being “doored” when someone exits their vehicle, a bike-lane style that is neither comfortable nor safe for most riders. This was done despite research that protected bike lanes replacing parking typically have a neutral if not positive impact on nearby retail.
That said, despite these two flaws, we shouldn’t let perfection be the enemy of good improvements to increase Vision Zero safety and empower residents to make more sustainable transportation choices.
Many of the DOTI planners that I’ve met at these community meetings are incredibly capable people who use bikes to get around the city and have a good intuition of what kinds of designs community members will like and use.
The change has been very welcome for the neighborhood, and I’ve noticed a lot more people on scooters, bikes, and wheelchairs moving up and down the street since it was installed.
A government organization like DOTI should be applauded for building this lane so quickly and efficiently while incorporating community feedback. I’m glad they innovated and tried something new that worked.
Allen Cowgill of Denver is a board member of the Sloan’s Lake Citizens Group, the secretary of the Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Advisory Board, and a member of the Denver Bicycle Lobby.
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