Buffered Bike Lane Provides Greater Access To Downtown For People On Bikes

If you haven’t taken a ride down Champa Street this year, you are missing the beginning of something great for people on bikes in Denver. Late last year, after a visit to view New York’s bicycle improvements, Denver Public Works installed the first buffered bike lane in Downtown Denver from 18th Street to Cherry Creek on Champa.

Image below shows installation of Denver’s first buffered bike lane, Fall 2010. Note the cyclist, unsure how to use new markings, is riding in buffer zone rather than bike lane. Over the past 10 months most cyclists have figured out how to use the buffered lane.

The idea of a buffered bike lane is to provide an additional degree of separation between the cyclists and motor vehicles. The added buffer creates a greater feeling of safety for cyclists, thus attracting more people on bikes than an ordinary on street route or a simple bike lane.

Image below shows the New York City buffered bike lane that inspired the Champa Street buffered bike lane. Note that in New York cars park on the outside of the buffer. This provides additional separation from moving traffic and the buffer protects cyclists from getting caught in the “Door Zone” of parked cars.

In New York the implementation of these types of facilities resulted in greater bicycle traffic and lower bicycle accident rates; a fact borne out by a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Injury Prevention. Harvard researcher Anne Lusk found that people traveling on separated bike facilities, such as the Champa buffered bike lane, had a 28% lower risk of injury than those traveling on regular on street routes. In addition, the study found that separated bike lanes attracted 2.5 times more users than on street routes.

In Denver we have begun to see the results of the improved infrastructure. Each morning a steady stream of business clad bicycle riders pedal their way down Champa Street into Downtown on the new facility. Reaching all the way from Stapleton to the Cherry Creek trail, the MLK/Champa bike corridor serves as a great start for connectivity from North East Denver to Downtown Denver.

Still there are missing links that hopefully can be improved over time. Sections of the corridor from York to Downing have only sharrows, which do little to make cyclists and motorists feel safe sharing the road and on the West end of the corridor the buffered bike lane ends at the Cherry Creek trail when just a few more blocks of pavement marking would have connected the route to the Lincoln Park neighborhoods bike lanes on Mariposa, providing badly needed access to the Santa Fe Arts District. Hopefully these connections will be made in the not too distant future.


John W. Hayden is a Colorado native whose passion lies in building healthy communities.  As a realtor at Kentwood City Properties with 12 years experience, John has learned a great deal about what draws people to particular communities and why some neighborhoods / cities prosper while others seem to stagnate. A resident and community activist in Curtis Park just North of Downtown Denver, John is committed to making Denver a healthy, attractive place for all its residents. Building a safe, well connected bicycle network is key to achieving this goal. John is the chair of the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, a board member of BikeDenver, and is currently working on a masters degree in Urban Planning at the University of Colorado, Denver.

By | 2011-07-29T12:49:08+00:00 July 29, 2011|Categories: Bicycles|17 Comments


  1. Ann Wyse July 29, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    I think this is a great idea and I’m happy to see it implemented! There are definitely lots of ways to do buffered bike lanes, so hopefully we’ll see some more in the future.

    That said, it would be really smart to couple these efforts with car driver education – perhaps a public awareness campaign about how far cars should stay away from a cyclist? This would help while the missing links in popular bike routes are unresolved.

    • John Hayden August 2, 2011 at 12:32 pm

      Hi Ann, Bike Denver at http://www.bikedenver.org and the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory committee are working on education efforts. MBAC is visiting Registered Neighborhood Organizations if you have one you’d like them to visit, let me know.

  2. Vicki H. July 29, 2011 at 3:59 pm

    Until recently, I drove along Champa from 20th to 15th every morning on my way to work. I’m a bicyclist, too, so I’ve been admiring the buffered bike lane. But I think the signage for the buffer zone could be improved to make its purpose more clear. I often see cars driving in the buffer zone/bike lane — not just crossing over to get to a turn lane or a parking space, but driving in it for a couple of blocks. I think they are misled by the width of the combined buffer zone/bike lane — it’s about the same width as a car lane. And, with two hotels on the block between 18th and 17th, there are a lot of out-of-town folks driving on this street who won’t be here long enough to get educated about the purpose of this lane. Better signage would really help.

  3. Aaron July 29, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    One other issue with the buffered lane besides people driving it is I see a lot of people who know what it is treat it as a loading or double parking zone since they can completely leave automobile traffic unobstructed. Whether it be cabs, hotel shuttles or people unloading some equipment it seems to be a common problem between 18th and 15th. Since street parking is on one side of the buffered lane and automobile traffic is on the other they cannot really put up intermittent barriers like they have in other cities with similar buffered lanes.

    The other issue is that Stout does not have a corresponding parallel bike lane going in the other direction until just before Park Ave. Obviously this is a logistics nightmare up to 19th with the dedicated light rail lane between 14th and 19th and Stout going under the convention center between 14th and Speer.

    Maybe a cyletrack with barriers and parking on the outside towards auto traffic going down Champa from 21st through Auraria to Mariposa and a bike lane extansion down to 21st on Stout would fix these issues and the ones you brought up(If going NE on the Cycletrack you would turn on 21st the future bike blvd to get to Stout to continue). Obviously that’s not in Denver moves plan so way in the future if it is even feasible with the traffic light timing, finding space on Auraria etc.

    • Aaron July 29, 2011 at 9:45 pm

      Wasn’t precise as I could have been I meant a two way cycletrack on Champa from 21st through Auraria to Mariposa.

      • John H. July 31, 2011 at 9:10 am

        Hi Aaron, I find the idea of a two way cycle track on Champa to get around the impossible nature of a bike lane on Stout very interesting. I’ll bring this up with City Officials and the Downtown Denver Partnership and see if it strikes any interest. I know Denver Moves does not have it in the plan but Plans are guidelines and they need to evolve to take into account changes in technology and real world conditions so if the city does decide that bi-directional cycle tracks are workable in the future, Champa seems like a good candidate. Thanks for the idea and keep letting elected officials know what you think. The World is run by those who show up and speak up.

        • Daniel August 1, 2011 at 1:54 pm

          John, if you are going to bring this up with the city, I would also like to add my interest in getting a North-bound bike lane installed to compliment the South bound lane on Champa. I was very excited to see the lane on Champa extended and widened, but it seems to be a daily battle with Stout traffic approaching the Park Avenue intersection. Let me know if I can add support in any way.

          Thanks for the article, it is great to see increasing cycling infrastructure and awareness in the city.

  4. dave July 29, 2011 at 11:07 pm

    the buffered bike lanes in NYC essentially become double park zones unless they are separated from traffic. I haven’t ridden on champa, but it sounds like this may be happening there as well. are there plans for more cycle tracks similar to what was built on bannock?

  5. John H. July 31, 2011 at 9:05 am

    Several of the comments above address the problem of automobiles using the buffered bike lane for double parking. I do think that better signage would help this and the City is currently looking at a much improved signage system for all of the cities bike network. The new signs will have destination and milage information rather than just the route numbers we currently see. The cycling community can work to get better rules signage included in this upgrade such as signs depicting that it is not legal to park in the buffer zone and clearly designating where in the city bikes are allowed on sidewalks.

    Still some people will continue to double park because they can. This is an issue of enforcement and design. Enforcement is something we need to work with the city to improve and the design elements that can discourage double parking should be incorporated into future buffered bike lanes. The city will be putting in a second buffered bike lane, this one on the left side of 15th Street, in the Fall or Spring. In this case the buffered bike lane will be on the left side so that it does not conflict with RTD busses and because there is far less parking on the left side so the double parking issue should be reduced. Eventually, with greater funding, this 15th Street buffered bike lane will become a cycle track (curb separated). The cost of a facility like this is 1 million per mile so it will take funding sources. While that’s a fair bit of money it’s still far less than other road construction projects so the return on investment is good.

    • dave July 31, 2011 at 9:58 pm

      John, thanks for the reply. If funding is an issue we don’t need a fancy NYC style cycle track. Just some bollards or even orange barrels to keep traffic separated would be great, especially given how fast traffic moves on 15th st. Also, were you part of the denver moves committee? I was wondering why they recommended so few miles of protected cycle tracks when that seems to be the direction most other large cities in the united states are moving towards.

  6. John O. August 1, 2011 at 9:56 am

    As a daily bicyclist, I too am intrigued by the incorporation of a buffered bicycle lane on our city’s streets, especially on 15th as I regularly take this route to the west side of town. (Will this be continued to the Platte or is that considered redundant by the Cherry Creek Path?) But I am also concerned about the size of the lane being very close in width to a regular car lane without additional markings. I have witnessed on many occasions (as have others on this blog) cars driving in the lane over multiple blocks. I can’t help but notice the much bolder markings of the New York example. Maybe that would help. I would also love for Denver to adopt the green fill for our bike lanes similar to our new experiments with red fill at crosswalks around town. I think, in general, cars are less likely to feel free (whether local or tourist) driving in colored street areas for fear that it could be illegal. (which it is)

  7. David R. August 1, 2011 at 10:53 am

    I couldn’t agree with John O. more on the point about different colored paint for bike treatments.

  8. Aaron August 1, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    Glad that something is being implemented on 15th I use it frequently and I see more people biking on that street than most of the streets with bike lanes. Not sure if a buffered bike lane, cycle track, or something else like two bike lines on each side of a very wide street is the best solution.

    A cycle track may not be needed if theirs a good way to transfer to 14th heading Southeast on 15th from the Highland neighborhood. But you are going to have to take a lane of parking or driving away for the bicycles so might as well do something with the space.

    Whatever is implemented it will possibly have awkward transitions between facilities around Blake, Wazee and Delgany. I hope something like a bike signal (Paired with the ped signal timing?) is implemented to make those tricky transitions smoother.

  9. Walking Around Denver August 2, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    […] limits in about 20 minutes.  Furthermore, the city has been doing an increasingly better job at providing bike routes and protected bike lanes on busier streets (although, they could do a lot better job at maintaining the bike route right around 38th and […]

  10. […] most  bike- friendly cities in the country. New lanes and sharrows are going in all over the place. Buffered lanes are happening. Do you know what this means? Denver is actually concerned for the safety of the cyclist, they want […]

  11. LD Jones August 16, 2011 at 9:31 pm

    Forty years ago Copenhagen was just as car-clogged as anywhere else but now 37% of commuters crossing the city boundary ride bicycles each day. That number rises to 55% in the city proper. They use over 1000 km of bicycle lanes in Greater Copenhagen for their journeys. “Copenhagenizing” is possible anywhere. The Case for Bicycle Infrastructure: http://t.co/UHp9UVG

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