Bikes on the 16th Street Mall?

We’ve all seen the deluge of statistics showing the increases in biking as a mode share in Denver. According to the Downtown Denver Partnership’s 2014 Downtown Denver Commuter Survey, the number of people commuting downtown by bike has increased by 43% in the last year.

Combine that with new bike lanes such as the crowdfunding project on Arapahoe Street and the forthcoming Bike Hub at Union Station, and it’s clear to see that we live in a “bike city.” So why is that on Denver’s most iconic multi-modal street—the 16th Street Mall—bikes are all but completely banned?

16th Street 2

True, bikes are allowed on the mall on Sundays; and the city is considering lifting the ban for Saturdays. But is that enough? As a bike advocate, I’m excited for this progress, but for such a bike-friendly city, even the combination of Saturday- and Sunday-only access seems more like a consolation than a victory.

16th Street 1

The purpose of the current bike ban is to protect pedestrians and bicyclists—itself a necessary precaution given the handful of bike accidents that have occurred there. However, as bikes continue to make up an increasingly large mode share in the city, perhaps the time has come to rethink how we navigate interactions involving bicycles, as well as, fundamentally, how we categorize them. According to Chapter 54 of the Denver Revised Municipal Code bicycles are categorized as vehicles, “with all the rights and duties that apply to motorized vehicles.”

That’s a problem. Bikes are not cars. With the downtown bike commuting mode share approaching seven percent, bikes have earned the right to a separate designation with its own codified rights and duties in the city. This would also make bicyclist more accountable for obeying laws.

All in all, the ordinance to lift the bike ban on Saturdays is a positive step. But instead of asking whether to allow bikes on the mall, maybe we should ask how to incorporate bikes safely into the mall, in order to make it truly multi-modal.

By | 2016-12-27T19:55:40+00:00 January 22, 2015|Categories: Bicycles, Infrastructure, Transportation|Tags: |13 Comments


  1. mckillio January 22, 2015 at 8:47 am

    As long as bikers don’t slow down the mall ride, I fully support this. Maybe allow them at all times other than rush hour. I also fully support not treating bikes as cars, something you can lift up with your pinky and fit multiples of into said cars should not be treated the same. If the city is so concerned about the safety of pedestrians and cyclists downtown, they should the lower the speed limits.

  2. Dan January 22, 2015 at 10:25 am

    I was once smeared by a bike on the sidewalk of the mall on a weekday while walking out of Einsteins Bagels. Luckily my hot coffee poured more on her than myself, but I finally understood the reason for the ban. I think lifting a ban on the mall completely will give bikers (especially those that rent bikes and are not used to city biking or the laws) the idea that its a free-for-all. To fix this issue, it will take traffic enforcement and/or police to actually enforce the law – that they can not ride on sidewalks. I don’t see the city investing the time or money, especially since it’s hard enough to get law enforcement on the mall.

    If there was a dedicated bike line though (a dual lane paved stripe between the bus lanes)….

  3. Tim January 22, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Not just “no.” For me, it’s “hell no.” I am very familiar with the mall and its rhythm and capacity. As things stand RIGHT NOW, the mall shuttles frequently have narrow misses with spaced out pedestrians who don’t understand that they can’t walk in the bus lanes or too close to the curb. Not infrequently, there are spaced out bicyclists who don’t understand they can’t ride in the lanes (I saw a cop on motorcycle actually pull over a bicyclist and ticket him recently). There just IS NOT enough room on the mall to allow bicyclists to ride with the buses. It’s dangerous and it would greatly hinder the shuttles. Please understand, I am a cyclist who commutes downtown in good weather and who supports adding more bike lanes all over Denver. But this would be a terrible idea. Add lanes on other streets.

    • Joe January 23, 2015 at 10:52 am

      Couldn’t agree with you more, nor express it any better, Tim. I am a frequent bike rider, having ridden my bike into work for 18 years in central Denver. Having bikes on the busway would no doubt slow down the buses and yes, it would be very dangerous both for other pedestrians and the cyclists.

  4. EcoCatLady January 22, 2015 at 1:14 pm

    I dunno… without a dedicated bike lane it sounds like a recipe for disaster – maybe bikes in the bus lane, but there’s not exactly room to pass…

    I guess the fundamental question is: Is 16th St. a “multi modal” street, or is it an outdoor shopping mall? I tend to think it’s the latter, in which case you don’t want ANYBODY (on a bike, a scooter, a skateboard or a broom for that matter) going faster than about 3-4 mph.

    But it does bring up an interesting point in general – there is a vast difference between a family or tourist out for a “bike stroll” and a cyclist traveling at speeds over 20mph. Seems to me that this is an issue whenever “bike infrastructure” is designed. Is it being designed for the “strollers” or the “speedsters”? It’s a perennial problem on the “multi-use paths” all over the city. If you want to ride at any meaningful speed, especially when it’s crowded, you end up dealing with a frightening human obstacle course. Perhaps what we need is a series of “bike highways” – maybe something like the skyway that’s being proposed in London (a pipe-dream, I know, but wouldn’t it be cool?)

  5. Ryan January 22, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    Yup, as a cyclist who works downtown, I can’t see this being a good idea. Jaywalking is just too prevalent during business hours — frequent collisions would be inevitable. As has been mentioned, people are barely looking out for the gigantic buses. It pains me to think about all the people who will be absentmindedly stepping out in front of bikes.

    It’s too easy already to get around by bike on 14th/15th and 18th/19th. Let the pedestrians have the ‘walking’ mall.

  6. Tyler January 22, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Improve the cycling facilities on 14/15/17/18/19 and leave the mall alone, let the peds get killed by those big dumbass busses.

  7. Jeff January 23, 2015 at 7:58 am

    I would love to see dedicated, protected cycle lanes on all the big 1 way streets 14/15/17/18 etc. but agree that maybe not on 16th.

    However, I’d like to see the busses go away on 16th. If its going to be a pedestrian mall, then make it a pedestrian mall.

    Ever been to Aspen? Or Boulder? We should model ours after those two. Without the busses, there would be so much space for al fresco cafe style dining and other events. For instance, have the chalk art festival on 16th, have Octoberfest on 16th etc.

    The busses, while convenient and necessary, detract from the overall appearance and feel of 16th street. Let’s put them on a street that already has vehicular traffic. Doesn’t 17th already have free bus service? So you have two streets right next to each other running the same route?

  8. Robby January 23, 2015 at 9:49 am

    How would 16th fair as a proper flush-curb, slow/living street, Woonerf concept? (Mallride diverted to 15th and 17th)

  9. Beto January 23, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    I am all for moving the mallride to 15th & 17th with the other buses and making 16th a ped & bike only street! It would be nice to have 1 motor free street in town.

  10. Wayne January 23, 2015 at 6:08 pm

    One possibility to to move the buses to parallel streets and let the bikes have the traffic lanes. No real justification for this tho. Overall, lets work to get more dedicated bike lanes that go long distance north/south and east/west.

  11. B. C. January 24, 2015 at 10:23 am


  12. MB February 16, 2015 at 7:39 pm

    As someone who works on the mall daily during the week, this proposal is a terrifying idea. The ONLY way this could possibly be feasible is if bikers actually obeyed the lights. Fat chance. I see bikers blow through lights without giving it a second thought. This will only lead to multiple collisions. Just the other day I saw a toddler almost get creamed outside the Loft on Curtis. The bike lanes along 15th and 18th and sufficient. Denver needs to educate bikers more in general, I think. Nobody knows about those lanes, or they choose not to use them. In either case, this is a BAD idea.

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