Where Should We Put Bike Lanes? (Part 1 of 3)

As demand for increased bike infrastructure gains more and more traction, we’ve seen the question inevitably shift from whether to install bike lanes, to where to install bike lanes. With likely bike lanes on Broadway and Brighton, Denver has shown a willingness to take on big bike infrastructure projects—but that’s not the only way to build a robust network.

Most of the kickback I’ve heard about the prospective bike lane on Broadway has centered not on whether Denver needs a north-south bike corridor, but rather, on whether Broadway itself should serve as that corridor. Many advocates have clamored for Broadway as the ultimate victory. Others, however, recommended we focus on low-volume parallel streets such as Grant, Sherman, or Bannock instead.

Broadway Photo 2

versus

sharrow

The difference between these two opinions (Broadway or parallel to Broadway) boils down to a dynamic that we see very often in cities. On the one hand, is the purpose of bike infrastructure to connect bicyclists directly to destinations, often at the cost of existing traffic routes and at great expense? Or is it to provide access in a way that is least disruptive to existing infrastructure, as well as cheaper and easier to implement? Both are valid arguments and both have been used successfully.

In the immediacy, we need bike lanes on important routes. But the long-term goals must be increasing ridership through bolstered connectivity, and guaranteeing safe interactions between people on bikes, people walking, and people in vehicles. Essentially, we’re building a network. But whether bike lanes end up on major roads or on smaller, parallel roads should be up for debate.

And further, what happens on Broadway and Brighton will inevitably set the trend for the future of bike/ped planning in Denver. Those projects are extremely important. My theory is that any bike lane we build must be robust and safe enough for non-traditional—think families—bikers to feel comfortable riding on them. In the next two posts, I’ll explore what that caveat means for building lanes on major streets versus low-volume parallel streets.

What’s your preference? What do you see as the ideal solution for a north-south bike corridor?

By | 2016-12-27T18:43:26+00:00 April 28, 2015|Categories: Advocacy, Bicycles, Infrastructure, Transportation|Tags: |34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Lance Newcomb March 18, 2015 at 7:12 am

    Dedicated bike lanes are a waste of space and cause significant traffic congestion.
    If we are going to give them dedicated lanes, we need to give them dedicated stop lights too. Mounted at eye level on both sides of the lane.

    • CR March 18, 2015 at 3:04 pm

      Do you have a source for the claim that they cause congestion? Evidence from Copenhagen and other bike-friendly cities would suggest otherwise.

      Also, bikes only need separate lights in very specific circumstances, and most cities that have separate bike signals don’t put them at most intersections with dedicated bike lanes.

      • Lance Newcomb March 19, 2015 at 3:22 am

        Anything that takes away from vehicle lanes reduces traffic capacity. 15th is a great example of this.

        • Aaron March 20, 2015 at 7:56 am

          Reducing theoretical auto capacity is a different concept than creating actual congestion.

          Do you have any data showing congestion increased on 15th downtown? Living right there I haven’t noticed anything personally. I would be shocked if it did though because they didn’t really take away through lanes on 15th. The previous alignment had about three blocks of through lanes on the left hand side of 15th, the rest was turn lanes, and parking spaces.

        • CR March 20, 2015 at 11:01 am

          Most dedicated bike lanes are not built at the expense of lanes. Further, the idea that cars are the only rightful users of streets, and that their increased convenience is the only metric for infrastructure is a ridiculous argument.

        • Julio March 20, 2015 at 11:43 pm

          Actually if you look at it, most of what the city took away on 15th to install the bike lane was parking not a travel lane. And yes bicycle lanes can reduce congestion. On 15th in particular, bicyclists would often weave in and out of the right lane to avoid stopped busses, causing traffic in adjoining lanes to slow down. Now, slower bicyclists use the left lane, so through car traffic can actually go faster. Not to mention, encouraging more bicycling as a community ride-share reduces the number of cars on the road and also reduces congestion.

          So 15th street is actually a great example of solid city planning that encourages efficient commuting for bicycling and driving alike. And yes, I am someone who does both on that road quite often. In my opinion, the bicycle lane has improved traffic on that corridor.

    • Alejandro March 19, 2015 at 10:23 am

      As a cyclist, I would love dedicated stop lights! Check out Vancouver, they do it like that and everyone wins.

  2. Old Biker March 18, 2015 at 7:57 am

    Thanks for starting this discussion. It is long over due, as it seemed the “Broadway solution” was adopted without much consideration of alternative routes.

    That said, as somebody who has bicycled all around Denver for over 30 years, the biggest problem I have with putting a bike lane on a busy street like Broadway is the speed of adjacent motor vehicles. One inadvertent driver looking at his/her phone, and you could be road kill. Yes, a concrete barrier or a line of parked cars (like pictured above) would help protect you, but flimsy plastic poles like along 15th Street won’t. And consider what a “dead street” 15th is! What pedestrian in their right mind wants to walk there. Let’s hope that is not the design standard we could expect from the City on Broadway.

    Back to the issue of Broadway. So why is Bannock not being further considered? It already has a bikeway along it from Downtown to Speer Blvd. But then it ends, which raises the question – does our bikeway system have to be completely on the street? The sidewalk along the outside of the north bound lanes of Speer is almost always empty of pedestrians. Could not special “lane marking” for bikes on sidewalks be implemented? That is done often in Europe, and while pedestrians need to honor it, it can work – especially when there are hardly any pedestrians at a given location.

    One drawback of a hybrid system of “on-street” and “off-street” bike lanes is that bicyclists can’t cruise down them at 25 mph. And that desire for high speed seems to be part of what drives the demand from bikers for the Broadway solution. Perhaps bikers need to slow down and enjoy the ride more?

    Again, thanks for starting the discussion.

    • Jim Zavist March 19, 2015 at 6:34 pm

      Well said . . . having used the bike lanes on 14th and 16th, back in the 80’s, when 16th was one-way westbound, I have to agree. When you’re young and invincible, arguing with commuter traffic inches from your elbow is no big thing. But with age and more awareness of human fragility, I much prefer lesser-trafficked parallel routes.

  3. Toast2042 March 18, 2015 at 8:09 am

    unless the parallel routes are given over entirely to the bikes then they routes should stay on the separated infrastructure on the major streets. Riding with traffic on small streets is much more dangerous than riding in separate lanes on major streets. Bonus in that the major streets are where the destinations are. Pushing bikes out to the sides misses the point.

    • Dan March 19, 2015 at 9:38 am

      I think the question is if the same (somewhat same) infrastructure is placed on a parallel Broadway street, is it more effective? Sure, no infrastructure on Bannock is less safe than a dedicated bike lane on Broadway, but what if Bannock were to also implement dedicated bike lanes and/or barriers? To that, I would think Bannock is a much safer and more enjoyable option than Broadway as you’re not riding in and out of bus traffic (dropping off or picking up riders), the loud and fast moving vehicles, or just the amount of cars turning off of Broadway.

      • Julio March 20, 2015 at 11:50 pm

        If you look at the proposed bike lane on Broadway, it’ll be on the left of the road, opposite of the bus lane. So that isn’t really an issue. There will be some left-turn conflicts as there are on 15th Street, but with proper engineering, this is not as big of an issue either. I ride 15th quite often and don’t find the left-turn conflict to be that big of a deal. The markings make it clear that drivers need to watch out for bikes.

  4. Patrick March 18, 2015 at 10:26 am

    I would love to see a bike lane on 14th and 13th streets connecting Colorado Blvd to Lincoln Blvd. I know parking is already an issue in that area but if you removed the parking lane, added a biking lane and widened the driving lanes (which are extremely too tight as is) you could have a great east/west bike route without all of the headaches of 12th or 16th stop signs. Plus it makes those roads safer to drive due to wider lanes.

    • Jim Zavist March 19, 2015 at 6:29 pm

      There was a bike lane on 14th during the 80’s, but it was removed (obviously) . . . .

    • mckillio March 20, 2015 at 7:03 am

      There’s no way you could take the parking lane away, people would freak, it would make pedestrians less safe. And between that and your wanting to widen the lanes, traffic speeds would increase making it less safe for everyone and discourage people from biking there.

  5. CR March 18, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Part of the benefit of bike lanes on major streets is public awareness. For example, lots of bicyclists in Uptown bike on 17th and 18th streets, which is not particularly safe. The 16th Street bike lane is easily used instead, but many either don’t know it exists or refuse to go a little out of the way to ride on it. For people using bike sharing, or who don’t go to the trouble to specifically seek out bike lanes, the lower profile of these bike lanes might mean they get used less.

    • Alejandro March 19, 2015 at 10:26 am

      This is exactly it. Plus that “last block” going from 16th to Colfax or 17th can be perilous or a hassle, which discourages ridership.

  6. EcoCatLady March 18, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I think my preference is for neither – I’d rather see some low traffic streets converted into bike boulevards (which are different from bike lanes.) Actually… if I had my druthers, I’d like to see a few north/south streets converted into bike only streets, with limited vehicle access purely for the sake of parking. This, of course, will never happen, but a girl can dream, can’t she? Anyhow, here’s something I wrote about my crazy pipe dream:
    http://ecocatlady.blogspot.com/2014/05/a-bike-lane-pipe-dream.html

    • Alejandro March 19, 2015 at 10:28 am

      Great idea! They do a fantastic job of this in Vancouver and it has the benefit of providing super safe biking infrastructure and not pissing many drivers off. Basically, they make certain streets switch directions but only for cars, which discourages through traffic, but for people that live there (like actually on that block) since they know the pattern they quickly learn to adjust

  7. Adam March 18, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    I’m a driver, not a biker.

    I’d like to see the bike lane on Broadway, even though I know it’ll slow me down in a car.

    With 4-5 lanes of cars on Broadway currently, it makes it pretty unpleasant to walk down the street. With that proposal at least one of the sides will have a little more distance between cars and pedestrians, making the walk a lot nicer. Might be better for businesses, too.

    • Alejandro March 19, 2015 at 10:30 am

      Not being a native Denver-ite, first time I saw Broadway it blew my mind. One of the coolest most pedestrian friendly streets in terms of shopping and dining is on what is basically a highway. Very scary to cross even when you have a green crossing light.

    • Jude March 19, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      I agree with you, Adam! I’m also a driver, but I would be more than happy to give up a lane of traffic to a protected, dedicated bike lane on busy roads like Broadway and Brighton flanked with lots of businesses. And I would welcome the hopefully increased business a bike lane would give to that neighborhood.

      And as a driver, I think having less lanes on Broadway might make driving even safer and maybe even faster. I’m specifically thinking of those drivers who either haphazardly cross several lanes of traffic, or slow down one lane while struggling to move to other lanes.

  8. Dan March 19, 2015 at 9:49 am

    I think the problem is that there are always going to be people that need to drive, those that work downtown do not work within a justifiable biking distance. Broadway and Lincoln have already been designated as these major roadway thoroughfares, so the effort in changing it seems to be unwarranted. Re-utilizing streets such as Acoma or Sherman as dedicated bike thoroughfares would be a much more enjoyable experience for bikes and vehicles. Less traffic (quieter street), less crossing traffic, and less bus passengers always darting in and out of a bike lane. As a rider of the 0 bus route down Broadway, I don’t think people realize that a bus stops on the Broadway stops every 10 minutes, and is completely full with standing room only for several morning and evening hours.

    The problem with the whole argument is the comparison to European cities like Copenhagen, which are much more dense. Unless we physically remove the (growing) suburbs, people will always HAVE to drive. Many of those people don’t even have a choice of taking public transit! Until we see some numbers or actual statistics, this is a great pipe dream that should be kept as a pipe dream.

    • Toast2042 March 20, 2015 at 7:17 am

      The problem with this approach is that it treats bicyclists as only one class, that of commuter. Broadway was turned into a commuter street to get people from the burbs into the city but that’s not the purpose of adding bike lanes there. Rather, adding bike lanes to Broadway would be to turn Broadway itself into the destination, for people riding from all around.

    • sporobolus March 20, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      Copenhagen is actually not much more dense than Denver, 1850/sq km vs 1550/sq km

      stats from here: http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/largest-cities-density-125.html

      i have walked various parts of Copenhagen and i would say the perception of density is deceptive; while the housing units themselves are more dense, there is also a huge amount of civic space and even the apartment blocks have large open spaces within them

      Denver will have difficult emulating Copenhagen, though, because here there is simply too little respect among the travelers on the road

  9. ChrisA March 19, 2015 at 11:00 am

    There are many innovative ways to look at how we build our bike infrastructure. Urbanful had a great article on innovations cities are thinking about. Check the link out at the end. Overall, Broadway could easily remove parking on the left side of the street and rework some the intersections to remove parts of the sidewalk that stick out to create one continuous bike lane. With that, I believe it should be elevated and on the same level as the side walk as one solution to creating a safer bike lane. I wouldn’t want to see the normal concrete barriers to make it a protected lane, but would rather see something more innovative and creative.

    I would even support a crowd funding solution to help raise some of the money to an idea that thinks outside the box to create something really unique.
    https://urbanful.org/2015/03/11/these-revolutionary-bike-lanes-could-change-cities-for-the-better/

  10. Wendy R March 19, 2015 at 1:15 pm

    I agree with some of the prior posters, part of the point of having a bicycle lane on Broadway is about visibility. One of the questions that comes to mind for me is, what is really important to the city? Is moving people or moving cars the top priority?

    If Denver wants to be a leader I think having bicycle infrastructure on Broadway is the way to prove it. I think if we keep bicycle infrastructure on the periphery then we as a city are saying the status quo is good enough. This isn’t just about bicycles though, the whole street scape is impacted positively. AS mentioned before 15th is a “dead street” no one wants to walk there, Broadway is unattractive to walk down now in many places. Adding bicycle infrastructure adds a slower quieter buffer to the street scape making it a better place for *people* to walk, chat, shop, eat, and enjoy the city.

    Personally, as a Denver city resident and tax payer for 10 years I think we should make the Broadway infrastructure the crown jewel of our multimodal city. I want us to stand out, to push the envelope, to get outside the normal city comfort zone–because that is exactly the kind of people I want Denver to attract in order to keep the city vibrant and relevant on a longer term and national scale.

  11. mckillio March 20, 2015 at 7:16 am

    The more I think about this, the more I support it. Broadway is basically a low speed freeway with lots of pedestrian friendly shops. Putting this plan in place would help the businesses, make the area pedestrian friendly and safer, get people who bike on Broadway and yes slow down traffic some. The only issue I have with it is that they’re not doing it to Lincoln as well.

    I would also like to see 11th between Cheesman and Osage become a major bike artery, replacing the second east bound lane and meridian with bike lanes almost the entire length.

  12. JerryG March 20, 2015 at 9:32 am

    What makes Broadway the most attractive for a protected bike lane is the same reason why it is a major corridor. With the exception of Lincoln, the parallel streets are not all continuous for the entire distance; they are interrupted by Speer/Cherry Creek and eventually I-25. Cyclists, transit riders, and drivers all prefer to be on the major corridor especially since it is also a ‘Main Street’ corridor. Broadway is, outside of peak hours, a five lane, one-way road, something you typically see in highways not city streets. The actual proposal proposal that is being studied removes one traffic lane on the opposite side of the peak-time bus only lane (which would become bus only all the time). The bike lane would also be next to the sidewalk and the parking placed next to the traffic lanes with at least a 3ft buffer between parking and bike lanes. No conflicts with buses and little concerns about being ‘doored’. I apologize to those who think otherwise, but you can not improve the multi-modal character of the city streets without inconveniencing drivers somehow, somewhere. Given the current size of the one-way portion of Broadway, it seems like a good street for the adjustment especially considering that Lincoln is currently one lane smaller.

  13. JohnPO March 24, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    The issue about connectivity for bicyclists is to treat the specific situation accurately. If the intention is to move bicyclists into the city as part of a commuting pattern, then the path must meet the demand use. One of the biggest complaints of non-cyclists is that cyclists do not follow the rules of the road, specifically the failure to observe stop signs and stoplights. However, if a commuting pattern is set up where a long distance is intended along a “quieter” stretch of road with multiple stop signs and/or short timed stoplights, cyclists will be very tempted to bypass these elements to avoid an agonizingly slow commute. This can be seen to some extent along 12th and 16th Avenues. And it is the reason why some cyclists brave 13th, 14th, 17th, Broadway, and Lincoln today to avoid all of the stopping points. This is why some of these planned routes end up as partial failures. If bike lanes are added to Broadway, there is an opportunity for cyclists to more closely follow the rules of the road and still feel like they are making good time. Obviously there are other opportunities for bike lanes to be part of larger bike trails where scenery and the ride are more important than the commute and this can mean routes intentionally planned off of major thoroughfares. In my opinion, however, Broadway is a commuter route and should be included as part of the bike infrastructure.

    • Wendy R March 26, 2015 at 11:01 am

      I am a bicycle commuter who currently braves 17th Street, albeit for as short a distance as possible. It is scary but it is totally direct, if I wanted to stay on bike routes to get from home on the north side to my office at 17th and Tremont I would have to take Champa to 14th and back up Court Street likely doubling my commute by stopping to wait at a light at nearly every intersection. A bike lane on Broadway would cut my commute time down and make it MUCH safer than riding 17th street with the buses.

  14. Tyler March 30, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    I know it is often not feasible, but my take on the matter is why not have bike lanes on all city streets? Obviously this can’t happen on many streets in places like Cap Hill because you simply cannot remove parking and the streets are simply too narrow. But any street with an extra lane to spare should be converted to a bike lane (preferably a protected one at that). This would be ideal for one way streets with multiple lanes (i.e. 13th Avenue and 14th Avenue, and, though it might be bold, even York Street and Josephine street). One way streets may cause headaches for some motorists but converting a two-lane, two-direction street into a one-way with an auto lane and a bike lane (and an opposite conversion on a parallel street, obviously) could lend space for bike lanes where we perceive there to be none. The more bike lanes we have, the less issue there is with the “last block” scenario. Bike lanes for Broadway and bike lanes for Bannock! Problem solved.

  15. Travis Willer May 4, 2015 at 5:08 am

    An additional consideration that hasn’t been discussed yet with the concept of moving bikers to low AADT side streets as either “bike streets” or bike boulevards or as a place to install bike lanes; is that the major streets are where the destinations are. Bikers, just like car drivers or others, will still want to get to the shopping, housing, entertainment and other destinations along the major thoroughfares. If you remove or don’t install the bike lane or infrastructure choice along the major roadway, you will be forcing the bikers to either ride on the sidewalk or in traffic.

  16. timothy May 11, 2015 at 10:18 am

    I think the bike lanes should be on the least busy streets that go through speer. For example, bannock is no good, because you can’t get through cherry creek. But 11th is a great street for a bike lane

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