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

Note: Now that the big series of Doors Open Denver previews have concluded, we are temporarily returning these three popular bicycle posts from March back to the top-of-page position to facilitate more discussion. 

Bike Lanes on Low-Volume Side Streets

The case for concentrating our bike network planning on smaller, side streets is one that is equally as compelling as the case for focusing on large streets. However, that is not to say that we have to simply choose one option or the other.

Take Portland, for example: a city home to one of the most comprehensive bike networks in the country. They have focused much of their energy on public greenways: transforming small, low volume streets parallel to larger thoroughfares into neighborhood bike lanes. These greenways are more than just sharrows; they’ve actually built infrastructure into the streets. But they provide a safer bike route for people who don’t want to blow through at 25 mph. Additionally, this low-stress network connects all types of people on bikes to some of the city’s larger, more robust bike lanes and infrastructure such as the recently unveiled bike/ped/transit-only Tilikum Crossing Bridge.

portland greenways

*Example of one of Portland’s public greenways, courtesy of Bike Portland (source)

Focusing on smaller parallel streets such as Grant or Bannock isn’t just an option apart from Broadway, though. Actual infrastructure (buffered lanes) on these streets can provide necessary support for larger infrastructure projects in the city, such as Broadway. They provide a safer (both perceived and actual) route for the “interested but concerned” potential bike riders in the city as well as vital access for shorter trips.

According the 2009 National Household Travel Survey, 43.1% of vehicle trips in the US were three miles or less. If we were to create a system of “neighborhood greenways” to support larger, more intensively built bike lanes like the ones proposed on Broadway and Brighton, we encourage biking to people who are just running daily errands in their own neighborhoods. That keeps more cars off roads like Broadway and expands access to non-traditional bikers.

The debate over bike network planning on large versus small streets is an important one, with many successful examples of both. But, in the end, they two are not mutually exclusive. We need both types of infrastructure to create a robust and equitable network, which in the end, is everyone’s goal.

By | 2016-12-27T18:43:12+00:00 April 30, 2015|Categories: Advocacy, Bicycles, Infrastructure, Transportation|Tags: |19 Comments


  1. EcoCatLady March 28, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    I totally agree that all sorts of infrastructure is needed, for all sorts of riders – but I find it interesting that you think bike boulevards, or neighborhood greenways as you call them would cater more to the “interested but concerned” crowd and a buffered bike lane would serve serious commuters – I guess I sorta see it the other way around – a bike lane is hampered with traffic & stops while a bike boulevard is optimized for 20-25mph thru traffic.

    Perhaps I’ll just have to experience it to believe it, but I have a really hard time imagining that one could ride for more than a block or two on a Broadway bike lane without having to slow down considerably or stop altogether. I mean with the combination of stoplights, turning traffic, and very little space to pass other riders it seems like it would be an exercise in “clip-in, clip-out” frustration. Hopefully I’m wrong on this one!

    Interestingly, Denver is already planning to build a network of Bike Boulevards – the map is on page 3 of this document:

    Their choice of streets seems a bit crazy to me though – a very crude attempt at a grid with a disjointed system of stuff that doesn’t connect well… which might put a damper on my 20-25mph thru street dream, but we shall see.

    Anyhow, thanks for these posts – I’ve enjoyed reading all of the comments.

  2. sporobolus March 28, 2015 at 5:57 pm

    Bannock has several knocks against it, they could all be fixed but some of the fixes would require a lot of political will

    on the south end the painted lane stops at 1st Ave. and there are no signs to direct readers to the official route on Cherokee; south of Alameda a painted lane reappears only on the southbound side of Cherokee because the recent streetscape redesign couldn’t find room for lanes on both sides; as a result some confused bicyclists now ride north in the southbound lane

    then just south of Alameda Station the official route pushes cyclists east on Virginia and doesn’t turn south again until Pearl; the obvious link would be along the tracks to Broadway Station but inertia has worked against it for decades

    farther north, bicyclists have an awful choice when Bannock jogs at Speer — ride on Speer for a block and a half in often-nasty traffic, or take the sidewalks, always illegal, but in this location particularly poorly suited for bikes

    the bike lane from Speer to Colfax is pretty good, but then northbound riders face another obstacle — no good connection to 15th St. — so some ride the sidewalk in front of the Webb Building to get to Court Pl., others ride the wrong way on 14th to do the same (the best option is to walk the bike here)

    • mckillio April 29, 2015 at 8:56 am

      You are allowed to ride on sidewalks as long as you’re going 6mph or slower and get off the sidewalk within one block. You summed up the biggest issues with Bannock very well. Grant isn’t as bad but there is no room for bike lanes south of Speer.

      • sporobolus May 6, 2015 at 1:45 pm

        @mckillio – the sidewalk rule is different from your statement, and it’s significant: using the sidewalk as i described, as a link between segments of a trip on the street is not allowed

        other than designated bike routes, riding on sidewalks is unlawful except “When the operator or rider thereof is preparing to dismount and park the bicycle […] at a location on the block on which the bicycle […] is being operated, or the operator has just mounted and has not yet crossed a street or alley.” (Denver code 54-576; this ordinance is inaccurately summarized on the city’s website)

        a bicyclist on the sidewalk also has a duty to yield to peds and (per C.R.S. 42-4-1412) must signal when overtaking peds

  3. Overload in CO March 29, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    If the goal of a transportation plan is to move the most people, it would seem to me that putting bike lanes on low-volume side streets makes sense. Why impact a busy street when you don’t have to? Putting this volume on side streets would also create interest and growth on these streets.
    One thing not mentioned is that the slower speed limits on side streets better match the slow speeds of bicycles.

    • Wendy R March 31, 2015 at 8:01 am

      Hi Overload,

      It is clear that you are seeing the negative impacts on big streets, but I think there are positive aspects of adding bike lanes to big streets too–it probably depends on who you are as to whether they weigh out as overall positive or negative. I would encourage you to read John’s article about 16th street (east of the CBD it includes a bike lane) which discusses some of the detriments to cyclists of slow neighborhood roads and how it is likely to push them to major roads and/or law breaking. (http://denverurbanism.com/2013/08/bicycle-infrastructure-promotes-observance-of-bicycle-laws.html) If you had to stop your car every block, I bet that experience would be frustrating, and all you have to do to get going again is flex your ankle slightly.

      I think the upshot that we have to wait and see about would be getting people who are currently on Broadway in their cars to being on Broadway on their bike. It won’t happen right away, but in the term of years it has the potential to reduce car traffic on our Denver streets, which is a benefit to all road users.

      I’d never thought about it until a few weeks ago, but until the 1930’s, less than 100 years ago, the streets were the domain of people, pedestrians, but the auto industry and car clubs like AAA made a pointed effort to change the cultural norm by teaching kids that only cars belong on the street. And now we have to try to think differently and not just accept that interpretation. Note that “Jaywalking” is a derogatory term that likens a pedestrian to a country hick if they didn’t let cars rule the road–it bullied pedestrians into a diminished class of street user. (http://www.citylab.com/commute/2012/04/invention-jaywalking/1837/)

    • UrbanZen April 30, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      I generally agree with the idea of putting the bike infrastructure on the low-volume streets. If auto lanes are removed from high-volume streets like Broadway, I would first like them to be used as a dedicated mass transit lane. And if we spend all this effort and $ on a dedicated bike lane down Broadway, but it proves to be a slow ride due to all the lights and cars turning, I fear a decent number of bikers will just shift to an alternative route that moves faster or where they can blow throught the lights more easily (like say Bannock).

  4. Dan B May 1, 2015 at 8:40 am

    If we ever want bikes to be a credible alternative mode of transportation, we have to provide the same focus on efficiency as we do for cars today.
    NYC, has bike lanes on 5th avenue, Broadway and major avenues enabling bikers to move quickly and efficiently like other traffic.
    Quiet streets are great for recreational bikers. I have written various letters to Denver asking why Larimer St which is considered a bike lane, doesn’t have a designated bike lane painted from Broadway to 14th st, as it has from Broadway to the 30’s and the answer I’ve received multiple times is that I should use 21st street which is a great biking st and quiet. Such a joke of an answer as this streets are perpendicular to each other and 21st street doesn’t get me any closer to downtown for work.

  5. Kleeg PkOwski May 2, 2015 at 9:49 am

    One thing that’s common in cities with lots of bike commuters isnt just great bike infrastructure, but a general increase in difficulty in owning and parking a car. Replace parking lanes with bike lanes, take out surface parking lots… Borderline force people to ditch their cars in favor of trains and bikes. It sounds awful and unpopular, but the more a city grpws, the more this is a harsh reality. Denver seems to already be on the way!

    • mckillio May 3, 2015 at 8:13 am

      I don’t agree with removing street parking, it helps slow traffic and protect pedestrians. But I do agree with making driving a pain or rather truly pricing it. The gas tax is way too low and there is way too much free and cheap parking.

      Removing surface lots for development will help downtown but we also need to lower parking requirements for development as well.

  6. Jeff May 3, 2015 at 10:38 pm

    It’s not that we should force people to bike by making it artificially difficult to own a car, and I don’t even know how we would do that. We will induce them to bike by providing good safe lanes such as Cherry Creek Bike path. That is a very heavily used route because it is so safe.

    It is already difficult to drive around town during rush hour.

    The surface parking lots are already getting eaten up pretty quickly and that will continue. Street parking actually slows down traffic and thus can make for a more safe biking experience. I hate biking down 15th. It’s like a highway with no street parking. It’s probably time we raised meter rates or privatized the meters like Chicago did.

    • Ryan May 5, 2015 at 9:23 am

      Traffic congestion is clearly not a deterrent to people driving cars. I ride a bike most days to and from downtown from City Park and don’t often think about how much faster my commute is than all the angry people sitting in automobiles. Well, this past Friday, I needed to drive a car back home and then to Fort Collins starting around 4:00 PM. Took me just about three hours in total and 75% of that was just getting past Northglen.

      The swarms of people driving cars in and around the city is truly astonishing — all to sit in traffic with other people too stubborn to seek out more efficient transportation.

      More drastic measures have to be taken to end this senseless impulse to drive everywhere.

  7. DEN to PDX May 4, 2015 at 12:06 pm

    Yes there is a great network of low stress bikeways (predominantly neighborhood greenways) here in Portland. We however, have not seen the active transportation mode split increase as we continue to expand the greenway network. We are not really reaching the “interested but concerned” population through the greenway system. While they do provide low stress facilities in the neighborhoods, they meander and zig zag through the city which is a pretty significant barrier for new folks to use the network.

    Having direct route access with physical separation is the key to shifting modes. Separated facilities on commercial corridors also bring district level improvements to pedestrian safety and place making benefits for businesses. Yes these facilitates cost a lot more than sharrows and reduced speed signs in neighborhoods, but they achieve multiple objectives for commercial corridors like Broadway.

  8. Nash May 4, 2015 at 7:54 pm

    Amazing–this long-winded discussion about bikes versus cars, parking lanes, and not a word in any of this about streetcars as part of the equation. The rail mode will take thousands of car trips off the streets — not just hundreds, as with bikes. Bicycle riders totally focused on their “enemy” (cars), and not thinking about the true alternative to cars, rail — which is so compatible with biking.

    • mckillio May 5, 2015 at 6:15 am

      Well, this series of articles is strictly about bike lanes. To your point though, the cost for bike lanes is a tiny fraction of street cars and streets for cars for that matter, therefore more of a low hanging fruit and you should always go after those first. I do believe that we will need to add street cars to some of our major arterial routes in Metro Denver; Broadway, Colfax, Speer. But to be able to get that to pass we will probably have to be a little late to the party, meaning traffic congestion and cost of driving (both in terms of dollars, time and convenience) are much higher than they are now.

    • Ted May 5, 2015 at 8:37 am

      This is a good point. I was hinting at this in a comment on the previous post, but you make a decent point. Part of what we are missing, I think, is the idea that urban streets should have MULTIPLE carriageways/transitways/bike lanes, instead of the basic 2 (roadway and sidewalk) that we have been taught to expect is standard. In many cities I’ve been to, roads not any wider than the ones in Denver have 4, or sometimes more physically separated modes – Cycles, Streetcars AND/or BRT, sometimes even canals, as well as sidewalks and roadways. It certainly complicates things, but there’s no reason it cannot be done.

      Rather than thinking of just one N-S bike route, or just one streetcar route, I feel like instead we should be planning for the full range of options on every street each time they come due for reconstruction. Though in all fairness, Broadway does have a modest bus lane that could be reallocated to a streetcar at some point in the future if the city ever decides to get serious about that – so this isn’t necessarily precluded by the rendered cycle track.

    • Ryan May 5, 2015 at 9:38 am

      I think public transportation riders and cyclists are solidly united against any anti-car agenda. The problem is that victories in this fight are so few, we’re hungry for just about any inch of progress we can make. Right now, bike lanes have been much a easier win than the endlessly frustrating streetcar battle. We need both, but that shouldn’t mean we can’t be proud of just the one.

      Also, the lack of any mention in streetcar infrastructure among our municipal candidates this cycle means we aren’t doing out job. This should be a major issue and isn’t.

      • Jeff May 5, 2015 at 2:56 pm

        There was a study just last year about a streetcar on Colfax. It is too costly at this point in time.

        We need to continue to DENSIFY the heck out of the urban core. With more and more dwellings per acre, there will be far more bikes and peds, and traffic will get worse, probably a lot worse. The Denver Partnership already confirmed these figures in their latest report.

        Bike and ped infrastructure is relatively cheap and is immune to fluctuations in the energy markets. Low hanging fruit. All the status quo suburbanites who are complaining about their roads is funny, because they most likely don’t live in the core. If they did, they’d want more bike and ped infrastructure.

  9. Nash May 13, 2015 at 2:58 pm

    Jeff, on the cost issue for East Colfax, it becomes a chicken-and-egg debate. Just waiting for the density to rise along the route — to the point where it’s “cost effective” to build rail, because of auto congestion? Or plan and build now — before construction costs get sky-high — and watch the infill happen?

    As so well pointed out by Ryan, most of the newcomers on City Council haven’t staked out positions on streetcars in their districts yet. So on the political timetable, we urbanists are not late to the party (mckillio), but early.

    As you say, Ted, our city planning needs to re-think every street, not just the way they function now, but our planning should be aimed at how our transportation system can guide better land use, especially along Denver’s main boulevards.

    It’s about the planning concept of Place Making. A whole different class of density and building quality will happen when our big streets once again have streetcars. Build it, and they will build, along the line. And the low-grade scenes along much of East Colfax and Broadway will rapidly re-develop into great urban streetscapes.

    Re-imagining the Mile High City as a fun place to get around without a car — just walking, on a bike or on a streetcar — takes political leadership. As you say, Ryan, the lack of Place Making in the Denver leadership mindset “means we aren’t doing our job.”

    But I believe that street rail enthusiasm will blossom, once Union Station is fully up and running with the airport train, and when RTD re-thinks the Central Line as a streetcar prototype.

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