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A clear path: Communities adding bike lanes

Lanes to enhance transportation, public safety


Daniel Hyde use to be an avid mountain biker, but he now prefers road biking. He logs between 1,500 and 2,000 miles a year and hits the pavement throughout the Denver metro, he said. His biggest annual venture is a 250-mile, three-day ride that he travels to the East Coast to participate in.

“The big thing is, it's a low-impact way to stay in good shape,” the 43-year-old Golden man said.

For him, cycling is a way to exercise that presents a low risk of injury. Still, he said, road biking has its drawbacks.

“The first word that comes to mind is scary,” Hyde said.

When on the road, Hyde said he often competes for space with vehicles, and not all drivers are pleased to share the lane with cyclists.

“When I have every right to the roadway as the vehicles does but the driver of the vehicle isn't aware of that,” he said, “generally speaking, they can become very, very aggressive.”

There may be good news for Hyde, who also works as a bike patrol officer on Golden's police force, as many Denver metro communities are looking to provide a clear path for cyclists. For some municipalities, the work began several years ago, and for others, it's just getting started.

Regardless, officials say adding bike lanes doesn't just support more modes of transportation. From a public safety perspective, they enhance the ability for motorists and cyclists to share the road safely and more comfortably.

In Castle Rock, on-road bike lanes have become the new standard. When a new road goes in, excluding smaller neighborhood streets, so does a bike lane. The town has also reviewed its existing roadways and added bike lanes where appropriate, transportation planner Tom Reiff said.

The town has more than 33 miles of bike lanes, and with the construction of new roads, that number is expected to rise.

“Every year it goes up,” Reiff said. “It's been a trend throughout the country for quite a while now and we just wanted to make sure that we account for all user groups.”

Reiff said providing a distinguishable space for cyclists can increase safety on the road.

“It alerts motorists to be on the lookout for cyclists, that they might be on the road, so it heightens their awareness,” he said.

Bryce Matthews, planning manager for the Town of Parker, said the town adopted a new bike lane plan in 2004 to accomplish many of the same goals Castle Rock is working toward.

Mainly, Parker sought to support bike lanes throughout town, he said, and use them to connect key areas. Often, that meant getting people safely from the trail to the grocery store or to school without forcing cyclists and pedestrians to share the sidewalk.

“We have sidewalks, obviously,” he said, “but the questions was, is there a safe place where bikes can have some space within the road right-of-way where they're not conflicting with pedestrians.”

In the north metro area, Northglenn began a bike lane pilot project in July, adding the city's first bike lanes as it builds a new bicycle and pedestrian master plan.

The goal of the bike lane project was to give residents the experience of road biking, senior planner Ashley Kaade said. It tested both separate bike lanes along the community's Grant Street, and “sharrow” lanes, which encourage drivers to share the road with cyclists. Community feedback will help Northglenn decide how to add bike lanes in the future as well.

The new bike and pedestrian plan comes in light of the town's changing demographics, Kaade said.

“We do have a good percentage of older adults, like many communities in the Denver metro region,” Kaade said, “but we're also seeing a lot of young families and turnover in the housing stock as well.”

Bike lanes are one way to improve mobility for every demographic, she said.

Golden's Public Works Director Dan Hartman said officials found some people still aren't comfortable riding on the street. Providing a bike lane separates cyclists from motorists and offers a degree of comfort to the biker, he said. Although, he cautioned users still need to be responsible on the road.

“They aren't perfect,” Hartman said of bike lanes. “Drivers and riders still have to be aware of what's going on around them.”

Hyde agreed, saying bike lanes can offer a false sense of security to cyclists, who “still have to be extremely safe and vigilant.”

But overall, he thinks more bike lanes are a good thing for public safety.

“I think they're helping quite a bit. What it does more than anything is it makes it more black and white to the motorists as to where the cyclist is going to be,” he said. “With bike lanes, it's much more enjoyable.”


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