Bicycle as toy, or bicycle as transit?

shoot-105This past Friday, Denver opened its first protected bike lane. Well, there is a protected lane in front of the Mayor’s office, but it was kind of a joke. It’s all of maybe 150 yards long and mostly for show. I almost never see anyone riding it and the cops park on it and block it frequently.

The new bike lane was badly needed. Trying to get down 15th avenue was a dangerous chore. You can’t ride a bike down neighboring car free 16th avenue except on Sundays, which is of little use to commuters. The no bikes rule is pretty rigorously enforced. I think the ticket is $75 or $100, so trying it on your own was not too bright. And 15th is one way, wide, and prone to high speeds. In other words, becoming a hood ornament was highly possible, and it is the fastest way for students at the UC Denver campus to get to class. Not the best situation. The protected bike lane was the correct answer to this problem. It had been talked about for years, and I’m really very glad to see it open finally. shoot-104

Taking a little jaunt down it, it’s pretty busy. They didn’t scrimp on it, even taking time to fill in seams in the concrete that could catch a front wheel and throw you. It’s just about as fast as driving, now that the light timing has been changed, and it meets up with the light rail twice, as well as the Cherry Creek Bike Path and other (non-protected) bike lanes. It’s an excellent ride, and a joy to use.

But I have to ask one question: why did it take so long?

I know there were issues of funding. There are always issues of funding in the government. It’s the nature of the beast. And issues of political will. And us folks who commute by bike are the minority: only 2.3% of people bike to work. But you have to consider that nation wide, the average is 0.6%. We are way ahead of the average. Denver has the 26th largest number of bike commuters in the US. The number of people biking to work here has more than doubled in the last ten years, a pretty nice sustained upward trend.

shoot-107The vast majority of money has been spent on our bike trails. Well spent, I might add. There are over 300 miles of car-less bike trail in Denver. Beautiful, wonderful trails you can literally spend days riding down. They’re useful, and, well, fun!

Therein lies the issue.

It seems to me that the way money is spent in this city on bike infrastructure holds dear to the idea that a bicycle is a toy.

Well, judging from my perception of riders in this city, I’d say that was right. There are far more spandex zippy suit wearing individuals on $3500 and up bikes riding their own personal Tour de France on weekends than there are members of the tucked pant leg and panniers crowd getting to work. I’ve never seen any data on this, but it’s probably true.

I don’t want fewer new miles of bike path opening in the future, though. I want more. I’d love to see a trail cross this whole state. Can you imagine? Rolling across the vast prairies in the east, then climbing the Rockies up switch-backed grades through a pass, and then dropping in to the verdant Western Slope. That would be an epic ride.  It’s not likely to happen, but a man can dream.

What I would also like to see, though, is more infrastructure that would support the bike to work crowd. If there were more protected lanes, people would feel safer doing their commute that way. Largely because they would be safer. If it was safer, I’m willing to bet more folks would take advantage of the 300 days of sun we get a year, and ride to work. I love riding to work. Not having to pay for a parking place for my car downtown saves me $150 a month alone, never mind the other costs like gas and such. Not mentioning the benefits to my mental and physical health.shoot-106

So what can be done to forward this?

Pretty simple. Just ride to work. Take part in our Ride to Work Day, which happens later than all the others to accommodate our weather. Join an advocacy group. Make sure the counters on 15th know the road is used- ride it.

The addition of places to ride benefits us all.

So get out there and just go for a ride. It’ll make everything better.

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