Denver proposes new bike lanes near Wash Park

Residents voice concern over bringing protected lanes to a historic street


As Amy Kenreich pulls up to the intersection at South Marion Parkway and East Dakota Avenue, she slows at the stop sign and reminds her two children to do the same.

“What do I always tell you?” she asks her son, Dylan.

“One foot on the ground,” he replies.

Kenreich is a community volunteer with the Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Committee. The committee was formed as part of the Mobility Action Plan, which outlines various transportation and safety goals. Vision Zero, the goal to have zero pedestrian traffic deaths by 2030, is part of the plan, which also aims to have 30% of commuters walking, biking or taking transit by 2030. In 2017, voters approved the Elevate Denver Bond fund that included $18 million for bike lane projects throughout Denver.

Lowering traffic deaths means the city also has been looking into ways to make bike lanes safer. Protected bike lanes give bicyclists more space. Drivers also tend to go more slowly around these types of lanes, according to a study by Fehr and Peers Transportation Consultants.

One of those projects is enhancing a current bike lane along a four-block stretch of South Marion Parkway.

Meeting with the community

For the past month, Kenreich has been speaking at community meetings about the new protected bike lane along South Marion Parkway, which is across the street from Washington Park. Kenreich often commutes through the city on her bike, but said this particular lane is important to her because she lives five blocks away. The lane will also help better connect the park bike trails to the trails along Cherry Creek.

To get more people on bikes means the city must focus on what Kenreich calls the “concerned, but interested” group. These are people who want to commute more on their bikes, but worry about riding in the street with traffic. Research from the National Research Center Survey of Residents about Active Transportation, shows that nearly 60% of people living in metro-Denver would ride bikes if they felt the roadways were safer.

“So many people around aren’t comfortable riding in traffic,” Kenreich said. “You have to make it convenient and safe for people to get from point A to point B.”

Very few routes in Denver are connected to each other, making a map of bike lanes in the city look like “uncooked spaghetti,” she said.

Marion Street Parkway is divided down the middle by a grassy median. On either side, the street is 27 feet wide, according to city records. Traffic flows one way on each side. Next to the traffic lane is a bike lane, and then there is a lane for parking, followed by the sidewalk and trail side of the street.

The city is proposing to enhance the bike lanes on Marion by providing a larger buffer between the lanes and traffic. Protected bike lanes create a physical buffer between the bike lanes and traffic. Planters, bollards or even a parking lane are just some of the methods cities can use to help create space between the two types of traffic.

Denver Public Works is in the design and public comment process for the Marion lanes. The department has created five options for protected lanes, including swapping the parking and bike lanes, adding three feet of buffer space between traffic and bike lanes, or moving the bike lanes to the left side of the street along the parkway.

Since the city is in the design phase, Public Works is taking comments from the public on the lanes. Although a portion of the $18 million in bond funds will go toward the project, Heather Burke, a spokesperson with Public Works, said in an email the department won’t have a cost estimation until later in the process. The bond funds will help pay for about 50 miles of bikeways, she added.

Historic quality

Residents have concerns about the plan.

Marion is not only registered as a historic parkway in the city of Denver, but nationally as well. Patsy Brown worried that some of the designs proposed by the city would damage the street’s historic quality.

The argument that bike lanes help slow traffic on streets doesn’t really apply to Marion, she said. Steele Elementary School is located on the street, and the speed limit is already lowered as part of a school zone.

The area also is already fairly calm because of the way the parkway is set up, said Brown, adding that existing bike lanes could be used as an example for safer lanes on other streets.

“That’s why it was designed, to preserve greenery and character, and all that good stuff,” she said. The mayor “should just use this as a template because it’s here and it works.”

Brown is not the only resident on Marion who is hesitant about the new bike lanes.

A large group of residents had questions during a Washington Park East Neighborhood Association meeting on June 11. Many brought forth concerns about construction on the lanes, as well as safety for pedestrians crossing the lanes and the potential loss of parking spots.

“Parking is critical,” Brown said.

A few people also voiced the possibility of converting a gravel trail on the west side of the street into a bike lane instead.

Outside of the meeting, Brown also said the street is very narrow. She feared that adding a buffer between the bike and traffic lanes would make it difficult for larger trucks to use the street. The neighboring Washington Park fire station, 1500 E. Virginia Ave., frequently uses South Marion to get to major streets like Alameda Avenue, she added.

Burke said the city is working on many of these concerns.

Public works has been in contact with the fire department to ensure its access to the street is not restricted. The department is also working with Parks and Recreation to ensure designs for the lanes fall within the strict guidelines of the city’s designated parkways, she said.

As for the width of the street, Burke said fitting a protected lane into the street is not a problem as far as city guidelines go.

“The travel lane and parking lane dimensions are actually wider than our current standards, so there is enough space for a protected bike lane, a parking lane and travel lane,” she said.

Kenreich presented at the June 11 meeting and helped answer some residents questions. The dialogue between the community and advisory group has been positive overall, she said. Most people have safety as a goal, also a priority for the new bike lanes.

“It’s very easy to think what’s wrong with it and the way it is,” she said. “In the end, I think people will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.”


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