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Why these bike lanes in Denver only got a partial plow

"It's not just visually that it looks silly, but it also looks inappropriate if someone were to bike there."

DENVER — When cities plow the roads, main roads are prioritized.

Could you imagine if a city only plowed some of a main road, purposefully skipped a few blocks and then plowed the rest?

You do not have to imagine that scenario in the bike lanes of West Yale Avenue where some of the lanes are cleared and sections are not, by design.

The bike lanes on West Yale Avenue between Irving Street and Sheridan Boulevard are a mixture of a bike lane protected by bollards and a "buffered" bike lane, which means paint on the road that separates the lane of traffic from the bike lane on the shoulder.

The city uses a front-end loader to plow protected bike lane infrastructure, but not buffered bike lanes.

Cyclists on West Yale Avenue have some plowed lanes, and in some areas, they have to ride with traffic.

"It's not just visually that it looks silly, but it also looks inappropriate if someone were to bike there," said Denver City Councilman Kevin Flynn. "It's not only inappropriate, it's not safe."

Flynn, who represents southwest Denver, was part of meetings last year as the city Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) determined what the bike lanes would look like in that area.

That stretch of road is 30 miles per hour for vehicles.

The city did a speed and volume study, to determine how fast drivers were going and how many cars traveled each day.

The city determined 9,400 cars travel through the area per day.

"When we collected our speed data, we found the 85th percentile speed was as high as 37 miles per hour or 39 miles per hour," a DOTI representative said during a May 2022 meeting.

That meant that 85% of vehicles were going 37 miles per hour or slower westbound and 39 miles per hour or slower eastbound.

"Based on the speed and volume, a protected facility would be appropriate for this corridor, however based on feedback we've received, we're going to try installing a buffered bike lane first," the DOTI representative said in May 2022. "We are going to be installing some vertical protection elements on certain parts of the corridor based on feedback we've received so far."

It is those vertical protection areas that get cleared of snow, but not the entire stretch of West Yale Avenue.

"To force someone back out onto the vehicle lanes is simply not safe under the parameters that you just discussed from the meeting from last year," Flynn said. "In conditions like this, we simply have to clear the buffered area along with the protected area."

On the DOTI website regarding plowing, the city warns cyclists: "Throughout the winter season, people on bikes should be prepared to ride in a shared lane condition, utilizing the outermost lane available and may consider alternate transportation options based on health, ability, weather conditions and equipment."

Even though the May 2022 meeting revealed concern for cyclists sharing the same lane as cars, the infrastructure built by the city requires cyclists to use the same lane when there is unplowed snow on the ground.

"If we have provided this facility for cyclists, we have an obligation to maintain it," Flynn said. "The challenge is I got to get ready, then, to get 50 calls from people who live along Yale, who just cleared their sidewalks and then we just send a plow down the street that piles all of the ice and snow back onto the sidewalks."

A DOTI spokeswoman said that the buffered bike lane section that is currently not plowed "will be addressed on subsequent passes by our big plows."

"It’s only been 24 hours since the snow stopped, and so we are still running routes and widening out the travel lanes curb to curb," the spokeswoman said.

"I would ask that the department have a blade come out and take care, up to the curb. It would be great if they could do it before the residents actually go out and shovel their sidewalks," Flynn said.

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