Bike to Work Day: How bikeable is Denver? -

Bike to Work Day: How bikeable is Denver?


Coming off a successful Bike to Work Day that saw at least 2,000 more cyclists than last year, it’s easy for Denver riders to pat themselves on the back.

But just how bikeable is the Mile High City?

Turns out that it’s not the best, but it’s not the worst. In fact, it’s pretty good.

“We’re not at the top, but we are very close and we are striving to get to the top,” Denver’s urban mobility manager Emily Snyder said. “There’s really nothing standing in our way as far as geography and climate.”

Preliminary estimates show that Bike to Work Day 2017 either reached or exceeded its pre-event prediction of 34,000 participants, Denver Regional Council of Governments spokesman Steve Erickson wrote in an email. Over the past five years, the event, sponsored by DRCOG, has grown 35 percent.

In several different rankings, Denver often lands in the top 10, if not the top five, for bikeability among similarly sized cities, Snyder said. In May, real estate brokerage Redfin ranked downtown Denver as the fourth most bikeable downtown in the country.

“(Biking to work) is one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” said Arno Vanzyl, an employee at Hard Rock Cafe downtown who started riding his bike to work every day about three months ago. He said it has saved him money and helped him meet new people. He’s also in better shape and in a better mood. “I’ve seen parts of Denver that I’ve never seen before. And I don’t miss the road rage.”

Roughly 6 to 7 percent of downtown employees commute on a bike, Snyder said. But citywide, the percentage drops to 3 percent. By comparison, 6 to 10 percent of people bike to work in Portland, Ore., one of the most bike-friendly U.S. cities.

Snyder said Portland started its bike push in the 1990s, giving it a leg up on Denver, which started just 10 years ago. The Mile High City was spurred into action ahead of hosting the 2008 Democratic National Convention. The city was also looking for a way to handle the increased number of people on the roads. It helped, too, that younger generations like to bike.

“We didn’t start as early in our bikeway network as some of these cities, so we’re catching up — and I think we’re catching up quickly,” Snyder said.

About 33 percent of Denver’s population say they will never get on a bike, Snyder said. Meanwhile, 7 percent are confident riding to work. About 60 percent say they’re in the middle — they’re interested in riding but would feel better if there was a greater sense of safety.

That’s not surprising: Safety, confidence and not wanting to sweat are some of the biggest reasons people say they don’t bike to work, she said. And they are fair concerns.

In 2016, four people died and 30 were seriously injured in bicycle crashes that involved automobiles, according to data from the Denver Police Department.

Denver resident Zack Smith said he has gone to the emergency room twice for bike crashes. As a motorist, he never noticed how much turn signals matter. But when on the bike, he has had to slam on brakes to avoid cars. In those instances, he’ll pound on a car’s window to draw attention. There are also some areas, such as the Highlands, that are just too hilly and too full of cars for him to bike.

“I was new to commuting, so I was pretty careless,” he said, referring to his two ER trips. “It taught me a lot about traffic laws that drivers don’t pay attention to. It’s up to everyone to be aware. I’ve seen drunk motorcyclists, distracted drivers, it’s just a recipe for disaster.”

One of the ways the city addresses safety is its creation of more protected bike lanes, which put physical barriers between bicyclists and drivers. The city takes on 15 to 20 miles of bike improvements a year, Snyder said.

Denver also is working to create safer neighborhood bikeways and improving wayfinding signage.

For people interested in riding a bike to work, Snyder had some advice: Plan your route, which won’t necessarily be the same way as you go by car. Have patience because it probably won’t go smoothly at first. And go slow, which takes care of the sweat problem.