The Mile High City is known for being bike-friendly, from the expansion of bike lanes on the major thoroughfares and residential neighborhoods to the popularity of mountain biking in the Rockies. In fact, Lemonade Insurance named Denver as one of the safest cities for cyclists in the country.
Lemonade Insurance isn’t the only outside party to rank Denver highly for cyclists. The popular cycling site, aptly named Bicycling, also ranked Denver as one of the top fifteen most bike-friendly cities.
However, some safety experts in Denver find Lemonade’s study significantly flawed. Traffic deaths in Denver are on the rise, and the numbers for 2021 are the highest since the city’s Vision Zero traffic safety initiative. The 84 traffic deaths in 2021 included four bike accidents — the highest number of bike accident deaths in over a decade.
So, is Denver a truly safe place to ride your bike? Take a closer look at bike safety in our state’s capital and the methodology that Lemonade and Bicycling used to arrive at their safety ranking conclusions.
What Makes a Large City Bike-Safe or Bike-Friendly?
Lemonade’s bike safety methodology used data in five different categories to achieve its final score. The scores and categories including:
- 30 points: Cyclist fatality rate per 10,000 people who commute to work on a bicycle
- 35 points: Number of miles and buffered bicycle lanes
- 20 points: Percentage of cyclist commuters per total number of workers in the city
- 10 points: Bike thefts per total exposure in a city (using proprietary claims data)
- 5 points: States that pass laws actively promoting cyclist and pedestrian safety
Each city was evaluated using the criteria above. Because Lemonade awarded 2.5 points for every law in the fifth category, some cities may have earned more than five points for that category. The insurance company used the resulting scores to rank cities for bike safety.
Bicycling notes that editors sifted through “hundreds of data points” to reach their top 15 rankings.
The system uses 100 points divided into four categories, weighted based on the importance of each. Safety is the “heaviest,” followed by accessibility. The third is energy, or the political climate of biking, and finally, culture, or unique features of the city, like shops, scenic routes, or entertainment, that make a city fun to ride a bike in.
Some other considerations include:
- How many residents ride bikes or own bikes?
- How safe is it to bike (using city crash data information)?
- How easily can bikers or pedestrians get around the city?
- How large is the network of bike paths, and is the city actively increasing it?
- Can pedestrians or cyclists effectively move from one community to another?
Bicycling’s criteria are similar to Lemonade’s, but neither ranking has taken into account the sharp rise in cyclist deaths in the past few years.
Denver’s Unique Benefits for Bikers
Denver actively promotes cycling to work and facilitates incorporating bike travel with some car travel or public transportation use.
The Regional Transportation District (RTD) stations all have "Bike-N-Ride" shelters for cyclists to lock up their bikes before boarding a bus, train, or light rail. And for people who don’t own a bike, Denver offers an electric bicycle rental program which is growing in popularity.
The US 36 Bikeway in Denver truly makes the city stand out as far as bike friendliness goes. This 18-mile route is 12 feet wide, allowing multiple cyclists to ride in tandem and facilitating two-way travel. Commuters and pleasure riders alike can comfortably ride through the metro area, including the city center.
On the growth of dedicated bike lanes in Denver, Jill Locantore, Denver Streets Partnerships' executive director, notes that "Denver has made good progress on building out more miles of bike lanes in the past few years. But relatively few of these bike facilities are fully protected bike lanes with vertical separation between bicyclists and vehicular traffic."
Unfortunately, cyclists in Denver may still be vulnerable to collisions with vehicle drivers. Many of these crash victims may opt to file a claim for damages against the car that struck them in order to recoup the cost of medical care after the accident and replace a damaged bike.
Remembering Victims of Fatal Bike Accidents in Denver
Denver’s Vision Zero, the city’s initiative to reduce traffic fatalities, sponsored a Ride and Walk of Silence to remember the victims of a tragically fatal bicycle collision. The annual Ride and Walk of Silence is held at Rude Park, 2855 West Holden Place.
Participants may either walk to remember those who died or take part in a half-hour bike ride. Once this is complete, the victims’ names will be read aloud at the vigil.
Most of the streets with the highest number of car-bike accidents are along major transit corridors and state highways, indicating the need for more protected bike lanes in these areas.
Furthermore, the Colorado Department of Transportation and the RTD are working together with the City of Denver to improve the safety of cyclists along these major thoroughfares and turn them from deadly motorways to people-friendly, multi-modal roads.
Locantore anticipates an increase in Denver’s investment in improving non-vehicular transportation, including expanding bike lanes and making bike commutes safer and more accessible. From service levels to infrastructure, the Denver Streets Partnership is focusing on truly making Denver’s streets safer, especially for people on bikes.
Although there is no perfectly safe city for biking, Denver may still be considered one of the safer ones, despite the increased number of pedestrian deaths. People riding bikes in the Mile High city should use caution and refrain from distractions like headphones or using their phones while riding.
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