Some of the most accident-prone streets in Denver for cyclists are designated as bike routes

CALL7 investigates injuries on city bike routes

DENVER - Some of the most accident-prone areas in Denver for bicycles are designated as bike routes, a CALL7 computer-assisted investigation found.

The bike route on 12th Avenue in the Capitol Hill and downtown areas was among the highest for accidents.

Cyclists say a few simple improvements could make the route safer and the city's Department of Public Works is reviewing conditions on 12th in response to our investigation.

Mariah Master is one of the cyclists injured on 12th Avenue. She was riding her bicycle to work last summer when she was hit by a car at the intersection of Pennsylvania Avenue.

"I ended up on her windshield as she made that turn without me knowing," Master recalled.

The driver of the car that hit Master was cited for careless driving, according to a Denver police report.

Master spent months recovering and racked up nearly $20,000 in medical costs that she had to fight to get insurance to cover.

"I mean it's not safe to ride here," she said.

But city public works officials believe 12th Avenue and all city-designated bike routes are safe -- though they conceded there could be improvements.

"Is it safe for bicyclists?" CALL7 Investigator Keli Rabon asked Matt Wager, the city's director of traffic operations.

"Well, 12th Avenue according to our number is a safe facility, but we are always looking to make things safer," he said.

Using a database of bike accidents, CALL7 Investigators found, not surprisingly, that the city’s main streets have the most car-versus-bike accidents.

Colfax Avenue topped the list in terms of serious incidents, tallying 72 injuries and a death in five years. On Federal Boulevard, there were 30 injuries. On Colorado Boulevard and on 14th Avenue, there were 25 injuries each.

None of those streets are designated for bicyclists, but several bike routes cross them, posing dangers. For instance, there was an accident on Colfax at Sherman Street, which is part of a city bike route.

On Speer Boulevard, there was a serious injury to a cyclist who tried to navigate several lanes of rush-hour traffic. The cyclist apparently was trying to connect from the Cherry Creek Bike Path to the bike route on 12th Avenue.

Twelfth Avenue and another route -- 16th Avenue -- had a comparatively large number of bicycle-involved accidents. Most of the crashes on those routes were concentrated in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where bicyclists are a common daily sight.

Our investigation shows that 12th and 16th Avenues have a similar number of injuries -- 15 and 16, respectively, over five years.  However, 12th Avenue stood out because bicycle counts conducted by CALL7 Investigators show more than twice the traffic on 16th Avenue, meaning the injury rate on 12th is much higher.

Wager said the city believes 12th and 16th Avenues are equally safe. He based his bike traffic counts on outside data of bicycle traffic, including a project by a University of Colorado student. That study showed roughly the same number of bicycles travel on 12th and 16th Avenues.

The reason Wager cites the university data is that the city hasn't done its own comprehensive counts of bicycle traffic in more than a decade. Only recently, the city started counting electronically in a pilot program.

So CALL7 Investigators -- a producer and intern -- performed independent counts at separate locations along 12th and 16th Avenues in Capitol Hill. The counts included morning and evening rush hour traffic, east- and west-bound, a total of 3.5 hours total over two days. The results: There are 2.3 times more cyclists on 16th Avenue.

One possible reason for the difference in our counts and the university's is that they were done at different time of year. However, a official with city Public Works said there were too many variables to know for sure.

Through the busiest parts of Capitol Hill, 12th Avenue has one lane each direction with cars parked on the street.

Cyclists and cars are expected to share the tight lanes. Signs designating a bike route near Sherman Street are marred by graffiti and the street surface is cracked with potholes in places.

In contrast, 16th Avenue is wide enough for cars to pass cyclists, and has designated bike lanes that are painted on the roadway.

Dan Grunig, director of Bicycle Colorado, a group that advocates for cyclists, praised Denver's $119-million “Denver Moves” plan that will add and improve bicycling around the city. Still, he's waiting to see how the 2011 plan will be implemented in coming years.

"Their Denver Moves plan looks at how to include bicycles into the city's transportation," he said. "It just needs to get it implemented, get it funded, and get more markings on the streets. Cities like Portland, Seattle,

Minneapolis, are seeing great successes by implementing their plans in a quick manner."

As part of Denver Moves, 11th Avenue, one block south of 12th in Capitol Hill, will add bike lanes in 2014, the city said.

Master said ride in lanes on 11th would make her feel safer. Right now, she said, "the whole neighborhood is a little scary to ride.” 

She said she'll believe it's safer when she sees it.

"I know they are promoting it, but it's kind of scary that it's not safe to be riding in town,” she said.

Track bike injuries and deaths around Colorado with the interactive map below.

Mobile users can click here to see the map based on 5 years of the most recently available data: http://batchgeo.com/map/COBikeCrashes

Denver Public Works responds to CALL7 Investigators:

We appreciate 7News inquiring about bike safety on 12th Avenue in the Downtown/Capitol Hill area. We maintain that the use of shared lane markings, or sharrows, on travel lanes is a safe and practical treatment for certain streets designated as bicycle routes, such as 12th Avenue. As with any transportation facility, Public Works recommends cyclists choose routes appropriate for their skill and comfort levels.

Sharrows are used to assist bicyclists with positioning on shared roadways such as roads with on-street parallel parking or roads that are too narrow for a travel lane with a designated, marked bike lane (approximately an additional 10-12 feet is needed to install a bike lane in each direction); sharrows also alert motorists that a bicyclist may occupy the travel lane.

Clearly, widening roads to provide bike lanes is not desirable or affordable in dense, mixed-use areas, and in some cases, is not possible due to geographical limitations. As with any concern brought to our attention, Public Works is reviewing conditions on 12th Avenue, especially at 12th and Speer Boulevard, to explore additional treatments that may be appropriate.  While Public Works remains committed to the continuous improvement of our multi-modal infrastructure, roadway safety is a partnership: personal behavior and responsibility by users of all modes is central to our safety as we share the roadway.

Currently, cyclists who prefer to utilize bike lanes have the option of choosing to ride on 16th Avenue rather than on 12th Avenue, and next year, a new and convenient option for users of the 12th Avenue facility will be available: a striped bike lane on 11th Avenue in the Downtown/Capitol Hill area.

The team appreciates your observations about the crossing at 11th Avenue and Speer Boulevard. As part of the upcoming bicycle improvements planned for 11th Avenue, please know that the appropriate adjustments will be made to the crossing at 11th Avenue and Speer Boulevard so it is more convenient and intuitive to cyclists and pedestrians. In advance of the work on 11th Avenue, we will designate the sidewalk along Speer Boulevard between the Cherry Creek Trail and 11th Avenue for bicycle travel to serve bikes exiting the Trail and continuing to 11th Avenue -- the designation will take about one month.

Read the Denver Moves plan:
http://www.denvergov.org/Portals/708/documents/FINAL_Denver_Moves.pdf

Denver bike map:
http://www.denvergov.org/Portals/708/documents/Bike_Map_Final_2012_Final.pdf

To report potholes or graffiti call: 311

CALL7 Investigators on Twitter:

Reporter Keli Rabon: @kelirabon
Producer Michael de Yoanna: @mdy1