This is the first in a series of weekly reviews of shared Streets
In 1867, President Andrew Johnson’s William Seward purchased territory from the Russian Empire that would later become the State of Alaska. While some decried this purchase of unused land at first, likening it to being “Seward’s Folly”, the territory would find success and growth in the later 19th and 20th century, achieving statehood in 1959.
Today, as the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) tries to make good on their promise of building 125 miles of bike lanes, it seems as if they have stumbled upon their own folly in the creation of the 16th Avenue Bikeway, an east/west connection of Lower Downtown and the North Capitol Hill/Uptown area to City Park
Though I have ridden the bikeway several times because I live close to it, I wanted to get a feel how it would feel during peak traffic time. My solution? Ride during the City Park Jazz Festival that takes place every Sunday, which also happened to coincide with several Pride Events that happened last weekend. I left a little after 6:00 going west to east, and came back around 7:40, right as the Jazz festival was ending.
The west east approach, which starts roughly around Logan and 16th, is a slight climb, with a small downhill on the way to East High School and into City Park.
As I started my climb from the east, the claustrophobia of the design set in. The barriers and roundabouts were designed in such a way that, while it seemed like less cars were on the street, the cars that remained would speed up to narrowly leapfrog me as I headed towards the park. The barriers on both sides of the streets rendered the existing bike lane useless, as all traffic was pushed towards the narrow center. Outside of a couple other bicyclists, I was fairly alone with the cars, with a jogger being the only other person not on a bike in the street. While rainbow adorned revelers of Pride lined the sidewalks, I navigated the shared streets, noting that the bike lane heading towards West was completely filled with parking.
While much of the ride back was marked by the fact that I had gotten caught in a downpour that stopped at City Park, the westbound route towards downtown felt a slight bit more pleasant. At the the intersection of 16th and Park Ave, I caught up with a large group ride.
After passing the group, car traffic felt like it was significantly lower than on my ascent eastward. Exiting the Shared Streets, I moved into the bike lane until my turn, and headed home.
The one benefit that I noticed from this shared street in particular having ridden it prior to it being converted was the fact that car volume overall seemed smaller than when it was a bike lane. Whereas in the past it was a major thoroughfare, it seems like a lot of the traffic has been pushed to other streets.
The traffic that did remain on these streets, however, felt all squished together. The placement of the plastic barricades in a lot of circumstances did the reverse of what was needed to slow down traffic, encouraging motorists to speed up so they could “race” somebody on a bike to a stoplight or a roundabout barricade to get to their destination faster.
The question of whether it was truly a “shared street” with pedestrian buy in swirled through my head as well. If, during a busy Pride weekend, there weren’t people in the streets in droves, would it ever be seen as safe for pedestrians to use?
The value of having a truly shared street in this region of Denver would be great as a communication tool for multi-mobility and building out workable infrastructure. Unfortunately, it seems to have all of the negative aspects of a bad deal, similar to how outsiders viewed the purchase of Alaska in the 1800’s. If DOTI can fix the issues in regards to space on the street, doing things such as having protected bike lanes to and from the main stretch of of the shared streets, discouraging and limiting car usage along it, and possibly sponsoring events in the street to encourage usage by pedestrians, they may be able to get away from making this stretch of road DOTI’s Folly
*Featured Image is the entrance to the 16th Ave Shared Street from 16th and Pennsylvania