I’m a Denver transplant. I came here almost 50 years ago in my 20’s having escaped from New York City. I’m all too familiar with traffic congestion on roadways like the Long Island Expressway (not-so-fondly known as the longest parking lot in the world), the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the West Side Highway, the Belt Parkway, and, of course, midtown Manhattan. Other than in the wee small hours of the morning, the so-called “expressways” are such in name only. And the streets of Manhattan were the inspiration for the term “gridlock.”
What Denverites complained of as rush-hour traffic on the Valley Highway in the 1970s seemed like the wide open spaces to me, by comparison. That was then; this is now. You bet, we have a serious problem of traffic congestion in the metro area, the consequence of our rapid population growth. And it’s not just at rush hours. This is the new normal here. But like so many other public policy problems, this one has no “solution,” just mitigations, one of which is mass public transit. New York City has plenty of that, including a massive subway system, but the traffic congestion is nonetheless a constant, just as it is in Chicago, Boston, L.A and, as it will be from now on, in Denver.
Metro Denver’s mass public transit isn’t as “mass” as NYC’s. We have our own buses and light rail, and that helps somewhat. But what certainly won’t make any significant difference is the so-called “multi-model” remedy of bike lanes. I know, Colorado is a healthy, active, outdoorsy place. And I have nothing against bicycles or bicyclists ─ except for the minority of them who are arrogant, holier-than-thou, condescending, enviro-signaling, road hogs. (Incidentally, Spandex is derived from oil.)
The bicycle lanes downtown on 14th and 15th Streets steal space from motorists and have only made traffic worse. They’re more than annoying; they’re bizarre, confusing, unproductive and unnecessary. The one on Broadway north of I-25 looks like something designed by Rube Goldberg. New ones on a two-mile stretch near the Denver Tech Center along Monaco Parkway by Southmoor are absurd. They’re on a road divided by a median that had two traffic lanes in each direction. The bike lanes have now taken two of those lanes away. I drive that stretch often and I’ve never seen a single bicycle on them. Denver city government is hell-bent on creating a 125-mile network of bike lanes. Perhaps the ones on Monaco Parkway were put there to score two easy miles toward that bike-lane paradise.
Bike paths are a good thing in parks, the hills and suburban areas away from busy city streets. When bike lanes, like the ones downtown, are intertwined with crowded vehicle roadways they’re a nuisance for motorists and a hazard for bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike. As a remedy for relieving traffic congestion during commuting hours, bike lanes are a prayer masquerading as a policy. A fifteen-pound titanium racing bike is no match for a 5,000-pound Ford F-150 pickup. Duking it out with motor vehicles in traffic is death-defying. Do these daredevils imagine there’s a bicycle god of justice watching over and protecting them for their dedication to personal fitness or the environment?
This isn’t Copenhagen where bicycles are fashionable and economical for young students. Nor is this a less-developed country where the masses can’t afford cars and clog city streets with bicycles, scooters and rickshaws. In Colorado, we like our convenient, comfortable, personalized cars and pickups. Our annual “take your bike to work” day is irrelevant theatrics. Bicycling as a daily trek is impractical for all but a tiny minority of commuters, especially during our cold, icy winters. In other seasons, heat and rain will make for an arduous trip to the office and a malodorous day for nearby co-workers.
An unrealistic platitude is that motorists and bicyclists need to “share the roads.” In practice, that can’t reasonably mean equally share the roads, the primary purpose of which is to move a high volume of traffic, people and goods quickly and efficiently from one point to another. Cars, buses and trucks are best at this, and the roads are mainly for them. Bicyclists are junior partners. Vehicle registration fees, ownership taxes and gasoline excise taxes are big revenue raisers. They don’t come from bicycles. Then again, maybe the city could provide transponders to bicyclists and add an HOB toll-lane adjacent to existing bike lanes for “high-occupancy bicycles” (built for two or three).
Denver just spent $221,060 on a nifty Dulevo D.zero2 electric street sweeper specifically designed for cleaning narrow bike lanes protected by barriers, with, no doubt, future purchases to come. Well, la-dee-dah! In 2015, Denver City Council members, Mary Beth Susman and Albus Brooks, revealed their ideological commitment to radical bycyclism with their declaration that they intended to discourage driving in Denver by making it more accommodating to bicyclists and more “inconvenient” for motorists.
That explains a lot.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.