Denver city planners have an opportunity to make the city’s North Side cleaner and more equitable by installing protected bike lanes on Tejon Street. Bike lanes on Tejon Street from 32th to 46th avenues would provide a critical north-south corridor for Denver bicyclists — offering a safe, efficient and pollution-free transportation alternative for Highland, Sunnyside and Chaffee Park neighbors.
But this opportunity is at risk of slipping away. Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, the agency in charge of the city’s bikeways, recently announced it is putting the brakes on the proposal due to pushback from local businesses and homeowners. The department over the summer plans to evaluate alternative routes on Shoshone and Quivas streets for a “neighborhood bikeway,” which would fall short of making Denver a truly bikeable city.
Since moving to Sunnyside in 2015, I have biked Tejon Street nearly every day to school at the University of Colorado Denver and my job downtown. To cut costs in an expensive city, my wife and I share one car. For our family, having a safe, efficient and affordable bike route to school and work has been an economic lifeline.
It is hard to overstate the importance of Tejon Street bike lanes to Denver bicyclists. In Sunnyside, there is currently not a single north-south bike lane. Bicyclists do have an off-street bike path on Inca Street on the neighborhood’s far east side. DOTI will soon install a bike lane on a short segment of Zuni Street north of 46th Avenue, and will designate Clay Street as a neighborhood bikeway, enhancing bicyclist safety by reducing vehicle speeds. While these are important first steps, bike lanes on Tejon Street would help fill a critical safety gap. Tejon Street offers the most direct route for bicyclists to access the 16th Street Highland Pedestrian Bridge, which is one of the few safe ways for North Side pedestrians, bicyclists and scooter riders to cross I-25 into downtown.
Currently, 73 percent of Denver commuters travel alone. Mayor Michael Hancock in 2017 announced a city-wide goal to reduce single-occupancy vehicle commutes to 50 percent by 2030. This goal is grounded in science and concerns for our air quality. Statewide, transportation became Colorado’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2020, according to the state’s Department of Public Health & Environment. On the Front Range, transportation is the top source of nitrogen oxides and the third largest source of volatile organic compounds, each of which are responsible for ground-level ozone pollution (the primary ingredient in “smog”). For Denver to achieve its air-quality goals, we need more people to car-pool, use mass transit, walk, ride scooters or bike to work. Getting more people on bikes would be a small, but meaningful, step towards making Denver a cleaner and healthier city.
For more people to use bikes, Denver needs to provide safe and convenient places to ride. Tejon Street is currently designated as a “sharrow,” which means bicyclists and motorists share one lane. This forces bicyclists to ride dangerously close to parked cars, risking injury or death if someone opens a door. When drivers encounter a bicyclist on Tejon, they must slow down and wait for an opportunity to pass. This is a stressful situation for drivers and bicyclists alike. Protected bike lanes are designed to provide space to each user to minimize conflicts. Thus, these bike lanes would improve the quality of the ride for everyone who uses the road.
Opposition to Tejon Street bike lanes from businesses and homeowners is not without merit. The city’s original proposal would require the removal of most parking on Tejon from 34th to 46th avenues, while preserving disability parking spots as well as RTD bus stops. I sympathize with those who are concerned over the removal of parking, as this can be a difficult transition for small and family-owned businesses whose customers expect convenient access to these establishments. Patrons of these businesses do have off-street and side-street parking options, and most residents along Tejon Street have off-street parking alternatives. Reducing Denver’s dependency on cars will require some sacrifices. On balance, protected bike lanes on Tejon Street will bring more good than harm to the broader North Side community.
The good news is that the Tejon Street bike lane proposal is “definitely not off the table,” city transportation officials told Sunnyside residents at a neighborhood meeting last month. Now is the time for North Side residents to contact city leaders to show their support for a bikeable Tejon Street.
More information on the Tejon Street bike lanes and other Northwest Denver bike projects can be found here: https://www.denvergov.org/Government/Departments/Department-of-Transportation-and-Infrastructure/Programs-Services/Bicycles/Networks#section-3
Philip Taylor is a Sunnyside Resident