Residents, Business Owners, College and City Officials Split on Proposals to Remove On Street Parking for Bike Lanes
Few people would say they oppose new bike lanes. Nearly every community survey, focus group, and neighborhood meeting says the same thing: Denverites support making alternatives to cars safer and easier. Where the rubber meets the road, so to speak, is where those new bike lanes will be. More specifically, the conversation is whether new bike lanes should replace space that’s been the domain of cars: the side of roads used for on-street parking. In NW Denver, that discussion is coming to a head, with the Department of Transportation and Infrastructure, neighborhood bike advocates, business owners, and Council members taking sides about a proposed bike lane on Lowell, with other routes planned as well.
The city’s plan is to create two-way protected bike lanes on Lowell from 46th to 52nd avenue, connecting bike routes in the Berkeley and Regis neighborhoods including a path under I-70 with connection points at Regis University and Rocky Mountain Lake Park. They would also connect with four East-West bike routes. The proposed path is part of a larger network that’s partially completed with approximately a dozen more routes planned in NW Denver. Protected bike lanes are called such because they have a physical barrier between the bike lane and car lanes, which are safer for bicycle riders than lanes directly adjacent to car lanes.
In order to make room, the city is planning on removing parking on the West side of Lowell, which has business owners around 49th and Lowell organizing opposition. “It would hurt my business,” said Eef who runs Dubbel Dutch. “I sell imports. I’m a destination location.” Eef, like other business owners, she said she supports bike lanes, but not in front of her business. “What they’re doing is beautiful — making the city more bikeable.”
Stan Ford is the owner of Treasures Outlet, which sells antiques, items from estate liquidations, and other larger items. He said his business depends on the ability for larger vehicles to bring and take items and also opposes the lanes. “Bicycles don’t bring us business,” Ford said at a recent meeting with community members and city staff. He also believes the proposed bike route isn’t safe for cyclists since many drivers speed down the road.
In an email to Lowell business owners in September, Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval told them she was “pushing back on this proposal,” and encouraged them to keep reaching out to city agency officials to voice their concerns. In a recent interview with The Denver North Star, Sandoval expressed her frustration in what she sees as a piecemeal approach to transportation in the area. “I feel like they can’t work in a silo,” said Sandoval. She explained that when Regis University increased their parking rates, more students began parking in the neighborhood. In response, the city imposed residential parking permit restrictions that barred non-neighborhood residents from many streets. That decision now has ramifications on the bike route proposal, as parking is limited in the surrounding neighborhood, pushing more people to park on Lowell. Ultimately, she hopes the various city agencies can coordinate better. “They need to not create winners and losers,” said Sandoval. “Long story short, it needs more work.”
Supporters of the proposal point to a lengthy planning process and community support for the expansion. A bike route on Lowell had been proposed at least as far back as 2011 in city planning documents and was listed as a priority in the 2019 Blueprint Denver plan. An online survey done by the city this summer yielded over 1100 responses from people who said they lived, worked, or frequented the area. One question in that survey specifically explained the rationale behind removing parking and asked whether respondents supported removing parking to create more bike lanes as well as safer ones. 66% of respondents said they supported the idea.
Several residents interviewed questioned why businesses didn’t use some of their property to create parking if they felt it was important, and noted that the area has several unused and underutilized surface lots that could be improved to create parking. The section of Lowell does have at least one empty, undeveloped lot owned by Regis and other businesses have antiquated parking lots that could be improved to create additional parking options.
Additionally, the proposed route utilizes one of the few existing roads under I-70, putting a damper on the idea of a new bike route using one of the side streets instead.
While several of the business owners have been critical of online outreach and have wanted to see more in-person discussions, the one meeting on Lowell in October could hardly be considered productive and wasn’t compliant with city safety requirements. One maskless business owner was inches from other participants’ faces when handing out fliers in opposition. When city staff tried offering him a mask, he refused. Only when they said everyone needed a mask to participate or the meeting would end did he leave to don an “easy breathe” mesh mask that didn’t meet basic criteria for safety. Throughout the meeting, other business owners in opposition had makeshift scarves and masks falling off or removed them while speaking, again prompting reminders about public safety. When city officials offered to walk the route with them to discuss specifics of the plans, opponents declined, preferring to stay in a back parking lot, repeatedly interrupting presenters. Little of the conversation seemed to move the dialogue forward in any meaningful way.
A change in parking, bike routes, and traffic flow is certain to impact Regis University as well, who shared the following statement:
“Regis University supports the City and County of Denver’s efforts to make biking on city streets safer and will cooperate with city planners and our neighbors to ensure the new bike lanes increase the safety for all who use the roads. We applaud increasing access to our beautiful community parks, such as Rocky Mountain Lake Park.
While it means a reduction in available parking for our Regis University community and for our neighbors, the University believes the bike lanes will enhance safety and visibility on these narrow streets, which benefits our students, our staff and our neighbors. The University is aware there are environmental benefits to providing bike lanes – and connecting the city and county in a comprehensive way – that speaks to our Jesuit values, which include not only caring for one another, but caring for our planet.
While the University supports the bike lanes, we also hope the lanes will be created in a thoughtful way to limit disruptions for our local businesses and neighbors. We will partner with all parties involved to ensure the safety, health and wellness of the community in which we are proud to be a part.”
The city plans call for the bike route improvements to be made starting next year, but have recently begun an additional feasibility study that will take several months. A few neighborhoods over, a similar conversation is beginning regarding a proposed route on Tejon with businesses on that street beginning to express similar concerns. The Denver North Star will be following the community conversations and city plans as they solidify.
ILLUSTRATIONS COURTESY OF COURTESY OF THE CITY AND COUNTY OF DENVER