Biking Still Popular Commuting Method Despite Snow, Cold Temperatures

Toolcats are small plows the city has begun using to clear bikelines. Photo Courtesy of The City and County of Denver

Recent trends have shown an increase in people biking to work in Denver. A 2021 survey from the Downtown Denver Partnership showed increases in the number of people biking to work downtown rising to 11% of
all commuters. 

Killian Williams works at Slo-Hi Bike Company near 29th Avenue and Tennyson. He rides his bike year round, and often gets questions from people that are looking to ride their bike in the winter. Williams says the first question that folks should ask is if they want to be able to ride every day in the winter, or just most days in winter. He advises that most bikes will get the job done for the vast majority of conditions in Denver, without having to get lots of special equipment. 

Most of the bikes being sold these days tend to come with medium width tires that are conducive to bike commuting in just about all conditions. Williams says the challenge is the small percentage of days where it is really snowy, or hardpack snow and refrozen ice in the days after a storm. “What most of us run is a studless winter tire. I think studs are an overkill for Denver, and they are noisy and annoying to ride on dry pavement.” He asserts that with the abundance of sunshine that the city sees and lack of long deep freezes like in the upper midwest, Denver’s climate is fairly conducive year round commuting. 

For those who want to take their bike commuting to the next level during snow storms, Williams compares studded tires to having dedicated snow tires on a car versus all seasons. They grip much better in icy conditions. “Your studs are going to do better on those really snowy days than anything else. But, they are worse in the wet and on dry pavement, and they are expensive too.” He notes that folks who have the storage space and budget for two bikes, one with regular tires and one with studded tires, is the ultimate setup for year-round commuters. 

Williams thinks the city could do a better job of plowing bike lanes. He commutes down the 29th Avenue bike lane. He notes that the northside lane headed westbound quickly melts in the sun within a day or two. However, the eastbound lane that often sits in the shade can remain snow covered and icy for days, often exacerbated by plows pushing the snow into the bike lane. 

Lucas Boyd commutes through North Denver from his home in Wheat Ridge to a hospital in Denver, where he is a nurse at a procedural unit. He prefers using the 35th Avenue bikeway as it is the most direct route between Wheat Ridge and I-25, where he connects to the 20th Street multiuse path on his way to the hospital. In terms of tips to offer others that are thinking about winter commuting, “If someone wants to commute in the winter, make sure to have bright lights, warm gear, and to look for bike routes. While it can be helpful to have a mountain bike or hybrid bike with wider tires, I commute on my gravel bike with 32 mm tires.” He also encourages folks riding in winter conditions to brake slowly and give plenty of time to stop, unclip early if they are using clip-in pedals, and don’t be afraid to get off the bike and walk if the conditions look too dicey. 

Boyd wishes that Denver would take better care of the 35th Ave. neighborhood bikeway, which he uses regularly, as well as the 29th Ave. bike lane. “If they plowed that road, 35th would be the best way across northwest Denver. I ride it twice a day and have never seen it plowed. When it snows, the 35th neighborhood bikeway becomes impassable. Every intersection is caked with snow and it takes three to five days for the sun to melt the snow.” He added that the bike lane on 29th is hit or miss on whether or not it’s passable when it snows. More often than not, a cyclist has to ride down the middle of 29th to avoid hitting ice.

Bike commuters will be pleased to know that the city is plowing North Denver’s first protected bike lane along 23rd Avenue/Water Street between Federal Boulevard and REI as a critical link to downtown. The Denver Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) has committed to remove snow from all protected bike lanes around the city. They use smaller vehicles designed to fit in the more narrow bike lanes called Toolcats. These vehicles can have a small plow or rotary brush attached to them to remove snow, and also have spreaders on the back that put down a dry deicer material to accelerate snowmelt.  

DOTI Communication Director, Nancy Kuhn, noted that the city makes an effort to plow all on-street bike lanes once they’ve cleared major routes for emergency vehicles after snow storms when practicable. Kuhn also encouraged residents to submit tickets to 311 or for trouble spots that don’t seem to melt away after a storm with ice or snow-covered bike lanes or roads. As of mid-February, the city has already addressed over 200 requests for “sanding,” or putting down a dry deicer in problems spots, and over 450 requests for ice blading/ice removal based on 311 requests submitted in 2022. 

With regard to the thoughts from bike commuters that the city isn’t going far enough with bike lane snow removal, Kuhn noted that “we’re continually assessing our snow program to see what improvements we can make and what additional resources we can obtain to support it.  We’ve always been clear that throughout the winter season, people on bikes should be prepared to ride in a shared lane condition, utilizing the outermost lane available and may consider alternate transportation options based on health, ability, weather conditions and equipment. People on bikes may need to consider alternate routes and utilize the city’s trail system.”


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.