Learning to Bike in Denver
Guest Blog Post by Julie, Denver CALC Member
I have lived in Denver for 8 years and often enjoy a commute to my office downtown, a 4-mile ride each way. I’m not a rule breaker by any stretch of the imagination, but as I reflect on my first adventures on a bike in Denver, I truly did not know the rules of the road when it came to bikes, cars and pedestrians in a city.
One of my first experiences downtown led me riding my bike in front of a hotel in Lodo only to have the valet yell at me for going the wrong way on a sidewalk. As an avid follower of the rules, I immediately felt horrible because I had made a mistake and wasn’t even sure what that mistake was.
Growing up in the 80s in a smaller town, all I knew about riding a bike was associated to fun and you were certainly allowed to ride on sidewalks or streets any which way you wanted. But that’s not how it works in a big city. Wake up call #1.
After the realization that the biking rules I knew were not the same in Denver, I sought out the City’s bike map for safe biking routes, and even read some of the biking rules. What I learned is that you can bike on a sidewalk but only if you are within one block of your destination. I was absolutely in the wrong. In truth, with so many pedestrians downtown, it’s much smarter to walk your bike a block than it is to attempt at riding even if you technically can.
As my time downtown progressed I realized that biking around Denver, while pure joy in my neighborhood if hitting up the local brewery, is first and foremost a commitment to the commute while safely sharing the road with cars and people. I grew to treat my biking adventures as an alternative to driving and getting exercise (bonus!). I also suffered through many a bike ride trying to follow the rules while seeing fellow bikers run through lights as cars honked at them, or being forced to dart out into traffic to go around a jogger listening to music without the ability to hear me approaching.
Every now and then I would feel compelled to tell the jogger how they were making it unsafe for bikers by running in the bike lane, but not once did I feel better after those interactions. The jogger was caught off-guard and I was annoyed, which quite frankly never makes for a fruitful discussion.
What has urged me to abide by the rules even more these days is that I ride with my son – my most precious cargo. It’s our time to chit chat as I take him to day care and head to the office, always wishing I could ride with him longer. So often it has frustrated me more when joggers are in the bike lane, but as time passed I started making a conscious decision to assume best of intentions and more importantly bike defensively. Wake-up call #2: Staying safe without having to prove a point to those who might not be doing the right thing at that moment.
This morning my commute was solo and it was an awesome morning for a ride. For some reason as I approached an intersection I thought the car approaching had a stop sign and I did not, so I went through it without stopping. To my surprise the car honked, and I quickly waved without a moment to process that I was in the wrong! I had a stop sign. Rightfully so, the driver was frustrated and, in that moment, drove away filling her cup with the notion that Denver bikers just don’t care about the rules of the road.
As a driver, I admit I’ve felt that way many-a-times. I felt terrible and had no opportunity to say sorry. But moments later I approached a signal and a fellow biker went through when his light turned red and mine was green, but I didn’t care. As he went through he said sorry with a wince and a hunched over back showing me he didn’t mean to cut me off and all I said was “Oh no problem.” The commuter mentality of “get me to my destination and get out of my way” wasn’t on me, it was the human mentality that I felt. As he rode away he said, “Have a nice day!” My heart felt happy and good again.
The truth is drivers and bikers are doing the best they can and most of us in Denver are doing what we believe to be right. Wake-up call #3: The city is growing, traffic inevitably is getting worse and we won’t have our best moments together on the road every day. I have accepted that. But after all these years driving and biking in I want to be a part of the solution not the problem and have committed to the pause and assume best of intentions.
If you’re nodding your head up and down as you read this I can assume you agree, and so I urge you to pause before you react and try to assume the best of intentions for that person riding their bike or driving that car or riding that scooter.
We live, work and recreate in this city and if we want to stay safe, defensive biking and driving is a must. Recognize that there are cars, bikes, scooters, motorcycles, strollers and walkers all over the city, many of which are here for the first time while you and I commute downtown every day. If you bike, read the rules of the road and bike defensively. If you drive, be on the lookout for bikers and take an alternate route if you don’t like driving next to one. If you scooter I speak for many when I say we are all still trying to figure out what your rules are, so help us out.
First and foremost, we’re all human and we all have feelings. Don’t let the hustle and bustle get you down, take a pause and if someone makes a mistake forgive them and carry on with your day knowing you positively affected an outcome rather than the opposite.