The 16th Street Mall is forbidden fruit for the bicyclists of Denver.
Its wide-open expanse, free of cars and trucks, offers a direct route across downtown Denver, bridging Union Station and Civic Center. The promenade is a tempting alternative for pedal-pushers who are frustrated — or scared — by the patchwork bicycle routes across the city’s urban core.
“The 16th Street Mall would be a great corridor, but you’re kind of banned from there,” said cyclist Brian Schroeder. “I see people do it all the time — whether they get told not to or whatever.”
But the spine of downtown is reserved on most days for pedestrians and electric buses.
The reason is embedded in the mall’s history. In the 1970s, the promenade was envisioned as a major connection for transit vehicles and pedestrians, but not bicycles.
Cyclists have won some leeway on the 16th Street Mall — some years ago, Sundays were opened to bikes, and then Saturdays, too. But the Federal Transit Administration won’t allow bikes on weekdays because those days are too busy with pedestrians and buses, according to city officials.
“There’s just not enough space on this road to introduce all modes,” said Jennifer Hillhouse, director of planning and transportation for Denver Public Works. And electric scooters are banned outright on the Mall.
The same conflict is playing out on Blake Street, where some cyclists are annoyed by a new dismount-and-walk policy on Rockies game days. And it points to a larger disconnect in the city’s bike system: The regional trails along Cherry Creek and the South Platte River are protected and heavily used, but the rest of the city’s lanes are patchy at best.
That could change, eventually. In his recent re-inauguration, Mayor Michael Hancock said that the city’s “streets must change to make way for more transit riders, bike riders and pedestrians.”
His administration has promised to build 125 miles of bike lanes over five years, including a series of “high comfort” bikeways. Those initial projects aren’t focused in downtown, but they’ll “serve as the backbone of the network,” said public works spokesperson Heather Burke.
Plans for the city core — including new bike lanes — will arrive next year in a document called Denver Moves Downtown. “There’s a lot of feedback about the desire to reduce speeds, to improve safety, to improve bikeway intersections and getting across challenging intersections,” Hillhouse said.
Of course, automobile drivers and others have their own complaints. Bikeway proposals for Marion Street Parkway and Detroit Street have attracted neighborhood criticism and TV news stories, with concerns about threats to aesthetics and automobile convenience.
City officials said they’ll consider the complaints, but the lanes are getting built. Just not on the mall.