DENVER — Changes could be coming to the traffic circles installed through Denver’s Neighborhood Bikeway program. The Denver Fire Department paused its approval of new bikeway traffic circles, an assistant chief with the department confirmed, in response to concerns over their impacts to emergency vehicles.
The Denver Neighborhood Bikeways program was created as part of the city’s Vision Zero mission to eliminate traffic deaths. The city has been installing several different types of infrastructure to improve safety for cyclists, including the traffic circles.
While smaller than a full roundabout, traffic circles function in a similar way by instructing drivers to travel counter-clockwise around them through intersections with the goal of reducing driving speeds along bikeways. This has led some residents to raise concerns over potential impacts to response time for emergency services.
Several neighbors near the 7th Avenue neighborhood bikeway shared accounts and videos of fire and utility trucks struggling to maneuver around traffic circles installed.
“It makes the neighborhood less safe,” argued neighbor Mark Turnage. “Fire trucks cannot get in. Ambulances cannot get in because of the [traffic circles] that have been put in.”
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Denver Fire Assistant Chief Carly Helwick said conversations are ongoing with Denver’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DOTI) to determine the future of traffic circles and the broader Neighborhood Bikeways project. Helwick said there is not yet enough data to know the exact impact these traffic circles may have on department response times, in comparison to other options for intersections along bikeways.
“From the fire department’s perspective, our priority is to ensure our apparatus and crews can respond in case of emergency to any address in the city,” Helwick said. “We are engaging in conversation frequently with DOTI as they determine what are the best next steps for these and other traffic features across town.”
Denver7 has heard from cyclists who feel the traffic circles have made their rides feel safer. Rob Toftness, a founder of the Denver Bicycle Lobby, said they have improved his commutes and applauded DOTI’s priority on safety for bikes.
“The nice thing about these is they lower speed and volume [of cars],” Toftness said. “It makes it so there’s not as many frequent drivers behind me. And if there are, they’re going slower.”
Denver makes changes to intersection amid criticism from neighbors, cyclists
DOTI confirmed ongoing work with Denver Fire on the traffic circles to address concerns, while also stressing their importance in the Neighborhood Bikeways network. On its website, DOTI describes the traffic circles as a method to “disincentivize” non-local drivers from taking Neighborhood Bikeways streets.
“Traffic circles are a valuable tool for reducing vehicle speeds on streets that DOTI is prioritizing for biking and walking and for creating a safer and more comfortable environment for multimodal travel,” DOTI spokesperson Nany Kuhn said in a written statement. “We believe working together with Denver Fire, we can refine our design and implementation so that the goals for both of our departments are met.”