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Bicyclists take to streets in critical mass, drawing attention to 3 fatalities in 1 week

Riders stage 'die-in' at City & County Building
Critical Mass ride in downtown Denver
Posted at 11:35 PM, May 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-24 07:44:14-04

DENVER — It's been a brutal week for bicyclists on Denver metro area streets.

Three bicyclists were struck and killed by drivers last week, and members of Denver's cycling community say that's three too many.

They want changes to make streets safer.

Dozens of bike riders took to the streets in a critical mass ride Sunday afternoon to draw attention to the dangers of distracted driving, speed and impairment.

"We're here today because we will not accept a world where three people are killed in one week just because they're riding a bicycle," said critical mass organizer Allen Cowgill.

The cyclists gathered at a Denver skate park near 19th Street and Little Raven Street to remember the victims.

Sean Stephenson, 12, was killed May 14, while crossing against the light at West Ken Caryl and Chatfield.

Two days later, championship racer Gwen Inglis was struck and killed by a driver, who apparently veered into a designated bike lane on W. Alameda Parkway in Lakewood. The driver has been charged with vehicular homicide — DUI; vehicular homicide — reckless driving; infliction of serious bodily injury to a vulnerable road user; driving under the influence — second alcohol related offense; improper changing of lanes; and passing on the left improperly.

"And a 60-year-old Boulder man, whose name, we don't know yet... was killed Thursday while shopping on his way home," Cowgill said.

From the Skate Park, the bicycle riders took to the streets.

Their goal: to let drivers know that bike riders are on the road too, and that drivers need to exercise caution.

Rob Toftness, a co-founder of the Denver Bicycle Lobby, said it's critical that drivers pay more attention.

"You're driving a 4,000- to 6,000-pound missile, so (bike riders) might make a mistake, but you're the one who has a weapon, so you have to be more careful," he said.

Many of those taking part in the critical mass ride knew one of the victims.

Participant Gary Harty knew Gwen Inglis.

"She and her husband were the most wonderful people," he said. "They were terrific racers."

Harty said speed, distracted driving and impairment are the leading causes of vulnerable people losing their lives.

He said he believes streets need to be re-engineered.

"In Lakewood, there are several east-west avenues where the posted speed limit is 35," he said. "The default speed limit is 40 to 45. You throw in the distractions, they're not only in your pocket, but now they're built into the dashboard."

He said if streets were a little tighter, it would be easier to enforce speed limits.

Cowgill said speed limits should be lowered.

"We know that a speed limit of 20 mph means that a pedestrian, or a person on a bike, has a 90% chance of surviving a crash," he said. "We know that a speed limit of 40 mph mean that same person on a bicycle has only has a 10-percent chance of surviving that crash. If we had lower speed limits, if we had more protected bike lanes, we would not be here today."

Harty said he's been involved in bicycle safety education for 40 years, and always thought he could avoid getting hit.

"And then I got hit by a motorist running a red light," he said. "It's painful."

Denver Bicycle Lobby Co-founder Rob Toftness said he too believes speed limits need to be lowered.

"Someone's safety is not trumped by your convenience, ever," he said.

Toftness said people behind the wheel need to understand that bicyclists are people too.

"Someone on a bike is a mom, a teacher, a doctor, a cook, or a child," he said. "Often times, when you're behind a windshield, you can get angry, or experience a moment, and you can forget that."

Cowgill asked fellow riders to contact their city council representatives and ask them to support safer infrastructure, such as more protected bike lanes.

"Ask them what they're doing to make our streets safer," he said. "We're spending $50 million (to redo) the interchange at I-25 and Broadway. Fifty-million dollars could build out an entire bike lane network of protected bike lanes in the city of Denver, or Boulder, or Lakewood, or Littleton. We really need your help in changing the conversation so we can get this safe infrastructure, because right now, it's not happening at the rate we need it to happen to prevent these deaths from happening."

Die-in at Denver City & County Building

The critical mass riders ended up in front of the Denver City and County Building, where they staged a "die-in," lying on the street in silence for three minutes — one minute for each victim.