DENVER — While traffic fatalities in Colorado dropped in 2023, marking the first overall decline in deaths since 2019, an alarming increase in pedestrian, bicyclist and construction worker deaths was reported by the Colorado Department of Transportation.
The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) said statewide in 2023, 716 traffic deaths were reported which is around a 6 percent decrease from fatalities in 2022.
Several speakers at a press conference on Monday to highlight 2023 trends pointed to the positive trend in overall traffic fatalities but each raised needed awareness to deaths involving vulnerable road users.
“In fact, we’re setting records. A significant increase in the number of pedestrians that were killed on Colorado’s roads last year,” said Col. Matthew Packard, Chief, Colorado State Patrol. “We’ve had several high-profile bicycle-involved crashes in this state. There’s a law in our state that says you have to give a bicyclist three feet, we need to pay attention to that law. If you’re riding, please wear gear that makes you easy to see and be mindful of the traffic that’s around you."
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CDOT reported 133 pedestrians killed in Colorado in 2023, which was a 16 percent increase from 2022.
20 bicyclists were killed in 2023, which was a 33 percent increase from 2022.
“We’re greatly concerned about the loss of life we’re experiencing across Colorado and here in Denver among our vulnerable roadway users,” said Jennifer Hillhouse, Director of Transportation and Mobility Planning for the City and County of Denver. “These are people, our family, our friends, our coworkers and they’re walking, they’re biking, they’re driving, they’re taking transit.”
Pedestrian fatalities hit an "all-time high" in 2022, according to CDOT, which saw 111 people struck and killed in the state.
DENVER TRAFFIC DEATHS | 10-YEAR TREND
“To make our city streets safer, we identified a high injury network as our priority,” said Hillhouse. “These are 5 percent of our streets that make up 50 percent of our traffic fatalities in Denver. We’re now placing greater focus on specific locations on the high injury network where more fatal and serious injuries are occurring.”
Hillhouse pointed to pedestrian safety improvements along two major Denver corridors, including along Federal Blvd. between 23rd and 27th avenues where pedestrian ramps will be upgraded and specialized or HAWK signals will be installed to allow pedestrians to safely cross the street.
Hillhouse added construction on pedestrian safety improvements along West Colfax will install medians between Irving Street and Sheridan Blvd “to decrease pedestrian crossing distance and provide people refuge that are on foot with safe places to stand when crossing the street and reducing those left turn conflict points between people and driving.”
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Asked if anything surprised him in the crash data, CSP’s Packard referenced the 16 deaths in Colorado construction zones in 2023, a 60 percent increase over 2022.
“We work really hard to add enforcement, I know CDOT and the local transportation departments work really hard to make sure that’s done safely and people continue to ignore,” said Packard. “Can you imagine a more well-signed thing on our roads? That you’ve got a construction zone going ahead. The fact that we’re seeing this 60 percent increase in crashes involved in those areas, that is alarming.”
Not surprisingly: speeding, distracted and impaired driving continued to be the top factors in Colorado traffic deaths and crashes causing serious bodily injury.
“Speed leads the way,” said Packard. “Speed results in the vast majority of our fatal and injury crashes.”
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Referencing his own two-decades in law enforcement, Packard urged motorists to consider just how much time they are actually saving by breaking the speed limit.
“I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why people speed. Sometimes they’re running late,” said Packard. “When you really do the math and take some time to look at the value, the benefit, the return on speeding, even 10 over – You’re usually measuring that time difference in seconds.”
In 2023, Colorado reported 227 impaired driving deaths, which was a 21 percent decrease from 2022.
“I’m at a loss of words as to why we continue to have this problem,” Packard said. “About a third of the people that lost their life in Colorado were at the hands of an impaired driver, that’s over 200 lives in our state alone.”
CDOT said July was the worst month on record for traffic deaths, reporting 90 people killed in just that month.
You can view the 2023 Colorado traffic deaths by county map fullscreen here.
While several categories of traffic deaths in Colorado saw decreases, CDOT said efforts to protect the most vulnerable people on roads remain a priority with efforts informed by the 2023 Colorado Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment (CVU)
The CVU, is described by CDOT as an addendum to the agency's long term plan to identify safety issues related to non-motorists and "their interaction with motor vehicles on all public roads."
The assessment showed bicyclist crashes more often than not happen at intersections and pedestrian crashes are equally split between intersections and non-intersection locations.
For pedestrians, the CVU showed the highest number of crashes happened during dark hours between 10 p.m and 2 a.m. The highest number of bicycle crashes occurred between 6 and 10 p.m. with lower numbers of crashes for both categories reported on weekends.
The CVU shared pedestrian, bicyclist and driver concerns about overall road safety in Colorado.
“Pedestrians expressed concern regarding drivers failing to yield at intersections and midblock crossings – particularly at RRFBs (Rectangular Rapid Flashing Beacons used at crosswalks),” the report stated.
“Bicyclists’ primary complaints were regarding lack of facilities and insufficient shoulders in general and lack of separation from traffic on existing facilities. Also noted were difficulties crossing roadways and drivers not yielding,” read the report.
CVU also found that driver frustrations were more targeted at bicyclists than pedestrians. “Many jurisdictions reported a general hostility towards bicyclists from the driving community, and complaints about bicyclists simply being on a roadway are not uncommon,” the report said.
Drivers complained about bicyclists “not following roadway laws” and the CVU found motorists might not be aware of changes in state law, including the 2022 adoption of the Colorado Safety Stop.
In April 2022, the law made two changes for bicyclists. First, it allows a rider, over the age of 15, to pass slowly through a stop sign only if yielding the right of way to pedestrians.
Second, the law allowed cyclists to pass through a red light, only after coming to a complete stop if there was no oncoming traffic.
“Complaints about bicyclists not following roadway laws could be due to drivers not knowing what the laws regarding bicyclists are, particularly the new Safety Stop Law described above,” the CVU analyzed.
It stated while many communities expressed safety concerns over the new law and that jurisdictions still receive driver complaints about bicyclists not stopping, “there doesn’t seem to have been an increase in crashes since the law went into effect.”
COLORADO'S MOST DANGEROUS ROADWAYS
In 2023, the CVU analyzed data to determine the top pedestrian and bicycle crash locations in Colorado broken down by highways (CDOT-owned locations) and major locally-owned roads.
TOP 10 PEDESTRIAN HOTSPOTS: HIGHWAYS
- Colfax Avenue, Aurora
- Federal Blvd, Denver
- Main St., Longmont
- Colorado Blvd., Denver
- Nevada Ave., Colorado Springs
- Sheridan Blvd., Denver
- Hampden Ave., Denver
- Parker Rd., Aurora
- Fountain Blvd., Colorado Springs
- 28th St., Boulder
TOP 10 PEDESTRIAN HOTSPOTS: MAJOR ROADWAYS
- Nevada Ave., Colorado Springs
- 20th St., Denver
- Las Vegas St., Colorado Springs
- Academy Blvd., Colorado Springs
- Carefree Cir., Colorado Springs
- 72nd Ave., Westminster
- Market St., Denver
- Blake St., Denver
- Moline St., Aurora
- Evans Ave., Denver
TOP 10 BICYCLIST HOTSPOTS: HIGHWAYS
- Colfax Ave., Denver
- Canyon Blvd., Boulder
- CO 119, Niwot
- Main St., Longmont
- Wadsworth, Lakewood
- North Ave., Grand Junction
- Arapahoe Rd., Boulder
- Morrison Rd., Lakewood
- Broadway, Boulder
- Sheridan Blvd., Denver
TOP 10 BICYCLIST HOTSPOTS: MAJOR ROADWAYS
- Estes St., Arvada
- Lincoln St., Denver
- 30th St., Boulder
- Broadway, Denver
- Folsom St., Boulder
- Havana St., Aurora
- 10th Ave., Broomfield
- 26th Ave., Denver
- 9th Ave., Boulder
- Speer Bvld., Denver
Read the full 2023 Colorado Vulnerable Road User Safety Assessment at this link.
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