DENVER — Take a drive around Denver, and it won’t take long to spot a ghost bike, which represent lives lost while riding.
Each year, about 2% of vehicle crash deaths are bicyclists, and since 1975 deaths have tripled for cyclists 20 and older, according to a 2019 study.
Over the years, cycling kicked into gear, and the pandemic peddled a boom in the bike world. With more wheels on the streets, sharing the road is more vital than ever.
“I have been run into, my wife has been run into, my son-in-law had a concussion from someone running into him,” Tom Calarke said.
He started riding to work in 1973, and the experienced rider keeps his head on a swivel.
“I have to look out for cars opening their doors, I have to look out for cars that aren’t looking,” Calarke said.
A study by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that pedalcyclist fatalities in urban areas increased by 49% between 2010 and 2019.
In Denver, the number of bicyclists killed in a crash has fluctuated over the years. Data from the city Crash Data Dashboard, which goes back to 2013, shows in 2018 six cyclists died; between 2013 and 2021, 21 bikers died in a crash and 273 were seriously injured during the same time frame.
Megan Hottman, an attorney for cyclists, said the statistics reflected are often underreported.
“A lot of times, law enforcement does refuse to respond, especially if there is no video or photo footage where it’s just him vs her type of a story,” Hottman said.
Hottman was hit while riding her bike in 2019. She suffered a torn ligament in her left knee and a concussion.
During the pandemic, when fewer people were on the road, Hottman felt safe riding, but says that it all changed when the city began to reopen.
“The tone of vehicular traffic on the roads has become very concerning, drivers seem more aggressive,” Hottman said.
She says a majority of her clients are hurt by distracted drivers or people speeding. Her friend Gewn Inglis, a beloved cyclist and road race champion, was killed while riding near her home in Lakewood in May. Hottman painted a ghost bike for Inglis.
“She was a friend to so many people that her death has touched people nationwide,” Hottman said.
She now represents Inglis’ family.
Jill Locantore, the executive director of Denver Streets Partnership, is part of a coalition that fights for people-friendly streets. She said it’s no secret streets are dangerous by design and were primarily created to move as many vehicles as fast as possible without bicyclists or pedestrians in mind.
Many streets throughout Denver lack bike lanes. It’s a problem the city is aware of. To help mitigate the problem, Denver’s Vision Zero program is focused on making streets safer by carving out spaces for bike lanes and creating a bigger gap between cars and cyclists.
“They built 40 miles of new bike lanes, which is more than they have in any previous year, but we’ve got 5,000 miles of streets in the City of Denver, and a vast majority of them are not safe,” Locantore said.
She says even one death is too many.
“Any traffic fatality in our city streets is unacceptable because we know how to prevent traffic fatalities. We know how to design our streets to be safe for everybody,” Locantore said.
Cyclists say with climate change now at the forefront, it’s time to switch gears and make bike safety a priority.
Colorado law requires drivers to give bicyclists a three-foot buffer when passing, and last year a law passed requiring drivers to yield to cyclists in bike lanes.