Opinion: North Broadway bike lane fails to improve comfort, safety

A cyclist travels the new bike lane on north Broadway in Boulder. (Courtesy photo)

Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2023

By Richard Kiefer

“The North Broadway Reconstruction Project will … improve safety and comfort for people using all modes of travel … from Violet Avenue to US 36.” This is, in part, the stated goal of the City of Boulder’s North Broadway corridor improvement project. Now that the project is finished, does the result “improve comfort and safety” for those traveling by bicycle?

The short answer is no. Here’s why.

At only 6 feet of useable width, the bike lanes are too narrow, particularly on the east side of Broadway where cars are parked. A competent cyclist will not risk riding close to parked cars, because more than 6 feet is needed for bikes to avoid opening car doors and the people who exit without looking. The bike lane width is also inadequate in a strong westerly cross wind — common in north Boulder.

Cars parked on the east side of Broadway will open their driver’s side doors into the bike lane. (Courtesy photo)

The difficulties presented by the narrow bike lanes are compounded by the 2-foot-wide mountable curb that separates the bike lanes from the motor traffic. The sloped curb structure must be negotiated with special care; it’s a hazard to bikes for several reasons.

The curb effectively narrows each side of the roadway by 2 feet because it is unusable space. It is designed so that bikes won’t ride in the curb for any distance, and cars won’t drive on it. If the mountable curb was a smooth surface, the bike lanes would be 8 feet wide rather than 6, and bikes could make an easy transition into the motor traffic lane to go around open car doors or other obstructions.

The new north Broadway bike lane features a mountable curb and drain grates. (Courtesy photo)

The curb collects debris such as glass, gravel and nails which cause flats for bikes. The curb also contains drain grates, an obstacle that most bicyclists will carefully avoid. And, for some reason, the bike lanes are not smooth, but produce a lumpy ride.

The bike Lane on Lee Hill Drive just east of Broadway (Courtesy photo)

The bike lanes on Lee Hill Drive just east of Broadway are an example of what should have been constructed on Broadway. These bike lanes are 7.5 feet wide and at grade, providing additional maneuvering room to avoid opening car doors and people. The parking lane is also wider — 8 feet rather than the 7-foot width on Broadway — providing more clearance.

If necessary, the bicyclist may also easily move left into the motor traffic lane when required. The rain water drainage is also better on this flat surface, absent the mountable curb that produces a small stream.

Given the safety and comfort compromises now inherent in the North Broadway traffic system, what are the safest options for people on bikes?

Since a higher than normal level of caution and skill are required to safely negotiate the existing bike lanes, some bicyclists will only be comfortable on the multi-use path on the west side of the street. This is a reasonable option, even though on busy days the path is a minefield of accident opportunities. Think Boulder Creek path.

Those who choose to use the on-street bike lanes must be prepared to move left into the traffic lane at any time to avoid a collision with a car door, pass other bikes, avoid obstacles, or eliminate the lumpy ride. Bicyclists may simply choose to ride in the motor vehicle traffic lane.

This is probably the safest and most comfortable option for many bike riders. Bikes moving into the traffic lane could occasionally present an inconvenience to cars, but the speed limit on North Broadway is only 30 mph, and cars have the option of passing in the center left turn lane.

From my perspective as a bicyclist and motorist, the North Broadway Reconstruction Project is ill-conceived as a bike-friendly facility. The bike lanes seem to have been designed by folks who do not understand how to reduce the probability of bicycle accidents in an urban environment. Too bad, because we are stuck with North Broadway indefinitely.

I am hopeful that future transportation projects, such as the upcoming Iris Avenue Transportation Improvements Project, will provide a better bicycle facility at lower cost. A wide bike lane at grade and without obstructions would be just fine.

If you would like to weigh in, the Iris Project design process is open for public comment until August 17.

Richard Kiefer is a member of Boulder Beat’s Opinion Panel. Learn more about Richard.


Boulder Beat Opinion Panel members are writing in their own capacity. Their views do not necessarily reflect those of Boulder Beat.

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6 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I don’t understand why they put two on-street bike lanes in parallel with a multi-use path along that stretch. Seems like that doesn’t leave enough room for any of them to be very good. As for the curb-like thing, how is that different from the diagonal-striped area on the inside of the bike lanes on Jay Rd., which I am very glad of when riding in those lanes? Anything serving as a buffer between cyclists and motorists is going to use space that would otherwise be riding (or driving) space — there’s no free lunch.

  2. Here, drive onto my bike lane into your parking spot! You’re safe, unless I hit you! Heartily agree. Sometimes compromises are not much better than the status quo. Can still be hit by car doors on one side (let alone big trucks that won’t fully fit into the parking spots—their doors will encompass the entire bike lane) and parking cars on the other.

  3. The manhole covers, especially the ones that aren’t flush, add to the discomfort and have to avoid and needing to move about in a narrow space. (That’s me in the photo).

  4. The northbound bike lane is poorly designed and implemented. Barely room to keep out of the door zone, especially when there’s big trucks parked or cars are not fully pulled into spot. The lane is rough to ride in, with all the manhole covers, especially ones that aren’t level with street. A nice fix would be to remove on Broadway parking along there. (That’s me riding in the cover photo)

    • Thanks for your comment! And for modeling. Do you want to share your name so I can add it to the caption? – Shay

  5. The only thing I disagree with here is the suggestion that a painted lane would be adequate. Paint is not infrastructure, even if it is better than this poorly-conceived mess. And a wider painted bike lane may actually cause drivers to speed more because they will perceive a more-open roadway, which could in turn increase danger to people on bikes. What should have been done is that the on-street parking should have been moved to the outside of the bike lane and the bike lane physically-protected by a real curb, *or* the on-street parking should have been removed entirely in favor of a physically-protected bike lane.

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