Denver police give drivers, cyclists heads-up before Bike to Work Day

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DENVER -- The Denver Police Department issued a warning Wednesday for drivers to watch out for bicyclists as one of the biggest bike events in the state approaches.

About 10,000 people bike to work every day in Denver. And those numbers will triple Wednesday during the city’s Bike to Work event. The huge numbers mean a bigger potential for accidents and injuries.

Relaxing outside a 15th Street cafe can make Tyler Hanson a little tense.

“Here we see a lot of people that almost get hit because of cars turning,” he said about a dedicated bike lane that he won't use.

The avid cyclist was hit two years ago.

“I was following the rules. It’s just the guy didn’t see me and merged directly into me, knocked me down,” he said.

And the crashes continue.

“As of May, in the city of Denver, we’ve already had 81 auto-bike crashes. This resulted in three fatalities,” Denver police Capt. Mark Chuck said.

So Denver is working to put the brakes on crashes with infrastructure improvements, education and enforcement.

“Look out for cyclists. Give them at least 3 feet, including when you’re passing. It’s not a suggestion. It’s the law,” Chuck said.

But cyclists must take ownership too. They must follow the same rules as drivers, which includes riding with the flow of traffic, and obeying all traffic signals and signs.

“You need to ride on roads, designated routes or trails. It is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk in Denver,” said Piep Van Heuven of Bicycle Colorado.

And bicyclists shouldn’t have to. The city has 138 miles of bike lanes.

“We encourage people on bikes to use bikeways. A study shows the safety-in-numbers effect,” said Emily Snyder with Denver Public Works.

She said the more bikes on a road make drivers take notice, so they slow down, are more attentive and pass with care. But even following the rules of the road doesn’t guarantee safe passage.

Hanson said the biggest problem is distracted drivers.

“You always have to be looking. No one is looking out for you. People in their cars got their music, passengers, phones,” he said.

Another important statistic: Police say 75 percent of bike fatalities in Colorado are caused by cyclists not wearing helmets. And if you wear a helmet, you reduce the severity of a brain injury by 88 percent.

Denver is expecting 30,000 people to ride their bikes to work on Bike to Work Day.