HEADS UP, Denver!


Multi-modal Transportation

Bicyclists who ignore stop signs and stop lights are a problem in Denver.  So are cars that block bike lanes or turn in front of cyclists without yielding.  The number of pedestrians who blatantly ignore traffic signals in cross walks (sometimes even with uniformed officers standing next to them) number in the tens of thousands every day.

In the first quarter of 2013, we noticed a dramatic increase in automobile vs. pedestrian and auto vs. bicycle accidents.  In fact, auto vs. pedestrian/bicycle accidents are up 41% between January and May of 2012 compared to the same date range in 2013.  This is even more alarming when you factor in that over the same time period accidents are down 7.2% overall.


JAN-MAY 2012

JAN-MAY 2013

Percent Change

Auto vs Bicycle Accidents




Auto vs Pedestrian Accidents




TOTAL Auto vs Pedestrian or Bicycle




Hit and Run Accidents




Total Accidents




Our Traffic Investigations Bureau detectives have looked at the issue and have discovered many of these accidents are the fault of the bicyclist or pedestrian.  In fact, up to 50% of auto vs pedestrian accidents are the pedestrian’s fault (jay-walking or disobedience to traffic signals being the most common causes).

Mayor Hancock is also concerned, and has launched a city-wide campaign to raise awareness and public education to reduce future accidents called “Head’s Up”.  You can find more information about this campaign on Facebook.

Denver desires to be a “multi-modal” city.  Where commuters walk, bike, use mass-transportation, and drive their cars within our city limits.  So it is an obligation for all of us to work together to improve safety for all commuters.

Who is the problem?

distracted-drivingWithout fail, this topic generates a huge citizen response.  Every time a message is posted on our department Facebook or Twitter page, there are thousands of views and lively discussions about who is at fault and what should be done.  The most common comment received is “Give the other guy a ticket”.  Much like the criminalization of drugs, the department has learned that it cannot “arrest” its way out of the narcotics problem, it also cannot ticket its way out of this one.  The department could issue 1,000 citations a day for the violations described and not begin to touch the problem (and, as most of you are aware, the department does not have the resources necessary to accomplish such a task).

The truth is the problem is a lack of respect.  Many drivers don’t respect bike lanes or riders, many bicyclists don’t respect traffic laws, and most pedestrians feel they can walk wherever they want – when they want.  This is a cultural issue and our entire transportation culture has to change.

texting and walkingWhat I am asking is that each of you take some time to examine your own behavior.  Whether it’s driving, riding or walking.  Do you obey traffic laws?  Do you wait at the crosswalk even when there is no traffic coming?  Do you pay close attention to cyclists when you are driving?  Have you stopped texting when walking/driving/riding?  Do you take your headphones off when walking or riding in traffic?  In short, are you treating others with respect and care?

It is my sincere hope that as more of us examine our own behavior and make a conscious effort to change it, we will see a reduction in accidents.  I also think it will make Denver a better place to live.


Chief White

PS If you haven’t had a chance to see them, here are our latest videos aimed at community awareness regarding this issue.



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18 Responses to HEADS UP, Denver!

  1. Eva says:

    Suggestion. Other cities have marked the sensor which triggers the lights at intersections, even on a bike. If bicyclists knew how to make the light turn green, they might wait for a “go”.

  2. Annoyedatbikers says:

    If you would like to “share the road” then you need to obey ALL the same traffic signals that cars do. That means waiting at ill-timed stop lights just like cars. I don’t mind sharing if you respect all of the laws as well.

    • Michael says:

      Agree – cyclists should obey traffic laws too. But the point above is that some lights so not change to green if only a bike is present. Imagine having to get out of your car to hit the crosswalk button at every stoplight. That’s cycling in Denver and the suburbs anytime early morning or where there is not much traffic.

  3. Brad Bishop says:

    It would also help cyclists if Colorado could pass a “dead red” law. The vast majority of stop lights in the city are weight-triggered, which are not sensitive enough to detect a cyclist waiting at a red light. I believe its likely that a cyclist who knows a light will not change for them would only be encouraged to run a red light, and is especially frustrating when this is the situation on what the city has designated as an official bike route.

    I recently asked Officer Adrian Torres (DPD District 2) about this, and he said the only two legal ways for a cyclist to proceed through this type of intersection are either:
    -To execute a right turn, then make a U-turn a short ways down, then another right turn.
    -To dismount in the street, walk the bike over to the sidewalk, press the crosswalk button, walk the bike through the intersection, back into the street, and then remount.

    Having tried employing both of these methods, I would invite any member of the DPD to accompany me on a ride to truly gauge the practicality of either course of action.

  4. Lisa says:

    Dear Chief White: Noticing a targeted effort by police officers to ticket bikers this week, I would like to say that I wish the police had bicycle laws and use the effort to encourage bikers that do not fully understand the laws to comply and understand. Giving expensive tickets for a while in the morning in a few areas will not change the overarching issue and honestly just infuriates that targeted group.

    If there is more outreach and cops set an example by riding bikes/walking and obeying laws in highly used bicycle/pedestrian/traffic areas (combined with pamphlets/increased signage/sensors, etc.), then behavior might start to change and people using different modes of transportation would start to cooperate instead of being at odds with each other, which unfortunately I see all too often, since I walk, bike, and drive all on a regular basis. Thank you.

    • CheesmanParkPed says:

      I agree with Lisa, and would also encourage a similar campaign for motorists. Our residential neighborhood is overwrought with speeding cars, stop-sign runners and numerous other traffic infractions taking place all day, every day, and often in front of the police’s eyes, yet tickets don’t seem to get issued to people driving cars. My husband and I are actually considering moving out of Denver all together because of what a nuisance and unsafe environment our neighborhood is becoming.

      Chief White, you say that issuing tickets doesn’t help, but why would Denver enforce ANY laws then, by that logic? If motorists or cyclists or pedestrians believe that enforcement of traffic laws is a priority for DPD, they’ll pay attention and eventually behavior will change. Post an officer with a radar gun in Cheesman Park during rush hour once a week for a couple of hours and I guarantee you could pay that officer’s salary within two months of enforcing the speed limit there alone, AND park users could actually enjoy the park for what it’s intended as opposed to fearing for their life when they try to cross at the crosswalks.

  5. CheesmanParkPed says:

    It’s great to see that the city is responding to our traffic issues with a campaign aimed at educating ALL users. I will say, however, that compared to other cities, like those in California for example, where motorists know that traffic laws are actually enforced (like speeding, waiting for crosswalks to be COMPLETELY clear of pedestrians before turning through them, and not rolling through stop signs and red lights, to name a few) being a pedestrian or riding a bicycle is MUCH more appealing. I follow the rules no mater what my transport mode might be and when I’m walking or riding in our city, most of the time I’m scared. Denver is getting better at creating infrastructure for peds and cyclists, but overall ours is a car-centric city, that’s all there is to it. Crosswalks take entirely too long to change in favor of anyone outside of a vehicle, some intersections don’t even change at all no matter how long you wait. So can you really blame the peds or cyclists for venturing out into an intersection when they have no faith that our city’s services are even working in their favor? Heads Up sounds like a great campaign, but let’s also get the CITY’s head up about what ALL our users need in order to be safe and get where we’re going efficiently.

  6. Nicholas says:

    Glad to see so many other cyclists posting about the lights which do not recognize cyclists and don’t change. After watching the opposing crosswalk signals go from flashing red hand (indicating the light is about to finally change) to right back to the white cross signal, I’m forced to finally run the light when on my bike. It’s definitely a violation and I wish it wasn’t so, but when you compare it to the reality that just a block on either side of the intersection with a light are streets with only stop signs, and it’s okay to cross when clear, it seems like a sensible alternative until the lights are better engineered.

    • Sarah says:

      I, too, am glad to see others posting about the traffic light problem that Nicholas describes so well. I’ve been commenting about this on every forum I see for years and this is the first forum I’ve seen others commenting about it as well. That’s progress, I hope.

      My other comment is regarding the DPD statement that a large percentage of auto/ped and auto/bike accidents are the ped/bike’s fault: data can be used to tell whatever story one wishes. It’s the missing data that could really inform the discussion: how many of these accidents are avoided because cyclists and peds are more aware of what’s happening around them and give way to errant motorists for their own safety? After all, the stakes are much higher for a cyclist or pedestrian in traffic than for drivers, so most of us are extremely defensive when on the street. Yes, ped/bike education is needed and we all need to follow rules that keep us safe, but this statistic is misleading and not really relevant.

      • Sarah,
        Thank you for your comments. We take exception, however. The stats are the stats. They are not misleading. Of all auto-ped auto-bike accidents in Denver, the bicyclist or pedestrian is at fault approximately half the time. That is just a fact.

        It does not place more blame on any one group, it highlights the opportunities that each group has to effect change.

        Lt. Murray

      • Patrick McMahon says:

        Not sure who Sarah is, but I’m guessing that you’re stating that it is fact because the responding officer found it to be fact. However, that simply make it so. I doubt there is video evidence these collisons, so the officer on the scene makes a judgement call based on the testimony that they hear. For pedestrian or bicyclist fatalities, one party isn’t there to provide their account of what happened. Also, unless the DPD is pulling data from the car’s airbag sensors about the speed of the vehicle at the time, there’s little way to know if they were speeding (beyond the driver’s personal testimony). There is also a lot of evidence that the vast majority of bicycle collisions go unreported, with no evaluation of who is at fault.

        Stating that the pedestrians and bicyclists are at fault in half of these circumstances suggests a certainty that simply isn’t possible based on the evidence available. Rarely is just one party in the wrong, but at least as important is that the driver has greater potential to injure others and as such, bears added responsibility to drive anticipating and ready to react to the actions of more vulnerable road users and minimize harm to them. Driving a vehicle is, in my opinion, akin to carrying a loaded weapon, you have a responsiblity to make sure that you do not harm others and the enforcement should acknowledge that, not frame it as an accident that was caused by the more vulnerable road user based on limited information.

  7. Gerry says:

    Cars have the advantage of traffic lights being synchronized for their speed. So, cars can often hit most lights – sometimes even all lights – green, and auto traffic flows smoothly.

    Bicyclists and peds, on the other hand, often find that traffic lights synchronized for cars mean they – bicyclists and peds – hit most, sometimes all, lights red. And without an engine to effortlessly accelerate back to speed, they do have to put extra effort into getting going again. When they hit lots of red lights, including some that never change, it should be no surprise they run them. Motorists would, too, if they had to pedal their vehicles back up to speed.

    So, while I want bicyclists and peds to respect the laws, I realize the laws are biased tremendously in favor of the car…and so, unless it’s wildly reckless, I am happy to accept their behavior as fair enough, given the bias of the law against them, and be grateful they are not polluting the air, disrupting the climate, and causing warmongering for oil.

    That all said, I do want everyone – whatever her/his mode – to be safe, engaged, alert, respectful, and free from electronic and other distractions.

  8. Frank Canham says:

    I agree bikes are too light to trigger those lights that depend on a trigger, but I see riders that run
    stop signs and red lights that are on a timer. If they can, why can’t a better protected auto?
    A question I have is 4-way stops. If a bike rider must obey the laws of the road, then a auto signaling a turn gets to the intersection first it should have the right of way even if a bike lane is present. This needs to be clarified and communicated to the public. I would like to hear the lawful answer to this.

    • Frank says:

      By the way. Those bikes I notice running the light are doing so while I am sitting there waiting for the light to change. I think my car is heavy enough to activate the trigger.

  9. Patrick McMahon says:

    Pedestrians and bicyclists, as the more vulnerable road users and the most injuried in collisions, aren’t always able to present their side and so far to often police reports state “fault” based on just one side’s testimony. Most drivers and many officers don’t know that a legal crosswalk exists at nearly every interesection, even if it isn’t marked, and that drivers are require by law to yield for pedestrian when crossing in an unmarked crosswalk unless the signal is green.

    Beyond that, the continued use of “accident” to describe a collision is misleading and suggests a lack of fault or ability to prevent the crash. As such, it is a term the police should avoid using.

    Finally, the state of Idaho adjusted their laws in 1982 to allow bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs. The bicyclist doesn’t have the right of way, but is allowed to legally cross if there is no conflicting traffic. After more than a quarter of a century, Idaho hasn’t seen an increase in bicycle collisions and the law more closely matches the behavior of cyclists, while keeping the burden of fault on bicyclists that choose to pass through the intersection under the law.

  10. Edward says:

    As a flagger, I’ve seen a lot of near misses. Motorists are a lot more likely to obey my stop sign than a bicycle or pedestrian. 99% of cars will stop. 50% of bicycles. Maybe 5% of people on foot.

    As far as the assertions that cars are more at fault for a bicycle-motorist or pedestrian-motorist accident because they are bigger and going faster, that is actually what makes them less at fault. A bicyclist or pedestrian can respond to a changing situation a lot faster than a vehicle. Even doing 25mph on city streets, stopping distance is 85 feet.

  11. Pingback: Do Pedestrians Have to Obey Traffic Laws? | Edward Antrobus

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