Confession: I parked in the bike lane at Union Station

Here’s what I should have done. Good to know for the next time I’m dropping off or picking up someone at Union Station.

Denver's Union Station

denver; colorado; downtown; lodo; denverite; transportation; union station; landmark; train
Denver's Union Station denver; colorado; downtown; lodo; denverite; transportation; union station; landmark; train
Union Station. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Here’s what I should have done instead.

First, some background. I should start by saying I’m not much of a cyclist. I own a bike. I enjoy riding it. But it’s recreation. I have a full-time job and two kids, and I’m not one of those superstar Dutch ladies.

But I know a lot of cyclists. A lot of people I care about are cyclists. I want our cities to have good cycling infrastructure for the betterment of all. So when Streetsblog Denver posts photos of people blocking the bike lane with their cars, I get on that outrage train.

And then, one day, I became “that person.”

The University of Colorado A-Line had recently opened, and my mom was visiting Denver. She decided to take the train downtown from the airport, and I would pick her up from Union Station. She could have taken a second train or a bus to my neighborhood — that’s probably the ideal solution from a transit planner perspective — but she was understandably a little nervous about navigating unfamiliar transit.

And come on, it’s nice to get picked up after a trip. It just feels good.

I get to Union Station from the southwest via Speer Boulevard. Right on Market Street, left on 15th Street, right on Wynkoop Street. This puts me on the far side of the street from the station and the plaza.

So there I was, scanning the plaza looking for my mom with one eye, scanning the street for somewhere to pull over with the other eye, watching out for other cars, cyclists and pedestrians with my third eye.

It all happened so fast. I made eye contact with my mom, and she waved and started to cross the street. There was a bike lane and then a solid line of parked cars to my right. I approached the intersection with 17th, where a little space is created by the end of the parking lane. I looked behind me twice. No cyclists coming. And I did it. I pulled over into the bike lane.

The whole thing took less than a minute. I kept looking over my shoulder for a cyclist coming down the street. I tossed her bag in the trunk and got out of there as fast as I could.

No harm, no foul. But what about next time? And what was I supposed to do? Surely the city didn’t renovate the downtown train station and put in a bunch of pedestrian and bike improvements — restriped green bike lanes to improve visibility, brick-marked crosswalks, a bike corral and a very busy B-cycle station — with no way for people to pick up passengers by car.

When I asked around, other people were just as confused. So I called Nancy Kuhn, a spokeswoman for Denver Public Works, which is responsible the street design outside the station.

She told me I should have been on the other side of the street. There’s five-minute passenger loading there, in what would otherwise be the parking lane. The city doesn’t want drivers picking up passengers from the east side of the street (the LoDo side) because pedestrians would then be crossing Wynkoop mid-block. Which is dangerous.

I endangered cyclists, and I endangered my mom. Wow. That was even worse than I thought.

And while you can pick up and drop off on Wynkoop, the city would actually prefer that drivers use the Wewatta Street side of Union Station. There are signs to that effect (with arrows, not the street name) around downtown and on Speer, Park and 20th. My problem was that I already know where Union Station is, so I just went to Union Station and didn’t start looking for signs until I was already on Wynkoop.

I returned to Union Station for a test run.

Instead of counting on doing a U-turn on Wynkoop, I went right on Wazee Street and took it to 18th. Then left on Wykoop. I trawled slowly along the plaza, and sure enough, there were the five-minute passenger pickup signs. It’s clearly marked, but the signs aren’t any bigger than other parking signs, most of which tell you where you can’t park. You can’t read them from the other side of the street. In fact, in the few minutes I was there, I saw a driver do just what I had done the time before, pull over in the bike lane on the other side of the street.

Then I went back to 15th and headed for Wewatta. This felt wrong, like I was going too far away from the station, but as the road curved around, I saw the pull-out. It was empty. Just waiting for someone to drop off or pick up a passenger.

In some ways, this is much easier, and if all drivers dropped off on Wewatta, there would be less conflict with bikes and pedestrians.

But I’m honestly not sure if I recommend it, at least right now. There was a lot of construction. Maybe there was somewhere to turn around that I didn’t see, what with the truck and heavy equipment. But I quickly found myself on a long, high bridge behind Coors Field, blocky new apartment buildings to my left, wondering where I was going to end up. As it turns out, I got spit out on Park Avenue West on the other side of downtown, which, if you live over that way, is probably not news to you. But it was news to me and further away than I wanted to be.

Kuhn said the city is keeping an eye on how various users interact in front of Union Station and will make changes if they seem appropriate. Public Works Right of Way Enforcement patrols the area, and Kuhn said they ticket when they see violations (cycling advocates may be raising an eyebrow at this point) or people can call Denver Public Works dispatch at 720-913-1600 or the police non-emergency number at 720-913-2000. I’d guess people who are there and gone like me are hard to catch.

There’s also a longer-range planning process going on to redesign Wynkoop and 21st streets.

Some people would like to see Wynkoop closed off to cars and the plaza in front of the station extended. This guy makes it sound pretty sweet.

Until then, park carefully.

 

 

Erica Meltzer

Author: Erica Meltzer

Erica Meltzer covers government and politics. She's worked for newspapers in Colorado, Arizona and Illinois and once won a First Amendment Award by showing up in the wrong place at the wrong time. She served in the Peace Corps in Paraguay and can swear fluently in Guarani. She gets emotional about public libraries. Contact Erica Meltzer at 303-502-2802, emeltzer@denverite.com or @meltzere.