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Bike Commuting in Denver Scares me… But I’m Going to Give it a Shot

July 28, 2021

By Janalee Chmel, O’Sullivan Law Firm writer

First, allow me to introduce myself. My name is Janalee and I’ve been writing for (and friends with) Scott O’Sullivan for over 10 years. Our kids were in school together and he even helped my husband after a horrific car accident on I-25.

I’m writing today to confess that I am someone who thinks it is important to bike instead of drive a car whenever you can. But I am also guilty of pretty much never biking because Denver traffic scares the bejeezus out of me.

I haven’t always felt this way. Fifteen years ago, I was an avid road biker. I biked all over this state, including several Elephant Rocks and Ride the Rockies. My husband and I would spend weekends heading out from our home in central Denver, riding roads until we grabbed a trail, then heading south to Cherry Creek Reservoir or Hudson Gardens. We loved it!

But Denver’s roads have changed a lot since then. I see so much more aggression and distraction. And I see so many news stories about bikers killed on the roads. It takes my breath away.

Still, when my kids were younger, I wanted to try biking with them to school. Our route to school is just a bit over a mile, but it crosses Colorado Boulevard, which is probably my least favorite road in the city. But we did it.

Then, one day we were riding home and I turned back to see where one of my kiddos was and what I saw froze my blood cold. A woman in a giant SUV, presumably another mom, was driving while looking at her phone and her car was drifting toward my daughter.

I screamed at my daughter to brake hard and then screamed at the driver.

Then, I stopped biking altogether. It wasn’t worth it. Not by a longshot.

It’s been a few years but I still have a fourth grader (The other two are in college. Yeah, tell me.) and I want to bike to school with her. Dare I even try it again?

Serendipitously, in my role as a writer for Scott, I have had the good fortune to speak with people from Bicycle Colorado and DenverStreetsPartnership. The passion these people have for safe roads got me inspired again. Not only do I want to personally bike more, but I want to contribute one less car to the roads.

So, I’m trying again. Before school got out, my daughter and I biked to and from school. I biked for coffee breaks. I biked to the bank and the post office. WOOT!

So, I thought I’d share some observations from a regular-turned-rookie biker.

  1. It’s fun! I sort of forgot how fun it is to just hop on a bike and go. I live in an up-and-coming Denver neighborhood and so many things are now accessible by bike! (20 years ago, not so much.) If I am brave enough to just do it, I can do a lot of my life by bike.
  2. The traffic really is bad. No news there. When I have to cross Colorado, I sort of gird myself for a fight. That’s stressful.
  3. But I also have noticed that a lot more people give bikers the right of way today than they used to. Maybe all these awareness campaigns are paying off. Thank you, Bicycle Denver and DenverStreetsPartnership.
  4. I’m thinking I might use that old Burley that we saved for hauling groceries behind my bike! Look at me go!
  5. My fourth-grader needs me to do this. She LOVED it. It’s so good for her. Because I have teenagers, I am more hyper-focused than ever on mental health. In fact, now that I think about it, mental health issues scare me way more than traffic. I need to do this for my youngest child’s happiness, her sense of independence.

Another thing I learned from my chats with the bike experts is that I need to give myself some grace. If I want to change my habits, it will take time. I may not remember everything (like a water bottle) but that doesn’t make my attempts a failure. Each outing, I will learn more.

If I want Denver to be a place where my grandkids feel safe to bike to school, I have to make this change now.

Look at me go!


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