Littleton Residents Demand Safer Streets for Bicyclists and Pedestrians
In the aftermath of a tragic accident that claimed the life of a seventh-grade student on his way to school, community members in Littleton are urging local officials to prioritize the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. The incident occurred on October 17 at the intersection of South Elati Street and South Arapahoe Drive when the Euclid Middle School student was struck by a vehicle while riding his bike.
The devastating loss has left the community in mourning, with people gathering at the intersection to honor the student’s memory by leaving candles and flowers. Many residents are expressing their frustration over the recurring nature of such incidents, deeming them unjustifiably common.
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), pedestrian deaths in Colorado reached a record high of 115 last year. The data further reveals that 15 bicyclists lost their lives in accidents during the same period. Alarmingly, this year’s statistics indicate a potential increase in fatalities, with 87 pedestrian deaths already recorded as of September 30, surpassing the previous year’s numbers by nine.
Sadly, the Euclid Middle School student is not the only victim of recent accidents in Littleton. In September, a 51-year-old pedestrian named Preston Dunn was fatally struck on West Bowles Avenue. These tragedies have now sparked a growing movement among advocates for improved and safer infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.
One such advocate is Matt Duff, a community member who has been advocating for safer pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure in Littleton for years. As a father of four and member of Vibrant Littleton, a group dedicated to this cause, Duff emphasizes the urgent need for enhanced safety measures. He explains that when he and his children moved to Littleton, they were drawn by the prospect of being able to walk or bike to school. Yet, Duff believes that the current paths for kids are far from safe and argues for the concept of “Complete Streets.”
Complete Streets refer to street designs that provide designated spaces for various modes of transportation, including bikes, pedestrians, and wheelchairs, rather than exclusively prioritizing cars. Duff raises concerns about the risks posed by interaction points between cars and bikes on streets with painted lanes, where cars may unintentionally veer into bike lanes or parked cars could open doors into the path of cyclists. To address this, Duff suggests implementing protected bike lanes, which feature physical barriers, such as curbs or elevation differences, to separate bikes from vehicles.
As the investigation into the October 17 crash is still ongoing, Duff emphasizes that the focus should not be on blame but rather on creating streets where people’s mistakes do not result in tragic consequences. He particularly stresses the importance of safe routes for children, who are more vulnerable in these situations. Duff states that the best opportunity for change lies in prioritizing the safety of educational corridors to ensure that kids can travel to school safely.
Ben Traquair, another member of Vibrant Littleton, echoes Duff’s sentiments and proposes that the city adopt established national and regional design guidelines, such as those provided by the National Association of City Transportation Officials. These guidelines can serve as a foundation for tailored solutions that align with Littleton’s specific needs and priorities. In addition, Traquair suggests hiring more public works staff members dedicated to neighborhood street safety and traffic.
Josie Haggerty, a member of Vibrant Littleton and founder of Littleton Social Cycle, points out that the current infrastructure issues stem from a car-centric culture that is not unique to Littleton. She highlights that Littleton was initially designed to accommodate larger vehicles, and with cars becoming faster and more indispensable for transportation, significant changes are needed to prioritize the safety of non-drivers. Factors such as age, disability, and economic circumstances further emphasize the importance of making roads safer for all road users.
Traquair emphasizes that pedestrian deaths are not exclusively a problem in Littleton but are increasing nationwide. He emphasizes that the advocacy efforts are not about assigning blame to the city but instead finding solutions. To drive this point, a rally for safer streets was organized by members of Littleton Social Cycle and Vibrant Littleton on October 28. The rally aimed to draw attention to the need for fundamental changes in community policy regarding road design and safety.
Community members united at Littleton Public Schools headquarters, laying their bikes on the lawn as a symbolic gesture in support of safe routes for children to walk and bike to school. The location choice aimed to highlight the importance of prioritizing children’s safety while acknowledging the need for safe routes for everyone. Despite freezing temperatures and snow, approximately 50 individuals attended the rally, including Mayor Kyle Schlachter.
Mayor Schlachter, whose own seventh-grade son bikes to Euclid Middle School, shares personal connections to the recent tragedy and has been a vocal advocate for safer bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure for years. He acknowledges the calls for change from the community and pledges to continue advocating for the policies advocated by residents.
Expressing his support for protected bike lanes, Mayor Schlachter highlights specific routes like Windermere Street, South Elati Street, and West Caley Avenue as essential areas where such infrastructure is needed, given the number of children who use these routes. City Manager Jim Becklenberg confirms that city staff members have already started reprioritizing their work to expedite plans for bike and pedestrian safety. Additionally, plans for a new bicycle and pedestrian master plan in 2024 are underway.
Becklenberg explains the intention to gather design ideas from across the country and engage citizens through a community forum to ensure their input informs the new safety plan. The cost and logistics of implementing safer infrastructure, including equipment for plowing, have been raised as potential obstacles. However, Becklenberg assures that the city will assess these considerations, acknowledging the need to protect cyclists at a higher level than in the past.
Despite acknowledging that some people may resist changes due to existing car-centric habits and preferences for faster transportation, Mayor Schlachter emphasizes the importance of prioritizing the safety and lives of all road users. He believes that a shift in mindset is necessary and indicates a willingness to sacrifice convenience for the greater goal of ensuring everyone’s safety on the roads.
The recent tragedies have brought urgency to the ongoing efforts to improve bike and pedestrian safety in Littleton. With community members and city officials now uniting in their commitment to change, there is hope that fundamental improvements will be made to ensure the safety of all residents, especially vulnerable road users like children.