Its one of the routes in Denver that feels like an afterthought. A route so miserable and unfinished that the destination has disowned it from their media .
The bicycle ride along Pena is a route I wouldn’t recommend to my greatest enemy. I felt worse along that stretch of road than I have felt during any thunderstorm, any busy summery day, and a blizzard. Instead, I would like to talk to the “Official” route that DIA recommends, a challenge in and of itself. This ride was taken on February 28th of this year.
As I started to go along 56th Avenue from Rocky Mountain Arsenal, I was struck by the industrial elements I was passing through, with what appeared to be large plants to the right of me. The traffic along 56th was moderate, comparing to midday traffic on a Sunday in central Denver. Once I got closer to the northernmost part of Montbello, there was a decent series of trails that acted as a sort of buffer from the traffic. Police were along 56th for some unidentified incident. The trails disappear on the approach to the intersection of Buckley, with ongoing construction to the right acting as something that puts you in the worst of the airport traffic. The Pena underpass feels like the unofficial “beginning” of this route, a beginning that reminds you that you are on your own.
56th to Picadilly
I encountered the last bicycle rider along this stretch: a man heading westbound with his cruiser en route to Denver. A pathway appears again here, the last goodbye before the world that is all too familiar to bicycle riders in Denver, a world of intense loneliness and an acute sense that a wrong move, a wrong turn, could make you another statistic.
Picadilly to Jackson Gap
This stretch is the ultimate no man’s land, a visual complement to the plains mentioned in “America, the Beautiful”. The beauty from the song disappears, however, as the stretch from Picadilly to E470 feels congested, unaccommodating, and downright scary. With temperatures in the mid teens, I was beginning to feel the cold of the late winter day along this stretch, turning to the music of Daft Punk to distract from the misery.
Passing E470 felt like a breath of fresh air. While the rolling nature of the hills felt a little scary, the lack of traffic beside a handful of cars and a sketchy pickup put me at ease. Rather than turning at the suggested road by DIA, I turned at Jackson Gap, which fundamentally had the same route as the recommended route.
Jackson Gap to TSA
A winding road with little more than business and larger truck traffic, Jackson Gap was the last bit before the main entrance to the airport. Ending at the eastmost part of the Pena route, it was less than a mile towards the main stretch, the most congested mile. A “Spot” bus passed by me as I rode through an old piece of ice and made my way past the terminals cutting through the TSA as a shortcut to the elevations. I carried my bike down to the RTD station, and boarded for Union Station.
Even though Denver International Airport boasts about its bicycle friendliness on its website, experiencing even their most traveled route makes you out to be an intruder of sorts. The half done job along Pena, the route that still takes you through dangerous sections, and the final ascent that sparks confusion rather than relief are all concerning. In many different ways, the path is reminiscent of the greater issues of pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Denver. From the incomplete streets along federal amounting to a death trap, to the recent opening of City Park to car traffic, the hard fought victories of advocates result in things like an airport that advertises accessibility but routes in spire terror. Unlike the Pena route, however, I could see a more experienced rider doing well on the detour. Overall, much like the story of cycling in Denver, approach with intense caution and skepticism of what lies ahead of you.