Alex Morris, hungry after class one day last August, hopped on his Haro Flightline mountain bike to go get lunch at his apartment.

The University of Colorado junior rode south along Broadway, crossed Baseline Road at the crosswalk, and then slipped left into the eastbound bike lane.

"I was going 20 to 25 mph and this car that turned in front of me made half a turn and stopped," Morris said. "I tried to swerve around it and slammed into the back of it. I pretty much indented myself into the car."

Morris, 21, was spun to the right and dumped on the asphalt, breaking his iPod and his collarbone in the process.

At the hospital, the Castle Rock native was incredulous when a police officer told him he would receive a ticket for making an improper lane change.

"I've had a lot of near misses in Boulder," said Morris, who spent eight weeks with his arm in a sling. "Drivers need to pay more attention."

The intersection where Morris crashed -- Baseline Road and Broadway -- is no stranger to collisions between automobiles and bicycles. In fact, it ranks as Boulder's most dangerous intersection, as measured by the 19 collisions recorded there over the past five years.

The data includes accidents at the lighted crosswalk east of the intersection, where just last September police ticketed a motorist who hit and injured a CU sophomore as the student rode her Trek bicycle across Baseline.

Marcus Berggren stands at a driveway just east of 47th Street on Valmont Road, where last fall he collided with a car that cut him off as it entered the
Marcus Berggren stands at a driveway just east of 47th Street on Valmont Road, where last fall he collided with a car that cut him off as it entered the driveway. Berggren was commuting to his job in Broomfield, as he does two to three times a week. ( MARTY CAIVANO )

"I'm nervous just driving through there looking for cyclists, much less biking through there," said John Ellis, a Louisville resident who regularly rides his bike into Boulder for work.

Boulder's rate of collisions involving bikes and cars has been on a steady upward march, growing from 88 in 2007 to 139 in 2008. Last year, there were 162 such incidents. There have been 40 so far this year, through the end of April.

The number of collisions in Boulder far outpaces those recorded in the only other city near its size in the county. Longmont had 41 bike versus auto collisions in 2007, 34 in 2008, and 54 last year.

Marni Ratzler, bicycle and pedestrian transportation planner for Go Boulder, said she hasn't yet been able to crunch the city's data thoroughly enough to determine the reason for the recent spike.

"Does it coincide with gas prices going up?" she said. "I don't know."

She said this spring, the city is plugging into a new electronic accident tracking program that should yield more data about the details of collisions and help the city assess what it can do to bring the number of incidences down.

Recent deaths outside city

Despite Boulder's rising number of collisions, the most recent local cyclist fatalities have occurred outside the city.

Beloved Louisville resident John Breaux, whose death was one of the highest profile local cyclist fatalities in recent memory, was killed when a woman accidentally plowed her car into him as he picked up trash on the side of U.S. 287 in Lafayette 16 months ago.

Nicole Connelly looks over the memorial for Matthew Powell, who was killed in September 2008 when his bicycle collided with a car at the intersection of
Nicole Connelly looks over the memorial for Matthew Powell, who was killed in September 2008 when his bicycle collided with a car at the intersection of Mapleton Avenue and 14th Street in Boulder. ( PAUL AIKEN )

Just last month, Marvin "Chip" Webb, 42, was killed when a Regional Transportation District bus pulling out of a downtown Lafayette Park-n-Ride collided with Webb as he crossed South Public Road on City Center Circle.

And in September, 60-year-old Casey Najera died when he was struck by a car as he rode his bike southbound on 28th Street, where it intersects with Violet Avenue, in unincorporated Boulder County.

In Boulder, three cyclists have died in collisions with vehicles over the past five years, the most recent at Colorado Avenue and 30th Street in January 2009. That intersection ranks as the No. 6 most dangerous in the city, with 10 collisions since 2005.

Jim Miers, Boulder Cycling Club's safety chairman, said the increase in collisions is likely due to a combination of more cars and bikes on the streets, and cyclists and motorists not knowing the rules of the road.

He said he sees CU students regularly rolling down the streets of University Hill into the crosswalks and intersections on Broadway -- wearing headphones, chatting into cell phones and not paying attention.

Broadway and University Avenue, with 12 collisions in the past five years, is the second most dangerous intersection in the city. Broadway and Regent Drive -- just a few blocks to the south -- made it to 10th on the list, with seven collisions.

Many critics of Boulder's flashing crosswalks have blamed the crossings for giving pedestrians and cyclists a false sense of security -- a sense that motorists will automatically stop for them if they simply activate the lights.

Miers said safe riding comes down to a matter of everyone remaining vigilant and acting as defensively as possible.

"If you get some cycling safety education and follow safe routes, Boulder is one of the best places to cycle," he said. "If you're a scofflaw and you're hot-dogging it at intersections, your number is coming."

Collecting cycling accolades

Despite the growing hazard at Boulder's major intersections, the city regularly reaps recognition for being one of the nation's best places to roll on two wheels.

In its May edition, Bicycling Magazine touted Boulder as the third most bike-friendly city in the nation, behind Minneapolis and Portland.

It is one of only three U.S. cities -- the others being Portland, Ore. and Davis, Calif. -- to earn platinum status from the League of American Bicyclists. The organization describes Boulder's bicycle network and services for cyclists "second to none."

Boulder has 74 miles of on-street bike lanes, 196 miles of designated bike routes or bike-friendly road shoulders, 111 miles of bike paths, and 74 underpasses and two overpasses to keep cyclists from having to negotiate with motorized vehicles at road crossings.

The city's bicycle commuting mode share in 2008 -- at 9.9 percent -- was 18 times higher than the national average.

"We must be doing something right because there are a lot of cyclists out there," said Bill Cowern, Boulder's traffic operations engineer.

But Cowern said no number of collisions is acceptable and his department is always looking for ways to make the city's roadways safer. Before a solution is identified for any specific location, he said, the city needs to drill deep into its accident data.

Just because Broadway and Baseline Road is the site of the largest number of collisions between cars and bikes in Boulder since the beginning of 2005 doesn't mean there is anything inherently wrong with the intersection, Cowern said.

First, he said he would want to know if the collisions predominantly occur in relation to one particular turn lane or on a specific crosswalk. He would also want to find out which party is at fault -- the driver or the cyclist.

"Knowing there are 19 accidents on Broadway and Baseline tells me I need to take a deeper look at Baseline and Broadway," he said. "If we have the right infrastructure in place and people are making bad decisions, that's different from having a site where you need a different infrastructure in place."

Police statistics assign all collisions in the city to the nearest intersection, which can give an intersection a worse reputation than it might actually deserve.

At the Baseline and Broadway crossing, many of the collisions are actually happening at the flashing crosswalk several hundred feet to the east of the intersection.

Cowern said there have been enough problems at that crosswalk that Boulder is considering whether to apply for federal grant money to fund the construction of an underpass at Baseline Road, connecting the Base-Mar shopping center to the CU School of Law.

Safety worries overblown?

Dan Grunig, executive director of Bicycle Colorado, said Boulder is very safe for cyclists in spite of the burgeoning number of collisions at intersections.

And he insists that as more bikes pour onto the city's road system, riding in Boulder should become even safer because everyone on the road will get more used to cyclists being part of the traffic pattern.

"The more people who ride bicycles, the fewer bike-car crashes you encounter because users of the road get used to sharing the road," he said, pointing to a study by P.L. Jacobsen that concluded that there is an inverse relationship between the number of pedestrians and cyclists on the road and the number of collisions they have with automobiles.

Even cyclists who have gotten into collisions laud the safety of Boulder's streets.

Marcus Berggren, of Boulder, said he slammed into the side of a car last September at the corner of 47th Street and Valmont Road while biking to his job in Broomfield. The car passed him and turned suddenly in front of him, he said.

"I went into a Zen-like blank state and then had the instinct to grab hold of the brakes," said Berggren, 35.

He skidded 25 feet, struck the car and hit the ground, picking up bruises and contracting a serious case of road rash.

Even so, Berggren said Boulder is "exceptionally safe" for cyclists.

Jason Duffy, a Boulder police officer, said it all comes down to awareness and communication between cyclists and drivers.

To motorists, he said to never assume you have the right of way. And to cyclists, Duffy said you can't morph from one mode of transport to another as you ride down the street.

"Pick what you're going to be -- a bicycle or a pedestrian," he said. "Because you can't have it both ways."

Berggren agrees. Take that extra second to look around before you step on the gas pedal or the bicycle pedal, he said.

"That extra look can save you a lifetime of heartache and guilt," Berggren said.

Contact Camera Staff Writer John Aguilar at 303-473-1389 or