a man wearing red speaks into a microphone at a podium, with people sitting in the background also wearing red
Patrick Santana, a member of the city’s planning commission and Vibrant Littleton, was one of over a dozen individuals who made public comment about bicycle and pedestrian safety at a Dec. 5 city council meeting. / Photo by Nina Joss.

There were hugs, tears and passion in the Littleton council chambers during a recent meeting, as over a dozen community members shared perspectives on bike and pedestrian safety.

A large group of them wore red — as they did the week prior — the favorite color of Liam Stewart, a 13-year-old who was killed when he was hit by a car while riding his bike to school in October.

Speakers used statistics, financial arguments, metaphors and emotional pleas to urge city council members to take bold steps toward safer streets, including infrastructure and speed limit changes.

One of the most emotional moments of the evening came when Liam’s father, Josh Stewart, spoke to the council.

“I know that there is nothing that any city council member can do to change what happened to my son,” he said. “But I hope what happened to my son can change the hearts and minds of each person on city council.”

He said the city council was not thinking of what was best for its citizens when it adopted the city’s Transportation Master Plan in 2019. He said city leaders need to reimagine who pedestrians and cyclists are and how to protect them.

“Back then, bicyclists were seen as adults in spandex, with clip-in shoes, on an $8,000 bike,” he said. “I ask you now — when you think about bicyclists, imagine my son: Liam, making his way to school, pedaling a bike he is still growing into, a bike that he bought with his own allowance.”

a man speaks behind a podium to the city council
Josh Stewart, the father of Liam Stewart, speaks to the city council at a Dec. 5 meeting. / Photo by Nina Joss.

While community calls for safer streets have been largely spurred on by the crash that killed Liam, some attendees mentioned other recent automobile-pedestrian crashes.

In Littleton this year, there have been at least 18 crashes that led to the injury or death of a pedestrian or cyclist, according to city statistics.

On Sept. 24, a pedestrian named Preston Dunn was killed by a vehicle on West Bowles Avenue.

A nighttime crash on Nov. 29 hospitalized Enmery Smith who was crossing Broadway.

In this incident, police say Smith was wearing dark clothes and crossed when cars had a green light. Smith had a high blood alcohol concentration and fentanyl in his system at the time of the crash, according to the police report.

Infrastructure and speed limits

One speaker, a mother of two young daughters, said the city should reduce speed limits in Littleton.

“In nearly half of our streets, pedestrians are forced to use the road as the only safe place to travel — but these areas that provide no safe access for pedestrians are currently 25 to 35 mile per hour zones for cars,” she said. “It is time that we plan the top speeds for cars based on how those that walk, roll, stroll and ride are protected.”

Keely Quinn, who is a new e-bike owner, said physical infrastructure needs to be altered to separate cars from bikes and pedestrians while slowing traffic.

a woman speaks into a microphone
Littleton resident Keely Quinn speaks at a Dec. 5 city council meeting. / Photo by Nina Joss.

“We must slow traffic and keep bikers and walkers safe by narrowing the lanes, adding protected bike lanes and wider sidewalks,” she said. “A narrower road will inherently slow drivers, and drivers won’t need to stress as much about coexistence with bikes and walkers — an all-around improved experience.”

In response to several city council members’ comments about the importance of speed enforcement at a recent study session, some residents pushed back on the fairness and efficacy of enforcement alone.

“Enforcement doesn’t promote an equitable Littleton,” Quinn said. “A $100 speeding ticket might be of no regard to many families in Littleton, but for those like me who have entered into Littleton via affordable housing, it can mean skipping the grocery store.”

The general consensus from commenters was that safer road design — not just traffic enforcement — was the best way to reduce pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries. They said this method was economically cost-effective and more consistent than relying on enforcement from police officers.

“Some have argued that changing signs, zoning and enforcement won’t work, as drivers ignore these and can be distracted,” said local mom Kylee Duff. “That’s why I believe that separated bike lanes are the solution that we need.”

Resistance to council comments

At a Nov. 28 study session, At-Large Councilmember Pam Grove said the city should consider the desires of drivers when contemplating infrastructure changes, noting that some drivers do not want to give up road space for bike lanes.

She specifically used the example of a mother with many children who needs a car to get groceries for her family.

During the Nov. 5 public comment period, some individuals pushed back on Grove’s statements.

“To imply that a pedestrian/biking community wants to force a mother of six — or anyone else — to ride a bike is a divisive and irresponsible comment,” resident Johnathan Slater said. “Our intention is not to mandate particular means of transport for anyone — we advocate the safety for everyone on our streets through safe street designs, cars included.”

Slater said the prioritization of people walking, rolling and biking stems from a recognition of the vulnerability of these users when sharing the road with larger vehicles.

Benjamin Traquair, a founder of Littleton Social Cycle, said that even if people want car-centric design, that doesn’t mean it’s always best for them or the community.

people behind the dais listen intently
District 1 Councilmember Patrick Driscoll listens to citizen comments during a Dec. 5 city council meeting. / Photo by Nina Joss.

He described the situation using an analogy about kids’ diets, in which one group of kids wants to eat cake and ice cream, while another group is asking for vegetables.

“The evidence is irrefutable and their requests (for vegetables) are attainable, but you know that there are some other kids who will be upset if you buy broccoli,” Traquair said. “I’m not asking you to stop buying ice cream. I’m just asking you to add some broccoli to the menu.”

Patrick Santana, a member of Littleton’s planning commission and Vibrant Littleton, challenged some details of the city’s plan to host a listening session to hear the community’s desires about street safety.

He said the people most impacted by dangerous streets are the least likely to be at a listening session, people like an 8-year-old who wants to safely bike to the library or an 85-year-old who struggles to get across the street with a walker.

He said the city should be wary of allowing safety priorities to be decided by a listening session.

“Safely-designed streets should never hinge upon a cheerleading contest,” he said. “As someone who experiences this town’s unsafe street designs on a regular daily basis, it’s disheartening when questions like ‘What priority is our safety?’ get determined by the loudest voices or which side turns out the most people to a meeting.”

a man holding a child speaks into a microphone
Phil McCart holds his 10-month-old daughter as he describes the future he dreams of for her in Littleton, one where she can walk and bike safely. / Photo by Nina Joss.

Phil McCart, a member of Vibrant Littleton, said the city does not need to wait to take action.

“You don’t need to wait until master plans are updated,” he said. “While it’s always preferred to hear from citizens first, there are times where action is more important — and this is one of those times.”

Maria Mandt, a pediatric emergency medicine doctor and mother, witnessed the Oct. 17 crash and provided CPR to Liam before responders arrived.

“Liam was following all of the rules,” she said. “I am angered, (as) a pediatric emergency medicine physician and a mother, that so much is left to chance for our kids and for our community … It is a basic right for all of our citizens to be safe during their daily commute.”