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On the 22nd day that Eric Elliot stood with a sign at the corner of West 38th Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard—having braved sleet, snow, and subfreezing temperatures—he was not alone. On this Friday night, January 6, dozens of people surrounded him, many holding candles close to their puffy jackets. Like Elliot, they had shown up to honor Logan Rocklin, a 34-year-old who was struck by a vehicle and killed while crossing the intersection on a bicycle on December 9. Like Elliot, many of them were demanding answers to the unknowns on his sign, which he had held aloft on the corner for weeks: Fatal hit and run. Justice 4 Logan. Witnesses and exposure needed.
Even now, the driver who killed Rocklin and fled the scene remains unidentified. Denver police are seeking tips and have suggested two types of suspect vehicles. But even in the face of the unsolved hit-and-run, friends and family members milled around Rocklin’s candlelight vigil last Friday, comforting each other. “There’s a lot of people here who knew him, who can share stories about him,” said Andy Morris, Rocklin’s older sister and Elliot’s partner. “He was an outdoorsman who loved hiking and camping and cycling. And he was so full of life. He connected with people easily.”
Perhaps one of the most revealing anecdotes about Rocklin’s caring nature is how he spent his last day: On December 9, his wife Hillary was in the hospital after receiving a stem-cell transplant to help battle leukemia. “They were calling it her second birthday because she was basically getting a new immune system,” Morris says. “He was with her all day until about 4 p.m.”
No one knows why Rocklin rode his bike that night just after 8 p.m. Perhaps it was to grab a drink, Morris wonders, to celebrate his wife’s procedure, but according to one member of the Denver Bicycle Lobby, a grassroots organization that advocates for pedestrian and cyclist safety, Rocklin did everything right on his ride. “That’s what makes this an especially egregious example [of a bike fatality],” says Stacy Liles, who’s volunteered and been involved with the Denver Bicycle Lobby for about three years. “[Rocklin] was doing everything right, from what we were told. He was in the crosswalk, crossing with the light. He was absolutely following the rules.”
As if to underscore how dangerous the intersection is, Rocklin’s white-painted ghost bike—now stationed at the intersection—has a bent front wheel. That contortion of steel and rubber isn’t only from the initial incident, it turns out, but from another driver who ran into the ghost bike after Rocklin’s family members set it up on the corner. Then, just this past Thursday, the bike appeared to have been struck a third time. A Reddit user posted a picture they’d taken that morning of the ghost bike and the pole it’s attached to lying on the ground. One commenter pointed out how difficult it is for semi-trucks to turn at the intersection; sometimes their rear wheels pop up onto the curb before the vehicles can straighten out.
Morris and Elliot say that this experience has awakened them to the dangers of Denver’s roads. “If we can save even one other family from going through something like this, then that brings some meaning to what seems very senseless right now,” Morris says. “Something needs to be done; people are dying. So how do we wake up drivers and make them slow down? The extra two minutes that you save by running a red light are not worth someone’s life, you know?”
A Citywide Problem
The issue of traffic-related deaths in Denver is not lost on city officials. In 2016, Denver launched Vision Zero, a wide-ranging plan to improve traffic safety in the Mile High City through a variety of measures, with the stated goal of zero traffic-related deaths and serious injuries—whether in a car, on foot, or on a motorcycle, scooter, or bicycle—by 2030.
But rather than seeing traffic-related deaths decrease since Vision Zero was enacted (in 2016, there were 61 fatalities), deaths actually have gone up: In 2021, Denver had 84 traffic-related fatalities, and there were 82 in 2022.
This past December has been particularly painful for Denver’s cycling community. Just nine days after Rocklin’s death, cyclist Ainslie O’Neil was struck and killed while riding her bike across Federal Boulevard. In that instance, the driver stayed on the scene. But with two horrific incidents occurring in such close succession, the cyclist community is demanding change. After all, they’ve seen this before: The recent deaths are reminiscent of late 2018 when cyclist Dave Martinez was struck and killed (also a hit-and-run), followed seven months later by the death of a 37-year-old mother of two, Alexis Bounds.
With frustration mounting, Liles of the Denver Bicycle Lobby says the accidents are “pretty much predictable at this point.” And when it comes to Vision Zero? “We’re moving in the wrong direction,” he says.
While the city has added dozens of miles of bikeways in recent years as part of its Vision Zero efforts, Liles says many are unprotected, painted lanes or strips of road separated from cars by flimsy, plastic bollards. Liles sees these types of efforts as small comforts compared to the types of concrete barriers that truly protect cyclists from cars—like the kind that were finally installed on South Marion Street, where Bounds was killed in 2019.
“So we’re getting some of what we need, but we just don’t feel Denver is moving fast enough,” Liles says. “A lot of times, we’re prioritizing saving parking over putting in protected bike lanes. And the fact is that things aren’t going to magically get better in 2023 without the political leadership we need.”
Vanessa Lacayo, a spokeswoman for Denver’s Department of Transportation & Infrastructure (DOTI), which is in charge of carrying out Vision Zero, says that Denver is striving to do better at reducing traffic deaths. “We know we still have more work to do and are committed to that,” she says.
Lacayo says that the city has made improvements at hundreds of locations under the Vision Zero plan—and is continuing to build or improve dozens of miles of bikeways under its “Community Transportation Networks” initiative. “Where we are making improvements using proven crash-reduction strategies, we are seeing positive results,” she says. But she also raises the challenge of aggressive driving in Denver. “Throughout 2022, we saw behavioral factors continue to contribute to fatal and serious-injury crashes in our city,” she says. “Those include traveling over the speed limit, aggressive driving, disobeying traffic signals, driving under the influence, and lack of seatbelt use. We need people to slow down, follow speed limits, and look out for one another, especially people walking, biking, and riding motorcycles. We need people to drive sober, eliminate distractions when driving, and wear their seatbelts.”
Liles agrees that drivers in Denver, especially since the pandemic, have been generally aggressive. But by studying tactics used in cities like Newark, New Jersey—which had zero traffic deaths for four years running—he believes there are strategies Denver can use to slow drivers and protect pedestrians and cyclists. These include implementing more “no turn on red” signs at busy intersections and giving pedestrians a few seconds’ head start to cross streets before cars enter the intersection. Those two changes alone, if implemented at 38th Avenue and Sheridan, may have saved Rocklin’s life. Of course, since Sheridan and Federal are both state highways, Liles raises another concern: “They’re both [Colorado Department of Transportation–controlled] roads,” he points out. “So what’s CDOT’s answer? What can they bring to the conversation?”
“CDOT takes all crashes, injuries, and fatalities very seriously,” says the agency’s Tamara Rollison. In an emailed statement to 5280, Rollison also confirmed that Federal and Sheridan are state highways, and that CDOT is aware of Rocklin’s and O’Neil’s fatalities and waiting on official crash reports before conducting a study of what happened. The crash reports, along with various assessments of the site, could lead to safety improvements, “if needed and where possible,” she says. But already, CDOT is working with Denver to make changes to both Sheridan and Federal, including putting in traffic-control devices like pedestrian hybrid beacons, which help slow cars down and allow pedestrians to cross higher-speed roadways.
Even so, Rollison acknowledges that Federal and Sheridan remain “very challenging corridors,” which CDOT and Denver are continuing to try to tackle together with safety improvements. “Many of us here at CDOT are also cyclists,” Rollison says. “We can certainly empathize with the loss of life.”
Continuing the Search for Justice and Change
Until the driver who killed Rocklin is found, Elliot is planning to maintain a presence at 38th and Sheridan. While it’s emotionally taxing to visit the spot where his friend (and partner’s brother) was killed, Elliot says many people have come up to him with thanks or to offer their own stories of traffic-related loss, injury, or near-death experiences. “I go from being heartbroken to being enraged,” Elliot says. But at least he’ll have some help going forward: Friends of Rocklin’s are taking shifts with the sign, allowing Elliot to focus on other aspects of the investigation.
While Denver Police Department detectives are trying hard to find the suspect vehicle, Elliot is conducting his own search. At least a few times a week, he calls body and glass shops looking for vehicles that resemble those on the police bulletin with damage consistent with the incident on December 9, so far with little luck.
“I’ve had a couple shops check their records for me,” he says. “But other places won’t do it.”
Rocklin’s family is offering a cash reward for information that could lead to an arrest and conviction. The amount will be something above the $2,000 that the Metro Denver Crime Stoppers are offering, “but that’s all I want to say about the amount,” Elliot says. Even though the family is seeking justice, Morris is quick to add that she doesn’t want her brother’s memory to be tied to revenge or blame. “We’re just missing Logan so much,” she says. And she’s been touched by the outpouring of support for Rocklin’s wife, who is still battling leukemia and grieving the loss of her husband. To help with expenses, friends have started a GoFundMe page, which has already exceeded its $60,000 goal by more than $30,000.
For now, Elliot and Morris continue to look for answers and have taken up the cause of traffic and pedestrian safety to make something good come out of these circumstances. “This is just not supposed to be how his story went,” Morris says of her brother. “I’m sure Ainslie’s family feels the same. There are so many families that feel like that.”