Boulder County recently widened the shoulder the south side of Olde Stage Road as part of an effort to make it safer for cyclists. Credit: John Herrick

Cyclists interested in riding Olde Stage Road, a popular throughway from North Boulder to Lefthand Canyon, will now have a “climbing lane” designed to protect them from drivers.

The county has just about wrapped up the $3 million roadwork project, which included spending $400,000 on widening the shoulder on the south side of the hill to make it safer for cyclists. The shoulder ends near the top of the hill, and cyclists are advised to merge with traffic.

It’s a relatively small safety improvement, accounting for about 1,500 feet on one side of a three-mile stretch of road. But some cyclists say they will take what they can get.

“The costs of widening the road or a separated path is many times higher than what’s available,” Matt Muir, the operations manager for Cyclists 4 Community, a nonprofit that advocates for cycling infrastructure projects, told Boulder Reporting Lab in an email. “In reality, the public does not have infinite tax capacity to fund ‘perfect’ infrastructure.”

That the county struggled to widen more of the shoulder — or even the uphill section on the north side — reflects one of the many challenges involved in making popular cycling routes in the county’s foothills safer for riders.

Steep topography and narrow water drainages make it costly and environmentally damaging to widen shoulders, according to Tim Swope, the county’s capital programs coordinator.

“Anytime you get into any kind of mountainous terrain, just a little bit of widening the road envelope has enormous consequences,” Swope said. “Every inch is 10 times as expensive as in the plains.”

Why not take some of the lane from cars and give it to cyclists?

Swope said the county, in 2012, updated its roadway standards to build vehicle lanes 11 feet wide rather than 12 feet wide. Any narrower, he said, and it creates issues for trucks and buses, often wearing away the paint on the road.

To help pay for projects that make cyclists safer, the county relies on a 0.1% sales tax. Voters will decide on Nov. 8, 2022 (County Issue 1C: Transportation Sales and Use Tax Extension and Revenue Change) whether to extend this tax. A much larger share of the county’s road budget, however, comes from property taxes and vehicle registration fees.

Olde Stage Road also includes traffic signs telling drivers to pass cyclists “with care.” By law, cyclists do not need to ride within the shoulder. And drivers must pass them with at least three-feet of space or risk a class A traffic infraction, which is punishable through points on your license or a fine.

John Herrick

John Herrick reports on housing, climate, health and local government for Boulder Reporting Lab. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for VTDigger.org. He is interested in stories about people, power and fairness.

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