Steamboat Springs The broad shoulders enjoyed by cyclists and other nonmotorized users of one of Routt County's most popular recreation corridors are about to shrink.
In a split vote Tuesday, the Routt County Board of Commissioners directed Road and Bridge Director Paul Draper to change the configuration of Routt County Road 36 to widen vehicle lanes from 9 feet to 10 feet, thus shrinking the roads current 5-foot shoulders to 4-foot ones.
The change will be carried out when the road is next striped, Draper said, probably before the Fourth of July. The stretch of road affected is from city limits to a bridge over Soda Creek. C.R. 36 ends at the Strawberry Park Hot Springs and leads to several trails and accesses to public lands. It also provides access to C.R. 38, which leads to Dry Lake Campground, Buffalo Pass and other popular areas of the Routt National Forest.
Draper said the county does not formally designate bicycle lanes on any of its roads, but the wide shoulders on C.R. 36 have become just that in practice. Its current configuration and width were the result of a conscious effort to make the road friendlier for cyclists, pedestrians and equestrians, county records show.
Commissioners Nancy Stahoviak and Doug Monger voted in favor of the reconfiguration, snubbing several members of the public who came to the Tuesday morning hearing or wrote e-mails to support the road's current configuration. Both commissioners said the lines on either side of a 9-foot travel lane are too close for comfort.
"I have to tell you it did not create a calming effect for me," said Stahoviak, who had her husband drive her down the road last week. "It was not a comfortable feeling. : My husband is also a pretty good driver, and it made him nervous."
Monger referred to the motion that ultimately passed as "splitting the baby." In addition to widening the vehicle lanes and narrowing the shoulders by a foot, Monger's motion called for more proactive signage urging all users to share the road.
Noting the road's heavy recreational use, Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush voted against Monger's motion and said she would rather see the lanes left alone.
Those in favor of the current configuration include the Strawberry Park Group, a loose affiliation of homeowners in the area, according to Strawberry Park Group board member Michael Loomis. Loomis said the group would have donated $1,000 for more signage on the road if the county left the lane configuration alone.
Geneva Taylor, a Strawberry Park resident and wife of Republican state Sen. Jack Taylor, led efforts to bring the issue to a hearing before the commissioners, and she was the only person who spoke in favor of a change at Tuesday's hearing.
"I'm the one that started all of this," said Taylor, who said she has witnessed several near-miss accidents between cars and cyclists in the three years since the road was striped to its current configuration. "I only felt that I needed to report it because I feel it was a safety issue. : (Cyclists) are out there to have a great day, and they should be able to. But I don't want them to ruin my day because they're in my way when they shouldn't be."
Mitsch Bush asked several questions throughout the hearing that revealed her preference to leave the road as is. In response to her questions, Draper confirmed that there is a huge recreational reliance on the road.
"It's not just a farm to market road," Draper said.
Prompted by Mitsch Bush, Draper also confirmed that narrow roads make drivers uncomfortable with driving fast.
"We were trying to take advantage of the concept of traffic calming," Draper said. "You have to watch what you're doing if you want to stay within the lanes. : It works."
Speeding was a major concern of many of the residents who attended Tuesday's hearing. Loomis said people rarely drive the 35 mph speed limit on the road and feared widening the lanes would make the situation even worse.
"I do feel having the narrow roadway does help people lower their speed a little bit," Loomis said.
Tania Coffey said speeding cars often terrorize the horses she rides along the shoulder of C.R. 36. Mitsch Bush sympathized with the residents concerned about speed.
"That visual of that wider lane will indeed increase speeding," she said.
But Stahoviak noted that complaints about speed have not decreased since the lanes were narrowed three years ago.
"In my opinion, this narrow lane has not decreased that desire to speed," she said.
And Monger took another view, arguing that the wide shoulders are "specifically enabling and encouraging unsafe bicycle behavior" because many cyclists choose to ride two or three abreast in the wide shoulder rather than single file.
A 2002 traffic study of C.R. 36 showed that it has 1,476 average daily automobile trips. Draper said virtually all accidents on the road occur in the winter months. Sgt. Scott Elliott of the Colorado State Patrol said there are few accidents on the road and that he cannot recall any involving a bicycle in the 10 months he has worked in the Steamboat Springs area.
Last year, the League of American Bicyclists awarded the city of Steamboat Springs with a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community designation. In an e-mail to Mitsch Bush, Emmanuelle Vital wrote that C.R. 36 was "a great asset" in the city's application for the designation.
Vital, who was hired by the city to coordinate its application, wrote that many photographs that illustrated C.R. 36's wide shoulders and "Share the road" signs were included in application materials.
"The maintenance of this shoulder and the creation of additional shoulders would greatly help maintain the award and possibly receive greater designation in the future," Vital wrote.