Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at rdouglas@SteamboatToday.com.
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A year ago today, mountain biking and cross-country skiing champion Katherine Ingalls sped to a second-place finish in the Women's Expert Division of the Steamboat Springs Town Challenge Mountain Bike Series.
Two days later, Katherine lay bleeding on a Routt County road with a crushed pelvis and fractured leg after being struck by a truck while out riding her bike with her mother.
The accident resulted in two challenges.
Ms. Ingalls, now 17, was challenged to overcome serious injuries in her quest to return to the sports she loves.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners was challenged to increase safety for thousands of residents and visitors who bike on county roads throughout the course of each year.
Ms. Ingalls responded with the heart of a champion. In April, she was awarded the Charles Abernathy Memorial "True Grit" Award by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. No one doubts Ms. Ingalls' resolve, and everyone is rooting for her as she faces more surgery next month on her leg.
By voting 2-1 this week to reduce the width of the shoulder on Routt County Road 36 through Strawberry Park, the commissioners took a step backward in responding to the challenge of improving safety for bicyclists and other lawful, non-motorized uses of county roads.
Perhaps commissioners Nancy Stahoviak and Doug Monger - commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush voted to maintain the current width - have forgotten what Commissioner Stahoviak said last year in the wake of Ms. Ingalls' accident as reported by the Steamboat Pilot & Today on July 8, 2007.
"Basically, what we do when we've identified a county road that is heavily used (is) we put up additional 'Share the road' signs," Stahoviak said. "That's our way of notifying people that they are going to be on a road with a variety of mixed users. We as Routt County commissioners will do what we can to improve the safety of some of our roads, recognizing that there will be some roads we can't do that for. The bottom line is that we have to share the road. That's the reality in Routt County."
In light of those statements from a year ago about the import of sharing, it is reasonable for voters to ask a series of questions about this week's decision by the board to change C.R. 36 at the request of one individual.
Why did commissioners Stahoviak and Monger decrease the shoulder width of one of the most popular biking, walking, running and horseback riding roads in the county, thereby reducing the safety buffer the shoulder provides for those mixed users?
Why did they turn down the Strawberry Park Group - a grass-roots organization of homeowners along C.R. 36 - who offered to help finance 'Share the Road' signs in exchange for maintaining the safer, wider shoulder?
Why did they turn down more than a dozen constituents who favored the current road configuration while favoring one politically influential constituent who requested the change?
Did the arguments of the politically influential constituent - Geneva Taylor, wife of state Sen. Jack Taylor - outweigh the common sense expressed by more than a dozen of her neighbors?
Did the reasoning of Mrs. Taylor who stated in part, "I don't want (bicyclists) to ruin my day because they're in my way when they shouldn't be" prevail against those seeking to share the road more equitably by providing signs in precisely the manner the commissioners endorsed a year ago?
Did the desires of Mrs. Taylor disproportionately tilt the normally balanced decision-making of commissioners Stahoviak and Monger because of her family's political influence?
Count me among those concerned that the answer to the last three questions may be "yes." And, should that be the case, let me propose we rename C.R. 36 through Strawberry Park. After all, it's common to pay tribute to the politically powerful by naming roads in their honor.
Taylor Way has a nice ring to it.
Hopefully, my thought that the desires of the politically powerful are attended to above those of others is wrong in this case.
Perhaps Mrs. Taylor and two of our commissioners simply acted too hastily and made a mistake.
If so, the good news is the decision is not written in stone.
It's not too late for the commissioners to correct this wrong-headed decision and return to the reasonable policy stated last summer by increasing signage on C.R. 36 while maintaining the currently safe shoulder.
And, it's also not too late for Mrs. Taylor to hear the voices of her neighbors and reconsider her request so that everyone can once again share the road.
Rob Douglas can be reached at Douglas@privacytoday.com