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While it is reasonable to consider a “safer” chip and seal application for bicyclists riding our county roads, it is unreasonable not to take into account the safety of ALL users of these roads. The recreational use of our paved county roads for bicyclists is effectively being promoted by this decision. Agree or disagree, this is a sign of the times and a byproduct of our resort economy. In light of the summer marketing plans for major biking events in Steamboat, this decision is consistent with economic development objectives as well. This is a good!
However look at the most popular roads for bicyclists in the County. For example Elk River Road (RCR 129) is one of the most popular. While always a popular bike ride, Elk River Road is not well suited for the variety of demands being placed on it. It is essentially designed as a rural ranching road that is narrow, undulating, curvy and shoulder-less in places. It is access to one of the most popular Colorado State Parks, Steamboat Lake, which draws hundreds of thousands of campers caravaning up and down the road in spring, summer and fall. It is also a popular winter destination for Nordic skiing and snowmobile commuters. Don’t forget that sightseeing is compelling on this stretch and our wildlife friends use it all the time.
Given the growth of the commuting local population in North Routt, a new school, together with the ongoing ranching activities, the Elk River Road has increasing and conflicting uses. Making the surface of the road more popular for bicycles may have harmful side effects unless the overall safety of the road is addressed. Surface quality aside, the width of the road is, in places, dangerous where there are narrow side shoulders or no shoulders at all! The shoulders, where existent, are gravel, which can be dangerous for bicyclists to navigate. There are very few places to pull off the road safely, there are steep drainages without guardrails and there are no passing lanes. Also consider RCR 14, another popular ride for bicyclists, essentially it has the very same issues.
This chip & seal decision does not go far enough and does not take into account the overall quality of some of the roads that are most impacted. Consideration is needed for increased safety for the width and shoulders, guardrails and passing lanes and safe rest areas to pull off these roads. We should also consider expanding the number of paved roads in the county to diffuse concentrated bicycle use on heavy traffic roads. For example, RCR 44 comes to mind. If we are going to promote recreational biking on our paved county roads then we must take into account the overall safely needs with this expanded use.
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