Skip to main content

C4C’s Written Response to Boulder County Advocacy Topic Submissions

Matt Muir, C4C Executive Director

 

Community Cycles and Cyclists 4 Community, two allied bicycling advocacy organizations based in Boulder County, invited the public to submit advocacy topics related to their questions and concerns on cycling in Boulder County.  Those topics will be featured at an in-person summit hosted by Community Cycles and C4C.  See this link for more information.

The details of the in-person summit are still being planned.  For now, below is C4C’s written response to the topics submitted.  Several topics have been combined due to their similarity.  I, Matt, did not answer each and every submission directly.

Feel free to email C4C’s staff person, Matt Muir, with your thoughts.  My email address is matt@c4community.org.

A note, C4C recently changed its name to Coalition 4 Cyclists.  For years, the name Cyclists 4 Community had problems.  Changing our name had advantages so we changed our name.

General Response

Community Cycles usually but not always focuses their advocacy on topics inside of or related to the City of Boulder.  C4C’s focus is on rural, unincorporated Boulder County.  A rural, county-scale focus is relatively unique and, in this case, a product of Boulder County’s nationally leading population of enthusiast category cyclists.

A third significant organization in the county is the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance, also an ally of Community Cycles and C4C.  There are other organizations like Bicycle Longmont.  At the state level, there is Bicycle Colorado and several other organizations as well.

As a rule, C4C works to partner with each group as appropriate.

C4C’s Basic Position

We’re lucky to live in Boulder County and one of the many reasons is that we not only have a good county government but one that leads on standards for things like transportation.  Specifically, the Boulder County Transportation Master Plan is an example of best practices in a “network multi-modal” approach.

Multi-modalism is the diversification of the utilization of right-of-way.  Right-of-way, in this sense, is the shared and public network of land for the purpose of transportation.

Instead of roadways built solely for autos, the Boulder County TMP calls for a network of diversified modes to move people and goods, not just autos.

C4C’s basic position is to support the full expression of the Boulder County TMP, especially its network multi-modal elements.

There are four multi-modal parts related to cycling.

  1. Separated hard-surface multi-use paths or bikeways along major commuter highways or between major commuter destinations.  The data and engineering standards are clear.  Proximity of a cyclist or pedestrian to highway speed and volume of traffic (kinetic energy) predictably produces serious injuries and fatalities.
  2. Regional soft-surface trails.  Trails like the LoBo Trail, the BERT, and the St.Vrain Greenway provide or will provide accessible, appealing, and safe facilities for a wide range of users.
  3. Bike-able shoulders along lower volume and lower speed county roads.  Not fully indicated by safety and engineering standards, this measure is a compromise since the taxpayer cannot afford infinite taxation for perfect infrastructure which, in many cases, is impossible due to constricted right-of-way.
  4. Connections to the west or mountain connections.  The 2013 floods resulted in the loss of funding for the county’s Regional Mountain Trails program which was intended to explore connections to the west.  The county has told C4C that it is at its capacity to perform projects like this.  Consequently, C4C accepts the county’s statement and is being patient.  Additionally, this domain is one that the Boulder Mountainbike Alliance manages well.  For instance, the North Sky Trail is a great addition to the network of mountain trail connections.

Network multi-modalism is not just good for cyclists, it is good for everyone.  Outcomes in safety, livability, land-use, water conservation, emissions for climate, emissions for health, the environment, and equity are all measurably improved by the multi-modal utilization of right-of-way.

For C4C, more important than safety is opportunity.  The opportunity for Boulder County residents to access safe and appealing transportation choices for work, services, and play results in health and full human lives.

What Is The Vision?

The full expression of the Boulder County TMP results in a network, multi-modal system.  Here’s a summary.

  • Bikeways
    • US 36 Boulder – Westminster, complete.
    • SH 119 Boulder – Longmont.  Construction begins in fall 2024.  This is a role model project with a bikeway designed to above standard criteria in the form of widths, turn radii, sight lines, and separated grade crossings.
    • US 36 North Foothills Highway Boulder – Lyons.  Feasibility study due in June, 2024.  The complex nature of this project required a feasibility study.  No current funding for design nor construction.
    • SH 7 / Arapahoe Boulder – Brighton.  CDOT plans call for a multi-modal design including a separated bikeway.  This is a 10 year project, at least.
    • South Boulder Road, Boulder – Louisville.  Plans call for a separated bikeway.
    • Boulder – Louisville/Lafayette Separated Path.  Boulder County has funding in 2025 for a feasibility study.
    • US 287 Louisville/Lafayette – Longmont.  Planning phase.  Boulder County has preliminarily identified a complementary right-of-way, one that is parallel, nearby, and more appealing for a path.
    • Highway 93 Golden – Boulder.  C4C and Bike JeffCo are proposing to raise $450,000 to pay for a feasibility study for a path.  Because this project crosses jurisdictions, it has fallen through the cracks.  C4C and Bike JeffCo are attempting to coordinate the funding, parties, and project.
    • Highways 52 and 66.  These are not in any active process however both have plans for separated bikeways.
    • Longmont to Berthoud/Loveland.  A path is called for in the Boulder County TMP but, like Highway 93 Golden – Boulder, this is a cross-jurisdictional project which makes it complicated.  No planning exists at this time.
    • Highway 42’s improvements contain multi-modal elements too but I, Matt, have lost track of the details on this project.
  • Regional Soft Surface Trails
    • Boulder County is trying to find funding to build the Jay Road segment and, thus, complete the LoBo Trail which is a great amenity.
    • The BERT (Boulder – Erie Trail).  This is on a former railroad bed.  Its design is nearing completion.  Fingers crossed, it has funding for construction too.  There are two tricky segments, crossing US 287 and low-lying wetlands.
    • The St. Vrain Greenway (Longmont – Lyons).  The county hopes to finish the BERT and then move to this project.
    • If you’re old enough, you may remember the county tried to do a Boulder Reservoir to Lyons Trail along the Farmer’s Ditch.  That attempt failed, the ditch owners and adjacent property owners opposed it.
  • Bike-able Shoulders
    • As a practice, every time the county does a repair or improvement on a lower volume, lower speed county road, the shoulder gets widened to serve as a bike-able shoulder.
    • It’s not always that simple.  And sometimes coordination breaks down, for example, on Highway 170 between Eldorado Springs and Highway 93.
  • Connections to the West
    • C4C is being patient on this topic but the idea is to find ways to connect west into the mountains and beyond.  The only way this will work is in partnership with the county and other groups in the community.

How Does The System Work?

The Boulder County TMP is rigorously developed and based on empirical standards.  It is publicly reviewed and then approved by the County Commissioners.  Upon approval, it becomes “binding” which means it cannot be changed without formal process.

There’s an executive summary of the plan but the actual plan is detailed to the point of hundreds of or even thousands of line items covering all of the right-of-way in Boulder County.  What’s confusing is that some rights-of-way in Boulder County are managed by the state, CDOT.  And, within a municipality, right-of-way is managed by an incorporated town or city.  All these jurisdictions and their management are not always coordinated.  Conversely, the TMP is a network level plan and works as a whole across the county.  Therein lies a source of occasional conflict.

Everything contained in the TMP is a potential candidate for construction.  However, the budget allows for only a small fraction of the plan to enter into the Capital Improvement Plan for construction.  To build the whole plan would cost hundreds of millions of dollars or over $2 billion if rail is included.  Rail has now been included in Front Range Passenger Rail which is a large and separate project.

Instead of funding everything which is impossible, Boulder County government decides on an order for construction based on a process for prioritizing projects.  The basic funding mechanism for all of this is the Boulder County Transportation Sales Tax.  The link has more links that show what is funded between now and 2038.

In addition to Boulder County Sales Tax funding, there are state and federal grants.  These grants are awarded on a competitive basis through an extensive process governed by detailed standards for cities and counties all over the U.S.  For instance, what’s referred to as the “funding stack” for the Highway 119 Boulder – Longmont Project took 11 years to complete.  It’s called a stack because it’s a combination of funding sources stacked together to achieve the full cost.

How Can There Be More Funding for Building Faster?

That’s a good question.  The increase in state and federal funding from things like the American Recovery Plan Act has mostly been allotted for disbursement between 2022 and 2027.  Entities all over the U.S. applied for those funds.

In the Boulder area, that federal funding gets funneled into DRCOG (“Doctor Cog”).  DRCOG then manages the competitive and organized awarding of the funds in the DRCOG region based on stated criteria.

Another way of putting this is that the current level of funding produces the current rate of construction outcomes.  Since Boulder County’s TMP is a role model plan, it competes well for competitive grant funds which often favor multi-modal projects.

The Boulder County Transportation Sales Tax was renewed in 2022 and passed by 81% to continue the one penny on $10 rate.  Some observers say that with 81% in-favor Boulder County could possibly raise the tax rate or propose limited term taxes to fund specifically named projects.

Whatever the answer may be, C4C favors exploring ways to fund more projects and faster.  The return on investment is clear.

A Special Case on Funding:  The North Foothills Bikeway

One of C4C’s goals is to raise and contribute up to $3,000,000 towards the construction of the North Foothills Bikeway from the City of Boulder to Lefthand Canyon.  This is the most dangerous segment of one of the state’s most dangerous roads for cyclists.

Since funding usually works in stacks, if a community partner like C4C can put $3M on the table then the county is incentivized to contribute the $3M it has budgeted for the project between now and 2038.  The City of Boulder and CDOT are also incentivized to contribute.  All combined, one could reach the full stack, say, $6M – $8M needed to build the five mile segment.

Without the initial incentivizing contribution from C4C the project may take years or decades to achieve.

What’s The Cost-benefit Analysis?

Funding the multi-modal elements of the TMP is not a new cost.  It shifts the cost.  Currently, the costs are externalized, among other ways, to killed and seriously injured users.  The United States is worst by a margin among peer nations for traffic related serious injuries and fatalities.  Cyclists and pedestrians are harmed at a disproportionately high rate.  Those outcomes are conditioned by insufficient policy and infrastructure.

The greatest cost of all are losses in opportunity, health, human lives, land-use, water conservation, emissions for health and climate, equity, and the environment.  Alternatively, in both the infrastructure and policy environments, you get what you build for.  We could build better infrastructure and better policy and get better outcomes.

How Can We Get More People to Ride Bikes?

The number one reason cited by people to choose to ride more frequently is the perception of safety.

C4C would argue that what really drives ridership is the sum of safety, access, and appeal.

“If you build it, they will come.”  Field of Dreams

Itemized Responses

Vision Zero, speeding, red light running, distracted driving, aggressive driving, and law enforcement?

Vision Zero is a philosophy born in Scandinavia where they decided decades ago that if they were serious about reducing traffic deaths then they should get serious about their infrastructure and policies.  They got serious and it shows.  Europe and especially northern Europe have a fraction of the killed and seriously injured that we have in the U.S.

Boulder County, like many governments, adopted a Vision Zero policy and goal of zero traffic deaths by 2035.  Critics say these policies are performative and the data in the U.S. reflects that.  Boulder County being Boulder County, I reserve my judgment.

The county has started a methodical approach.  First measuring the problem of traffic deaths.  This sounds easy but it’s not.  They hired a dedicated Vision Zero staff person.  They are incrementally marching towards change.  And their biggest obstacle is us.  The American driving public is addicted to convenience and resistant to change.  We point fingers.  Worse, we are hostile to our own best interests and, sometimes, to the staff and elected leaders who are trying to serve us.

If you really want to walk out your door without encountering an abnormally high chance of being killed, then set your individual convenience aside for a moment and imagine sharing our roads with civil regard for others.

As far as speeding, a relatively new Colorado law allows local governments including counties to expand automated speed enforcement which has good data behind it.  The city has begun the process of implementing this.  C4C inquired with the county and their response is that they may also use automated enforcement, in this case, for the first time.  The case with red lights is the same.

Distracted driving is a leading cause of crashes. For something like the seventh time, a distracted driving (“hands free device”) bill is in the legislature.  It’s not clear if it will pass or not.  Legislation is a complicated process but this bill makes sense.  It’s a good policy and the data supports it.  Thanks to Bicycle Colorado and others for their tireless efforts on this.

UPDATE – This bill passed and was signed into law.  It will take effect January 1, 2025.

To report aggressive driving, dial *277.

The role of law enforcement is a great question.  In Boulder County, we’re lucky.  The Boulder County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) and Sheriff Johnson himself know that they live in a unique county with lots of cyclists.

Law enforcement is not magic.  Like the county’s government in general, they struggle with staffing shortages.  It’s hard to afford to live in Boulder County on a typical county wage.  They balance funding against the entirety of their mandate.  They have to constantly balance serving and protecting (good cop) with enforcing (bad cop).  On the latter point, alienating drivers or cyclists can just make matters worse and the BCSO knows that.

If C4C had its druthers, it would increase funding and support to the sheriff’s office.  And it would subsequently have a conversation with the BCSO in order to listen to them about what can be done, together, in partnership to lead on safer and better cycling.

Drivers’ Education and/or Certification

When one operates a vehicle in Colorado, especially a motor vehicle, one agrees to know and understand Colorado traffic law.  But very few people do.  Meeting after meeting the topic of safety comes up.  Infrastructure is slow and expensive to adapt to safety standards.  With policy though, we could do relatively simple things to communicate to Colorado’s four million licensed drivers about new laws, important laws, problematic behaviors, and staying up-to-date on operating a vehicle.

C4C has started to propose this to governmental entities.

How Can CDOT Help?

CDOT can help by partnering with Boulder County on the full expression of the Boulder County TMP.  The good news is that CDOT is doing so.

Traditionally, even CDOT called itself a “highways and bridges” organization.  Their critics would say that CDOT never met a right-of-way that it didn’t want to pave from fence to fence for autos.  Now, however, it looks like things are changing.

The Highway 119 Boulder – Longmont Improvement Project is a CDOT project on a CDOT  right-of-way inside the Boulder County TMP.  Instead of a “roadway” project with more general purpose travel lanes resulting in more induced demand and more congestion, CDOT and Boulder County have collaborated on a multi-modal update including priority bus service and a separated bikeway.

The Highway 7 / Arapahoe Boulder – Brighton project, so far, is also a multi-modal update with only a middle turn lane being added, transit improvements, and a separated bikeway.

The rumor is that Highway 52 is also changing away from an initial roadway plan to a multi-modal plan.  The same is the case for Highway 42.

CDOT has been helpful with the North Foothills Bikeway feasibility study.  This too is a CDOT right-of-way.  It’s also one of if not the most dangerous roads in the state for cyclists.  It has about 90,000 bike trips per year.  To build the entire 11 miles of bikeway would be upwards of $25M by one educated and conservative estimate.

UPDATE – The preliminary results from the feasibility study show a cost range for full construction of the bikeway to be in the range of $50M – $80M.  When adjusted for contingency costs which is a typical construction cost process, the projected cost is $91M.

Between Lyons and Boulder is also a beautiful place.  Boulder county government estimates that 80% of cyclists do not even ride on North Foothills Highway due to safety concerns.  By undertaking this project and its challenges, we can incrementally create network level safety, access, and appeal on a travel corridor where current conditions are insufficient.

It’s worth noting that this project has been combined with a wildlife over/underpass project between Nelson Road and Highway 66 where an elk herd creates one of the top 5% most dangerous wildlife collision areas east of the continental divide.

The planning work on North Foothills Highway between Boulder and Lyons is outstanding.  It leads with exemplary solutions.  CDOT and Boulder County are demonstrating what a comprehensively managed and designed right-of-way can be.

We just need to fund its construction.

Cleaner Road Shoulders

Last but not least, there was a practical suggestion regarding cleaner shoulders.  C4C actually deliberated making this a program service goal.  For the time being, I’ve shelved this topic.  Here’s why, the sweeping vehicle for a county-scaled application would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Additionally, it would be ideal if the county and CDOT were to agree to share crews and use a sweeper together so that both agencies could sweep on county and CDOT roads in an efficient manner.

The Tour de France has a sweeper pass through about 30 minutes before the race.  It’s a speedy one too, like 25 MPH with thousands of spectators all over and it sends debris shooting off the side of the road.  What could go wrong?

Thanks for all the questions and comments, even for the constructive criticisms.