Boulder Co. discussing safety upgrades along popular bicycling highway

North Foothills Bikeway Feasibility Study looking at a separate bikeway to improve safety along U.S. Route 36.

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BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. — An 11-mile stretch of U.S. 36 between the City of Boulder and the Town of Lyons offers cyclists some of the best views in the foothills.

Despite the rolling hills and scenic vistas, even avid cyclists like Elorie Slater avoid it.

“The Foothills Highway or many people know it by 36, I used to ride the road far more often than I do now,” Slater said.

Group rides sponsored by the bike shop Slater owns- Sports Garage Cycling- bypass the highway too.

“We made a rule starting about six years ago that no group ride could have any portion of Highway 36 longer than maybe like half a mile to maybe get between two key points. We just felt like the risk was too high,” Slater said.

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According to Boulder County data, rides along North Foothills Highway are risky. The road has more crashes that involve bicyclists than any other road in unincorporated Boulder County.

The most common type of deadly or major-injury crashes are caused by a driver rear-ending a cyclist.

From 2009 to 2018, there were 67 total severe-injury crashes in unincorporated Boulder County involving cyclists. 30% of those happened on U.S. 36 from Boulder to Lyons.

That’s why the North Foothills Bikeway Feasibility Study is looking at a separate bikeway to improve safety.

Boulder Bike Planner Alexandra Phillips said while it’s in its early stages, the hope is to create a safe place to ride.

“What we’re trying to do is design a separated bike way that would be for all ages and abilities. So, you wouldn’t have to be in that “fearless” category. You could be “confident” or “interested and concerned” and feel comfortable riding,” Phillips explained.

But building a better place to ride doesn’t come without challenges.

“There’s lots of constraints including the topography. It’s very steeply undulating,” Phillips said.

And that’s just one challenge. Since the bikeway would be built in Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) jurisdiction, the county is constrained by the amount of space available.

CDOT leaders want to hear from you at two public meetings this month.

In 2020, more than 91,000 cyclists pedaled along North Foothills Highway despite the danger.

“Just slightly north of Neva Rd., I was heading in the direction of Lyons and police came around me and stopped 100% of the traffic. About a half-mile ahead of me there was a fatality,” Slater said.

That day made Slater hyper-aware of the need to make the highway safer for all who share the space.

“When we increase safety, that’s increasing safety for motorists as well,” Slater said.

Boulder County’s Community Planning & Permitting Department invites the public to attend one of two meeting presentations for the North Foothills Bikeway Feasibility Study. One meeting is virtual and one meeting will be in person in Lyons.

The virtual public meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 16, starting at 6 p.m. Please register for the meeting here.

The in-person public meeting will be hosted on Tuesday, April 30, starting at 6 p.m. at the Town of Lyons Public Library, 451 4th Ave. in Lyons.

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