A barrier guides cyclists and pedestrians into a more hazardous alternative route to the original Poudre Trail.
As far as bicycle friendly communities go, Fort Collins has it all. Bike paths, bike lanes, official bike plans, current bike maps, bike advocacy groups, bike parking, even biking police officers and, bike detours. We joined a group of seasoned cyclists to ride and assess a recently installed bicycle detour around the site of the new headquarters for Woodward Governor Inc.. Here is a link to a local newspaper from a mid October write up and video regarding this $200 million redevelopment. This project is seen as a business catalyst for the area that will ultimately modernize the north east corner of Old Town Fort Collins. As Trevor Hughs of the Coloradoan mentions in the video linked above, “…get used to seeing a lot of heavy truck traffic in the area…”. This multiple year project stands to create some added traffic complexities, but the challenge to cyclists in the meantime, however, is the disruption of a major bicycle arterial.
Plans Illustrating Woodward Governor’s New Headquarters
This specific detour is an interruption of the local Poudre Trail, a river corridor that is an essential east-west route for cyclists and pedestrians to travel safely without interfacing with the busy auto traffic in this area. Multiple parents at our children’s school depend on the Poudre trail, as it is the only way to safely bypass the several arterial roadways connecting Old Town with east Fort Collins. Let me reiterate: without this continuous path a bicyclist has no other alternative but to hit roads teeming with auto traffic and complex motor vehicle-specific intersections. Here’s a photo of Erica and Emmett on a section of the Poudre Trail earlier this summer: When I first heard of the detour I tried to picture it in my head, perhaps the way a commercial developer might see it to fruition on a map… but the clearest interpretation came to me as I rode the detour on my bicycle. Simply put, this detour is riddled with opportunities for a bicyclist to be struck by motor vehicles.
Junction at Mulberry and Lemay
Coming from the south we were brought to the junction of two large auto arterials, Mulberry St. and Lemay Ave. From here we used a crosswalk (against traffic flow) spanning seven lanes turning north with traffic flow on Lemay. This brought some impatient glares from busy motorists as we made the crossing. Once headed north on Lemay two options present themselves: ride the bike lane immersed in swift and merging auto traffic or try to make your way onto the nearby sidewalk, but in both cases you will find yourself encountering the strong potential of a ‘right hook’ as you cross major entrances to a RadioShack, Chase Bank, Home Depot, a KFC/Taco Bell, a Papa Johns, a Gamestop, and ultimately a Super Walmart. This is a stressful and hazardous few minutes on the bicycle. Here is an example of one of these entrances during a brief lull in activity:
The disruption our five bicycles had on auto traffic flow was notable. By design, cars and trucks regularly breached the bike lane in order to enter or exit the shopping plaza. I imagined our group played into negative stereotypes and stigmatized our method of transportation to these scurrying motorists. This is not a good thing if you consider yourself to be any kind of bicycling advocate- as a matter of fact it is a complete P.R. catastrophe. These impressions leave motorists with the fodder to not only despise the growth of cycling in a community, but worse, never consider taking their own bicycle farther than the end of their neighborhood. Rather than taking the sidewalk at the entrance to an apartment complex (like the cyclist pictured below) we merged into the left turn lane at Lemay and Lincoln Ave.
Junction at Lemay and Lincoln
The feeling of waiting for the green left-turn light on a bicycle on this sizable five-lane roadway is humbling amidst semi trucks, SUV’s and other motor vehicles. We then made our turn onto Lincoln Ave, a busy two-lane thoroughfare. After crossing several entrances to businesses, commercial facilities and residential streets the bike lane was no longer wide enough to accommodate a bicycle with a child trailer and I sought refuge on the sidewalk, coasting the last hundred feet or so, back to the once continuous Poudre Trail, where the detour finally ends.
Having completed the section I studied an official detour sign that had been placed at one end of the detour as construction vehicles loomed in the background. This less than practical band aid on what was once a continuous car-free thorough fair is scheduled to be restored to its original usability sometime in the spring of 2014. For the time being officials with the city have put together a plan to construct a temporary paved path to better accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians alike. Read about this plan in this November 2nd article here. The project would be an estimated $50,000 to complete, but where those funds will be sourced is a mystery. With no real immediate solution in the near future, and temperatures rapidly dropping making construction of an temporary paved path less likely, the current detour is looking more like the reality for cyclists and pedestrians this winter.
With recent motor vehicle/bicycle accidents leading to some serious injuries and one fatality in Fort Collins the question of safety is more critical than ever. This detour was not planned with cyclists in mind and implies complacency and ignorance in regards to an essential piece of urban infrastructure- awkwardly placed within a celebrated and recognized bicycling community.
So if you ride in Fort Collins and encounter this detour, please take extra caution. For the many cyclists that find themselves using this detour out of necessity, I wish them a safe crossing. You will not see me riding this section often (especially with my children in tow) because it is not worth the risk- which is precisely the reason many non-cyclists will stay in their car, leave the bike at home and ridership will be ultimately stifled. As a community it is our challenge to address these safety concerns and keep cyclist, pedestrian and motorist alike safe. WIll the city push hard for a safer detour? I would certainly hope so.