Residents living along Fourmile Canyon Drive are opposing Boulder County’s plans for reconstruction of the roadway following the floods of September, 2013. Some residents do not want a wide shoulder along the uphill lane because perceptions of increased safety will encourage “…bike races and amateur and tourist cyclists.” The horror.
The public side of this debate has been framed largely by Valerie Conway, a resident along the road. Frankly, it seems like she will throw out any thought in hopes that it might get some traction. She raises lots of concern about wildlife in what is really a low-density subdivision. She thinks wider shoulders may encourage her neighbors to speed (she is probably right, there). Most recently she has raised the Right-Sizing brand in an attempt to mobilize the opposition of the broadly malcontent and the reflexive anti-cyclists. And, in a guest opinion piece she said that “hundreds of skilled cyclists” prefer the inherent danger of the road. Improving safety on Fourmile Canyon Drive would be like “grooming the Mary Jane ski area”, in her words. A few days ago she pleaded to a reporter that the County should get on with the reconstruction because “…we just want to get on with our lives.” Do drive (better yet, ride) this road before it is reconstructed to see for yourself if you would class that statement as hyperbole. For extra credit, compare and contrast Fourmile Canyon Drive with James Canyon Drive.
Conway makes her preference clear: she wants the “cyclable shoulders” eliminated from all options.
For what it’s worth, here is the input I offered to the County in support of the rock-cut option. You have until December 18 to offer input here or by e-mail to Andrew Barth with Boulder County Transportation at email@example.com. You can also send copies to the County Commissioners at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I support the “rock-cut” option for reconstruction of Fourmile Canyon Drive. The rock cut option will provide additional resilience against flood-caused transportation disruption, while also providing more safety for uphill motorists and bicycles.
Lessons re-learned from the 2013 flood include the realization that no amount of armoring will prevent Fourmile Creek from taking what it needs from the roadway during the next big flood. The more roadway that is farther from the high-velocity regions of the channel the more roadway that will survive during and immediately after a flood. The wide shoulders on the uphill side of the roadway will be available to contribute to emergency transportation. Further, since the bedrock will remain under a larger part of the road as a foundation that the creek cannot take, reconstruction of lost roadway infrastructure after the next flood will be less expensive and faster than if the roadway were to be built on fill in the channel. The rock cut option is a long-term investment in a more resilient road.
With respect to considerations other than flood resilience, I support the installation of an uphill shoulder that can serve as a bicycle climbing land. This is a good thing. The existing roadway is dangerous, particularly on right turns on the uphill side. Autos drive fast, often exceed the speed limit, and cut the corners, exposing bicycles to danger. This is one reason why the canyon is not more widely used for cycling. I realize that some residents are motivated to maintain the status quo to avoid increased bicycle use, but it is good for County residents as a whole to make Fourmile Canyon Drive a safer and more attractive cycling route. The more recreation we can offer to residents where they do not have to get in a car the more we will reduce local and global impacts.
With respect to natural and social values, it is important to recognize that Fourmile Canyon is not a pristine environment. It is highly developed, and is really a low-density suburb. By far the largest impacts to wildlife have been imposed by the presence of the road and the presence and development of residential uses, and these impacts are essentially permanent and cannot be reduced. The incremental negative impact from the rock cut alternative will be small, and it will be offset by a positive impact on the creek and the wildlife that use it.