North Shields has been closed off for so long that I can’t even remember the last time I was able to drive through there. And now the intersection of Vine and Shields is going to be shut down as well. But despite this bad news, there’s a whole lot of good news that comes with it.
Because of the way the city has grown on the northwest side, many areas that are now part of Fort Collins were developed while they were in the county. And there’s still quite a bit of county land interspersed among growing developments. This has led to bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure (sidewalks, bike lanes, etc.) in this area being spotty at best.
Cyclists have often preferred using the Poudre River Trail to get from the downtown area out towards Laporte or beyond, rather than using the streets in the northwest part of town. But leaving the trail and heading towards town along N. Shields has often been a matter of taking your life in your hands. There are no sidewalks. There are no shoulders. There are no bike lanes. At least, there haven’t been. But that is all part of what’s changing along N. Shields this summer.
The bridge over the Poudre River is in the county, so they are the ones that have been busily at work for umpteen months. And they’re doing more than just putting in a new bridge.
(Can we just pause a moment here and wave “adios” to the old bridge. It barely had room for two cars traveling in opposite directions let alone me and my two dogs when I was out walking in the morning. It was a death trap waiting to happen and I’m not going to miss that old thing one bit. So sayonara and good riddance.)
In addition to the new bridge, there will also be a new parking lot that will improve access to the Poudre Trail as well as to the North Shields Ponds Natural Area and the McMurry Natural Area. (See image above to picture where the parking will be in relation to the trail. North is to the right.) The bike trail from Martinez park will travel under Shields to the south of the river, just as it did before, but it looks like there will also be access to the McMurry Natural Area with a path that, as best I can figure, will include an underpass so you can avoid the road when traveling from the parking lot to McMurry.
Here’s a cross section of what that bridge is going to look like when it’s finally opened up to the public. We’re looking at an eight foot wide sidewalk on either side. A six foot wide bike lane. Twelve foot traffic lanes in each direction. And a brand new center turn lane on Shields that will continue across the bridge. Which means that you won’t have to shut your eyes and pray when you see two trucks passing each other (which was pretty much our only recourse on that skinny old bridge in the past).
It’s a Christmas miracle! And that’s not all!
Sidewalks, bike lanes, and that center turn lane I mentioned are going to be added all the way from the river to the intersection of Shields and Vine. So where once pedestrians were hugging angled roadsides strewn with pine needles, now we’ll be traversing clean pavement.
(I have to admit, the thought of all the trees that have to be removed, and the loss of the country “feel” to the area, is sad. It was pretty cool to have that so close to town. And yet… it was dangerous as all get out. So… you give a little, you live a little. Thank you to all of the residents along that stretch who are giving up their right of way to improve the safety for travelers in this area. Change is hard and financial compensation doesn’t make up for the emotional loss. But from a mom who has wanted to bike to the trail with her kids and felt like I couldn’t travel this way, I am sooo thankful. Thank you.)
That brings us to the part of the project that is just starting up — a roundabout at the intersection of N. Shields and W. Vine. The intersection currently has a light that tends to only allow traffic to flow in one direction at a time. The new roundabout that is going to be installed looks to be the same size and general style as the intersection just down the way at W. Vine and Taft Hill Road. There will be a decorated raised center surrounded by a slightly raised bit of concrete that cars will drive around, but trucks may drive over the edge of if they’re not able to navigate the turn.
As a cyclist, you’ll have two choices as you approach the roundabout. You can either pull off of the bike lane and take the sidewalk around. Or (and this is the safer of the two options because you’ll be more visible) you can “take the lane,” which just means to ride through the roundabout like a car.
To take the lane, first check that the way is clear to merge with traffic just before the roundabout. Use the same rules as a car. If there’s someone coming around the roundabout, then wait till they’ve passed before entering. Ride in the CENTER of the lane where you will not only be most visible, but where motorists won’t be tempted to ride side by side with you (which won’t go well for you if they want to pull out of the roundabout and you want to stay in it). Once you exit the roundabout, you can just pop back into the bike lane on the other side.
So far so good
If you’re familiar with N. Shields, you might notice that something is missing in the above photo. OK, so the pavement is gone. But besides that….
In addition to all the changes that I’ve already mentioned, utilities have also been moved underground. Sewage lines were also installed.
It looks like there’s still quite a bit of work left to be done on the bridge.
In this photo you can see not only the Poudre River Trail, but the grading along the north bank does look like there will be an underpass for folks who want to park in the new parking lot and then cross under the bridge to the McMurry Natural Area.
Curbs have been installed from the irrigation ditch north to the river. In this photo you can even get a sense of the width of the sidewalk.
Based on the amount of work that still needs to be done on the bridge, the parking lot, the streets and the sidewalks, I’d say that the roundabout project has probably been timed just perfectly. The city should be able to make the changes to the intersection and the length of road between the intersection and the irrigation ditch in about the same amount of time that the county work will take to complete.
From what I can tell, the current estimate for completion is around August/September, just in time for school to start and students to use these roads to get to Putnam Elementary and Lincoln Middle Schools.
North Shields has been closed for months, so you’ve probably already worked out how to get around that (whether you used to travel on Shields or on the bike trail). But now the intersection will be closed as well, along with the section of W. Vine between Shields and Wood Street.
Heading eastbound: I’d recommend taking W. Vine to Lyons Street. (Look for Unity Church. It’s right on the corner. And there’s a crosswalk light at the intersection.) Turn right/south to Cherry. Turn left/east to Pearl. If you’re headed downtown, I’d recommend turning right on Pearl and left on Maple till you get to Shields. If you’re staying north of downtown, then turn left on Pearl and cross Shields at Sycamore.
Pass Lyons St. and instead turn right/south onto Hanna. Follow it around till you hit Elm. Turn left and you’ll reach Shields.
Basically do the above in reverse. It’s easier to cross Shields at Elm or Sycamore than at Cherry just because Cherry doesn’t line up with itself on either side of Shields. So you get stuck zig zagging on Shields. But there is a cross-walk light near Cherry if you prefer crossing with a light.
You could avoid Vine entirely and aim for Laporte, but Laporte has few striped bike lanes, parked cars that put even motorists into door zones, skinny bridges, and gravel on the edges of the road. Of all the beautiful streets to bike on in the city of Fort Collins, Laporte Avenue is not one of them. So you’re probably better off with either one of the above suggestions or traveling further south before turning east.
Graphics and information on the work that’s being done came from the Larimer County website and the City of Fort Collins website. The aerial view of Vine and Taft came from Google Maps. And the rest of the photos were taken by me during my morning walk with the dogs on June 21st.