Weekends and holidays are great times to check out construction progress because there’s no work being done on those days, so you can get up close and see how things are progressing. I took just such an opportunity this morning as I walked my dogs along the Poudre Trail and then up onto N. Shields where they’re widening the road and bridge.
If you don’t have any clue what’s going on on N. Shields, I’d encourage you to glance over this post first — North Shields Improvements and a New Roundabout. The uber short version is that the bridge over the river on N. Shields was barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, let along fit anyone else. Ditto for the street between the bridge and W. Vine. When I say there was no room, I mean there wasn’t even a shoulder. Even the traffic lane often had debris (gravel and pine needles, primarily). It was very difficult to traverse as a cyclist or pedestrian.
The bridge and road have both been widened and are largely paved at this point (although there’s still another layer of asphalt to go). There are beautiful sidewalks on either side of the road. In fact, at one point where a row of evergreen trees was too close to the street, rather than remove the trees, the county very sensitively created a less intrusive and slightly skinnier brick path instead.
The road is now so wide that bicyclists will have their own dedicated lane — so they won’t have to share with pedestrians or motor traffic. And there will be a center lane for making left hand turns. There are also four very nice connections for pedestrians and cyclists to access the Poudre River trail, the McMurry Natural Area, and the North Shields Ponds Natural Area. The multi-use trails are wide and smooth and lovely.
The places where the multi-use trails connect up to N. Shields have no curb cuts, making it difficult for cyclists to get between the street and the Poudre Bike Trail. (A curb cut is essentially some type of ramp that enables bicycles, skateboards, and wheelchairs to smoothly move from a sidewalk to a street, or vice versa.)
Having a curb cut (a beveled edge or ramp) would enable cyclists to cross the sidewalk and enter (or exit) the trail. Having a hard curb here (as it is now) means that cyclists will have to enter the sidewalk where there are private drives and use the sidewalk to get to the trail. This really feels like a Homer Simpson, Doh! kind of situation. I don’t know what the planners were thinking to not put curb cuts in here, but they’ll hopefully fix this before the street is opened to the public.
My other main concern with the project is that manhole covers were placed directly in the bike lane, despite the Larimer County Urban Area Street Standards section on bicycle facilities design that says:
17.1.9 Appurtenances Not Allowed
Manholes, utility poles or other appurtenances or obstructions, should not be located in bike lanes or bike paths.
I want to be clear here. I love, love, love that all of this work is being done on North Shields. It really does feel like a bit of a miracle to see this kind of transformation take place. And these improvements are taking into consideration all forms of transportation along this route. The sidewalks and bike lanes are not only wide, but they’re two separate things! (In much of north Fort Collins, there are no sidewalks and the shoulder of the road has to serve pedestrians, cyclists, and trash service simultaneously.) The center lane will help traffic to run smoothly, which is an advantage to cyclists as well since we’ll be less likely to have motorists dodge into our lane in order to get around another car. And we finally can access the Poudre Trail via Shields without taking our lives into our hands. So these improvements rock! There’s no doubt about it. This project is utterly fantastic.
But it seems like some things that might appear minor have been overlooked. And despite the fact that they seem like small things, they do affect the passage of cyclists through this area. With the sewer lines being entirely redone as part of this project, it would have been easy to put the manhole covers in a section of the road where it wouldn’t have bothered anyone — like where motorized vehicles travel. Cars are hardly affected by them. But they can be a problem for cyclists. The fact that they were deliberately located where cyclists will ride is disconcerting.
And the absence of curb cuts to access the Poudre Trail is a stunning omission. The trail access points are hard to miss. I’m not sure how the workers designing the curbs didn’t catch the lack of access points for those trails. Or if they did catch the disconnect, why didn’t they speak up?
I believe that this is a time when cyclists need to speak up to ensure that what can be fixed is fixed. (I’m sure it’s too late to move the sewer lines, but curb cuts should be added before the road is opened.) We need to make sure that the county and the city know that we are watching them, and where the code calls for facilities to be built a certain way, we’ll be watching to make sure that actually happens.
The roundabout that is being built at the intersection of Vine and Shields still seems to be quite a ways out yet. Only one corner of the intersection has had curbs poured. There’s work going on at the southwest corner to remove trees, fencing and other items. And there’s an outline of a northern pedestrian island. But that’s about it.
It looks like the completion of this project is still at least a month and a half or more out. But it will be great once it’s finished (not just because it’ll be finished, but because it really is a good project). Hopefully the curb cuts will be fixed before opening day.
I’m not sure who the appropriate department is to contact about the two “oopsies” that have occurred. It’s either the Larimer County Roads department (see phone numbers listed on their page) or the Fort Collins Parks department (they have both a phone number and email address you can use listed right at the top of the page). I’ll try contacting both on Tuesday and I’ll make an update here in case you would like to contact them as well.
There used to be deer crossing signs along the road. I presume they’ll be returned once the project is finished. In the meantime, no one has bothered to tell the deer that the signs are gone.
I suspect the deer are loving the current lack of traffic through this area.
Edit: So far the county has returned my call, but the engineers on the project are not in the office today. The guy I talked to said you’d be expected to stay on the sidewalk until you get to a curb cut. But he did say that I brought up a good point.
The photo of how the street used to look before the work was done is from Google Streetview.