Pitkin Commissioners disagree over bike tour route
Pitkin County commissioners were supportive Tuesday of the Ride The Rockies bicycle tour coming to the area this summer, but did not agree on the route riders would take to get here.
Chandler Smith, the tour’s director, told commissioners that Ride The Rockies wants to start in the Roaring Fork Valley this year, and spend three days in the area.
Tour officials want to hold a 50-person VIP ride on June 11 that would piggy-back on the same route used that day by Aspen Gran Fondo riders. Then on June 12, the tour’s full contingent of 2,000 riders would pedal from Carbondale High School to Aspen High School. Finally, on June 13, the riders would head through town and over Independence Pass to Copper Mountain.
The June 11 (Saturday) and June 13 (Monday) portions of the tour did not provoke much discussion during the work session. The Sunday ride, however, and the route those hundreds of riders will take from Carbondale to Aspen led to a distinct difference of opinion among commissioners.
A committee made up of county community development personnel, open space and trails officials, Colorado Department of Transportation officials and deputies from the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office first vetted that route, which would run from Carbondale High School through Missouri Heights to the Willits development before hooking up with the Rio Grande Trail, said Mike Kraemer, a community development planner.
Smith and Ride The Rockies officials wanted to break off of the Rio Grande Trail at Lower River Road and take county roads over to Aspen High School. However, Kraemer said committee members felt it would be better to minimize bicycle-car interactions and have the riders take the Rio Grande Trail all the way into Aspen before doubling back to the high school.
Smith said he prefers the Lower River Road route because it avoids a dirt section of the trail and allows ride officials better access to riders if safety issues arise. Commissioners ended up agreeing with Smith on that issue.
Commissioner Rachel Richards said that having riders stay on the Rio Grande Trail would likely create dangerous situations when riders would frequently have to cross trail/road intersections.
Alex Burchetta, director of operations for the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, said he thinks it’s safer to have riders single-file on Lower River Road and county roads rather than risk numerous intersection crossings.
The main point of discussion, however, centered on whether riders should be allowed to use the Rio Grande Trail in Pitkin County at all.
“There’s no reason (for riders) to be on the Rio Grande Trail at all,” said Commissioner Michael Owsley. “I think they should be on (Highway 82) the entire way.”
Commissioner George Newman agreed, saying the Rio Grande Trail is heavily used by locals on summer Sundays while traffic on Highway 82 is relatively light at the time.
Owsley pointed out that the paved portion of the Rio Grande Trail is only eight feet wide with about two feet of dirt shoulder on either side. The tour’s 2,000 riders plus the usual number of walkers, baby strollers and dog-walkers on the trail is “not workable,” he said.
However, Smith and Burchetta said officials from the Colorado Department of Transportation have said that if riders take Highway 82 from Willits to Lower River Road, the agency would likely have to close one of the highway’s lanes for safety reasons.
Commissioner Steve Child disagreed with his colleagues.
“I used to ride my bike along Highway 82 forty years ago, and it was scary then,” Child said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Sunday morning. There’s a lot of traffic.”
Ride The Rockies has already been permitted to use the Rio Grande Trail in Garfield County, and Smith said that is the best option to Lower River Road. And Richards pointed out that Pitkin County doesn’t control all of the Rio Grande Trail.
Richards asked Kraemer to ask Colorado State Patrol officials about the Highway 82 option proposed by Newman and Owsley and bring the issue back to the board before any permits for the ride are approved.
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