Cycling paradise? Not everywhere in Colorado Springs

At 6:45 last Sunday morning, longtime training partner Amanda Miller Luciano and I took off from our west-side homes, met up at 31st Street and Pikes Peak Avenue, and headed out for a long bike ride.

The Garden of the Gods was cool, beautiful and practically deserted. Looping our spectacular city park, we headed north on the trail, endured the brief nightmare of 30th Street and turned left on Flying W Ranch Road.

It's as bike-friendly as a major arterial can be, with wide, pothole-free bike lanes. After a moderately difficult ascent, we took a quick sleigh ride down to the intersection of Centennial, followed by another long uphill slog to West Woodmen Valley Road.

Once again, we had miles of newly paved road on the descent from Blodgett Peak Open Space with wide bike lanes and beautiful views.

We were in cycling paradise — until we weren't.

The road narrowed and turned into a typical Colorado Springs arterial. Unrideable shoulders and narrow lanes complemented a rutted, fissured, pothole-strewn surface. We took a left at Rockrimmon, followed by a few hundred scary yards down to Corporate Drive and a subsequent bumpy stretch down to Criterium Bicycles, where we hopped onto the Santa Fe Trail.

Leaving at Roswell, we headed for downtown. Altogether, it was a great start to the ride — but the thrills had just begun. As every cyclist who ventures downtown knows, perils are everywhere. We figured we were safe early Sunday, but a tour bus pulled abruptly out of a Tejon Street driveway between Boulder and St. Vrain streets, nearly taking us both down. Unnerved, we made a quick stop at Wild Goose Meeting House.

"A lot of these drivers don't even notice bikes," said one patron, who had witnessed the near-accident. "Exactly the same thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago."

Wednesday (June 22) is the city's official bike-to-work day. As usual, Mayor John Suthers and other big shots will gather at Goose Gossage Park and pretend to ride to work. Meanwhile, hardcore commuters will mount their faithful steel/aluminum/carbon/titanium steeds at their homes and brave the downtown streets.

I might join them, especially since Independent publisher Carrie Simison is rewarding participants with $10 gift cards — but I dunno.

Despite the city's bike-friendly policies, I've pretty much given up riding to work. I'm older, slower and less capable, while downtown streets have become more congested and less safe. More business, more construction, more people — great for downtown, not so great for bike commuting.

Can the streets be fixed? Right-sizing Cascade Avenue between Uintah and Cache la Poudre streets would be great, but it'd be hard to extend such lane reductions farther south. West Colorado Avenue is challenging for most of its length, while alternate commuting routes along residential streets have problems as well. Uintah? No thanks.

In downtown's core, diagonal parking along Tejon, Weber and side streets makes for dangerous riding, while the striped bike lane on Colorado from Walnut Street through downtown puts riders in the "door zone," as oblivious drivers exit their cars without checking for oncoming bikes.

Leading the geezer wave, I've begun to think we whitehairs ought to do our riding for fun and commute on four wheels. Downtown's dangers may seem self-evident to me, but younger folks tend to shrug and smile.

Commuter improvements might earn a gold rating from the League of American Bicyclists, but most local cyclists don't commute. "We don't need to spend a million bucks on a bike share program to get gold," said bike activist/contrarian Jon Severson. "We're hilly, high altitude — you think visitors are going to ride these heavy bikes from downtown to Manitou?"

As city bike planner Kate Brady told the Business Journal, "We have a very strong recreational cycling culture here. People ride their bikes for fun. So, they look at their cars for when they want to go somewhere, and go to their bikes when they want to have fun." That's especially applicable to the timid among us.

So fix up downtown for young riders and help out the geezer recreationists on the periphery. You could start by repaving 26th Street between Colorado and Highway 24, a bone-rattling, tire-puncturing, wheel-bending nightmare on the way to Gold Camp Road!