By Bill Plock
October 18th, 2023–As I sit in Durango at a coffee shop hearing people talk about tomorrow’s parade for Sepp Kuss, winner of La Vuelta, I can’t help but think back a few days when I sat in a park in Niwot at CDOT’s celebration kickoff of the reconstruction project on Highway 119, a.k.a The Diagonal. Or was it a celebration for Magnus White, I wasn’t sure when I arrived.
It was one of the most awkward gatherings I have ever attended. Half the people were celebrating and the other half had some complex recipe of emotions ranging from rage, grief, perplexion, and at the very least confusion at the purpose of the gathering. All the speakers, including Governor Polis and Senator Hickenlooper, offered condolences, of course. But each speaker (CDOT, RTD, local officials) talked equally as much about the reduction of carbon and lessening of commute times. All while four large posters of Magnus framed the podium. Weird.
As I prepare for the celebration tomorrow and think about what questions I will ask Sepp, I can’t help but hear Michael White’s (Magnus’ father) words and feel bad he won’t have the possibility for a parade for his son. He said, “Magnus was just 17 years old. 17. Getting ready to start his senior year in high school. He had a 4.2 GPA. He had a European cycling team waiting for him. We failed Magnus. This country, this state, this county, this city. We failed him. The US developed a homegrown cycling talent set to represent his country, and then we killed him. With a car. “
No doubt we all want better roads, easier commutes, and safe routes for cyclists and pedestrians. This project will include a protected bike lane. In the meantime, CDOT announced they would put rumble strips on 119 to help prevent what happened to Magnus when a car suddenly veered into the bike lane.
If that is a solution, why not do that on other roads with adequate shoulders popular for cycling like Highway 36 between Boulder and Lyons? This reactionary solution, while appreciated, needs to turn proactive.
I get that projects take time; studies, money, resources, approvals, votes, etc. But 16 years in the case of 119 when it was first discussed publicly? Nine people have died on this road in the last three years. More crashes occur on this road than any other in Boulder County. I think Michael summed up the frustration of those in attendance who were there for Magnus.
He said, “And now here we are, celebrating kicking off the project. I guess we can say we’re glad it’s finally starting. But from its conception to its finish, this project will have taken more than 16 years to complete. 16 years. We really shouldn’t be celebrating, we should all be ashamed of ourselves”
A bold but needed statement in front of the Governor, a Senator, the head of CDOT, RTD, and local officials. Let’s hope, let’s demand more. Let’s help all the organizations like Bicycle Colorado, Cyclists 4 Community, Community Cycles, Bike Jeffco, It Could Be Me and so many others who advocate tirelessly for our safety. It matters. (Full disclosure I have worked directly with these groups but there are so many more, link here for others.)
Both Magnus and Sepp raced in the Colorado High School Cycling League. In just a few days that league will have its annual championship in Glenwood Springs where I will go next. Let’s hope these young stars have only parades in their futures.
To learn more about the Highway 119 project go to HERE