Following Magnus White’s Fatal Crash, Boulder Finalizes Bikeway Plans | Westword
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Officials Finalize CO 119 Bikeway Plans, Regret Not Doing It Before Magnus White Crash

"It's really hard...to know that it wasn't soon enough for Magnus and his family," says Diagonal Highway 119 Bikeway Design coordinator Stacey Proctor.
Magnus White, who was killed after being by a car on July 29.
Magnus White, who was killed after being by a car on July 29. USA Cycling

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"It wasn't soon enough," says coordinator Stacey Proctor of the Diagonal Highway 119 Bikeway Design Project, which announced Thursday, August 3, that it's finally reached the finish line of its design schedule — just days after United States National Team cyclist Magnus White was struck and killed by a car while on CO 119.

"It's really hard when you know you're this close to having a much safer option [for bicyclists]," Proctor explains. "That's definitely a challenge for our team."

According to Boulder County and the Colorado Department of Transportation, plans for the design portion of the 119 bikeway project have been finalized and funding is now complete. The bikeway will be separated and situated away from CO 119, and will connect Boulder to Longmont. 

While progress is being made toward starting construction in 2024, it hasn't come soon enough for the cyclists who have already been severely injured or killed on the stretch of highway — a road that county officials have identified as one of the most dangerous in the area.

"We're working as urgently as we can," Proctor says.

White — a seventeen-year-old from Boulder and member of USA Cycling's junior men's national team — was hit by a Toyota Matrix at around 12:30 p.m. Saturday, July 29, while traveling southbound on CO 119, according to the Colorado State Patrol. White, who was wearing a helmet, was riding a Trek Emonda SL 7 road bike.

USA Cycling broke the news of White's death on Sunday, July 30, saying: "White fell in love with cycling at an early age through Boulder Junior Cycling. He was a rising star in the off-road cycling scene, and his passion for cycling was evident through his racing and camaraderie with his teammates and local community."

White had been preparing to compete in the Junior Men’s Mountain Bike Cross-Country World Championships on August 10 in Glasgow, Scotland. According to the Colorado State Patrol, he was riding toward Boulder on the shoulder of CO 119 — just south of the intersection at North 63rd Street by Boulder Reservoir — when he was hit from behind by a 23-year-old woman from Westminster, who had reportedly drifted into the right shoulder. Authorities do not suspect that excessive speed, drugs or alcohol were possible factors in the crash; the investigation is ongoing, and distracted driving has not been ruled out.

"The community is broken right now," says Cari Higgins, chairwoman of USA Cycling and a former pro racer from Boulder. She notes how car-related bike crashes have become a common thing in the area.

"I'm not surprised," Higgins says. "I mean, believe me, it hits hard, and there's a lot of emotions that go into it...but surprise is not one of the emotions, unfortunately."

The Boulder cycling community is a very large and tight-knit group of people, according to Higgins. "We continue to have tragedies, and we continue to have close calls," she tells Westword. "We're scared to be on those roads. Like many people, I try to stay off of the busy roads...but it's inevitable that you do find yourself on busier roads for getting back to town."

Dave Sheanin, one of the coaches for the CU Boulder triathlon team, agrees with Higgins's assessment, but says "close calls are sort of part of the game out here, unfortunately" when it comes to cycling. "On any given ride, there's potential for something to happen," he says.

Sheanin explains that on every bike ride he ever goes on, he tries his best to be alert. "It's not necessarily that someone almost hits you every [ride], because that's not the case," he says. "But it's not uncommon that you'll have a close call. Usually it's a close pass — somebody will pass within a couple feet. And I pay attention every time I'm going through an inside corner because I know cars are cutting that inside corner, as well."

At the beginning of each new school year, Sheanin says he and the other triathlon coaches spend time talking about road safety with their student athletes before letting them go out on rides. "With the student athletes who are brand-new to the sport — many of them are brand-new to triathlon as a whole," he says. "And for the ones who are new to riding a bike or riding a bike in a pack, before the first ride, we go out and do a safety orientation. [We] go over the rules of the road and what people expect to see of cyclists."

Sheanin adds that White's death is a tragic reminder of the danger bikers face out on the roads. "But," he says, "the sad reality is that on any given week or two-week period, if I wanted to make a point to my athletes, I could say, 'Oh, well, last Thursday this happened.' It's a very cynical way to look at it, but it doesn't change the way we have to think about being safe on the roads."

Out of the whole of unincorporated Boulder County, officials say CO 119 — aka the "Diagonal Highway" —  is one of the most dangerous roads for bikers and pedestrians. According to Proctor, it had the second-highest number of bike crashes in a survey that officials conducted — a Vision Zero crash analysis that the county did between 2009 and 2018, which shows five bikers and one pedestrian experiencing a major injury on the highway in that time frame.

"That's why we've really been prioritizing getting this bikeway done," Proctor says. "Hopefully it will be a huge improvement in safety and we'll have a lot more people who want to use it."

The bike path between Longmont and Boulder will be part of numerous safety and mobility improvements that CDOT has planned for the corridor. "The CO 119 Commuter Bikeway will be built in conjunction with the CDOT Safety and Mobility Project," Proctor says.

Other improvements include signage updates at intersections along the highway, traffic signal timing adjustments, new bus stations and more.

"CDOT is in the process of hiring a contractor," Proctor says. "Once we have a contractor on board, we will work on refining the design and construction schedule, but we are estimating that construction will begin Q2 of 2024."
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