EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado - Two feet doesn't seem like much space, but it can make the difference between a fun day of cycling and a terrifying one.
Eagle County last year spent local tax money to put two-foot shoulders on U.S. Highway 6 between Eagle and Wolcott as part of a Colorado Department of Transportation project to repave that stretch of road.
The state paid for that project out of its maintenance funds, and that money can't be spent for anything but repairing existing roadways. So county funds paid to build the two-foot shoulders.
The state next year will repave the highway between Edwards and Avon, from Squaw Creek Road on the west to Avon Road on the east. The county is again involved, and will pay for new shoulders on narrow parts of the roadway.
With the project expected to start next year, county officials have asked other local governments to help pay the estimated $320,000 cost of the shoulder work. Governing bodies in Edwards have agreed to contribute $60,000 to the project, and Avon officials are still considering the county's request.
However the funding puzzle is put together, a pair of local bike-shop owners welcome the idea of any extra space along Highway 6.
Charlie Brown, who runs the Mountain Pedaler shop in Eagle, said it had been some time since he'd ridden the Eagle-to-Wolcott stretch of Highway 6 before last summer's road work.
Once it was finished, though, he took his kids for a ride.
"It helped a fair amount," Brown said. "It's not ideal, but every little bit helps."
For cyclists, "ideal" would be broad swaths of six-foot shoulders along both sides of the road. But ideal is expensive.
Eagle County Engineer Eva Wilson said those broad shoulders could carry a price tag of $20 million or more. The county doesn't have that kind of money, and the state's transportation funds aren't being spent on anything besides essential projects.
Wilson said no one is calling the two-foot shoulders a proper bike lane.
But two feet can be a lot of room compared to what had been on the Eagle-to-Wolcott stretch - a paint stripe followed immediately by dirt and weeds.
"It seems worlds better than it was," said Frank Mitchell, owner of Moontime Cyclery in Edwards.
While improvements next year might have a similar effect on cycle safety on the roads, the county's recreation path system starts in Edwards. Mitchell said that's a great place for runners, people with dogs, and folks riding cruiser bikes. But, he said, road cyclists are better off taking their chances on the main roads.
"I know people who have been taken out on those paths who should have stayed on the roads," Mitchell said.
Even the relatively small run-off areas provided by two-foot shoulders should be helpful for both local residents and visitors, Mitchell said.
"I can see a first-time summer visitor being more likely to come back," Mitchell said. "We're really starting to understand the importance of being a summer destination, and that should be fostered in any way possible."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.