A newly updated state map tells bicyclists everything they need to know about Colorado roads.
Stop for a moment and try to imagine what public and private transportation will look like 10 or 20 or 50 years into the future in Colorado. Many of us, when we pause to consider it, might envision a brave new world of driverless cars, hyperloops and bullet trains, maybe even passenger drones and flying taxis. Betsy Jacobsen, a longtime member of the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), pictures something decidedly less futuristic: bicycles and legs.
“One of our efforts at the CDOT is to be as multimodal as possible,” she says, describing her plans for the future of Colorado’s roadways. “We want to be the number one state for bicycling.”
Jacobsen, who manages the Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning division of the CDOT, oversees nearly all projects and policies aimed at helping the Centennial State become more bike- and cyclist-friendly. “Our team is four people, including myself,” she says. “We work on everything from policy to engineering to maintenance— you name it—having to do with bicycling and walking in Colorado.”
In recent months, Jacobsen has been hard at work overhauling a decades-old document published by the CDOT, the Colorado Scenic Byways & Bicycle Map. This comprehensive analysis of biking conditions on major roads throughout the state was created as a way to keep cyclists safe and more informed, but lately, Jacobsen says, the map has needed an update. This spring, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Planning division worked with a team of engineers to identify Colorado roads that have been constructed, torn up, or altered in recent years; their research led to a better understanding of the actual biking conditions that cyclists will face when they clip in and head out for a ride— traffic volume, shoulder widths, percentage of truck traffic, etc. They used what they learned to create a better, fresher version of the map, which comes in both printed and digital versions, with the latter revised continuously based on community suggestions submitted to CDOT.
The map, Jacobsen says, is much more than just a simple “ride guide.” It’s a tool that helps people integrate more—and safer—biking into their daily lives. “The map identifies roadways according to factors that make for better riding,” she explains, “so if you’re a cyclist, the idea is that you can look at the map and determine which roadways you would feel comfortable riding on, and which roadways prohibit bicyclists altogether.” The map also charts Colorado’s 26 Scenic Byways, as well as classifications of land use—wilderness areas, National Forests, and the like.
Community participation, Jacobsen stresses, is indispensable in keeping the map up-to-date and effective. “We love input,” she says. “People will email or call us and say things like, ‘Hey, this section of road is marked with a wide shoulder. That’s not accurate.’ We then double-check to see if it’s right, and revise the map accordingly.” She urges community members not to wait to submit suggestions, if they feel something needs to be changed. The safety of cyclists, she says, may be at stake.
What, in the end, does the future of transportation in Colorado look like for Jacobsen? It will take time, she admits, and a lot of effort, but eventually she hopes to reframe how we think about the function of roadways in general. “The question is: How do we make our roads move more people, not more cars?” she says. “When you start getting into that mindset, it changes the way you look at the issue.”