Outdoors: Commute by Bike between Denver and Boulder

September 2012

Why we love it: Because the alternative is driving on US 36, which can be a 90-minute-or-more stop-and-go nightmare. 

When to go: In warm months. Get on the road early to beat the heat. Get out of Denver by 6:30 a.m., and you can roll into Boulder before 9 a.m., just as the pavement begins to radiate.

*** 

I wouldn’t trade living in Denver for anything. Neither would I trade my day job. And therein lies the rub. My home is in Congress Park; my office is in east Boulder. For the past eight years, I’ve done the daily roundtrip commute—sometimes by bus, sometimes with a carpool, most often alone in my car. On a good day, I can make it to the office in 45 minutes. On bad days it can take twice that long or even more. I estimate that I spend up to 840 hours commuting every year. Save the phone calls to my mother and the news radio I consume, that’s a lot of time lost—time that I could be outside enjoying the best hours of a Colorado day.

That’s why this year I signed up for a 100-mile road bike ride this year and committed to using the Denver-Boulder commute for training. I’m happy to report my first century was a great success. I’m even happier to report that I have a new, low-stress way to get to and from work.

Out my door and on the Cherry Creek Trail by 6:15 a.m., I watch my neighborhood wake up. Twice now—once in the morning and once in the evening—I’ve seen an adolescent red fox playing on the Seventh Avenue greenbelt. It’s quiet and cool on the roads this time of morning, and traffic on the bike path is thin. By 6:30 a.m., I’m at Confluence Park. I round the REI flagship store, head across I-25 and through the Highlands, before turning north on Lowell Boulevard.

Along the way, I pass both residential and commercial districts. A dozen or so stoplights give me a chance to practice my clipless pedal and quick-stopping work, and a few rolling hills—including a short but steep kicker at 80th—get my legs and lungs working. After a short, somewhat sketchy stretch on 112th across Old Wadsworth Boulevard, the route runs parallel to 36, and I relish the opportunity to laugh at the car commuters moving slower than I am.

Earlier this summer, as I passed under the new Wadsworth bridge, a large silver coyote crossed my path before stalking something into the small field on the right. I gave him plenty of room before continuing northwest under the Turnpike, through the Flatirons Mall complex and up into Superior. After the last climb of the ride, I get my reward: The scene from the top of the Marshall Mesa all the way down to Cherryvale Road looks like a painting of rolling green hills, sharp red Flatirons in the background, and cobalt blue sky overhead.

It’s a breezy, six or seven more miles into Boulder, all of it downhill and quick, the perfect end to a downright enjoyable commute.

***

Did you know? According to Audrey DeBarros, executive director of 36 Commuting Solutions, the artery that connects Denver to Boulder averages more than 200,000 vehicles a day; 65 percent of these vehicles travel westbound in the morning and eastbound at night. If you’ve ever been in one, you understand the meaning of commute psychosis. The good news: The $312 million Express Lanes Project, the largest CDOT venture in the state, will turn 36 into a “multimodal innovative corridor by 2015,” DeBarros says. The bad news: It will get a lot worse before it gets better. 

Getting There:

From REI, take Water St./23rd Ave. across I-25

Right on Lowell Blvd.

Left on 104th Ave. (get on the bike path)

Follow the path through Westminster City Park, exit onto Eaton St.

Left on 112th Ave.

Right on Wadsworth Blvd.

Left on 118th Ave./Commerce St.

Continue on Industrial Lane

Merge left onto Midway Blvd./Flatiron Crossing Dr.

Right on Rock Creek Pkwy.

Right on McCaslin Blvd.

Left on W. Coal Creek Dr.

Right on Second Ave.

Left on Marshall Rd.

Right on Cherryvale Rd.

Follow Cherryvale Rd. into Boulder