Sunday, September 17, 2017

Its All the Dead Pedestrian's Fault, Right? Wrong.

From Patrick O'Grady/ 
with occasional permission
  I sent a vastly shorter version of this tome as an email to Santa Fe New Mexican reporter Tripp Stelnicki last night. The New Mexican article, which puts the onus of ped fatalities primarily on pedestrian error (drunkenness, jaywalking, stepping out in front of cars) seems to have been written after consulting with the usual suspects, and is to some degree the equivalent of the "single witness suicide swerve" that we bicyclists are used to dealing with, i.e., the dead pedestrian never gets to give his or her side of the story. The other immediate analogy that comes to mind is "he wasn't wearing a helmet" (even if the hapless bicyclist dies of blunt force chest trauma). I don't blame Tripp for this institutional myopia (Tripp is a fine reporter) but I sure do have a bone to pick with UNM and the various traffic "experts". I've done a bit of editing on reproducing the email here. Not much though. There is a bike waiting to be ridden.

Hi Tripp

Gotta get to sleep but just read this: "Danger Afoot for Pedestrians in Santa Fe".

I think we are missing something here. Sure, people drink and walk in cities. We know that is a problem. Thank God they are on foot rather than driving. But there is an elephant in the room, although you briefly touch on it. That elephant is road design.

Three of those four "high dead ped" roads (St. Francis, St. Michaels, Cerrillos) are wide and fast arterials. With recent construction, DOT just made Cerrillos practically wide enough to turn an aircraft carrier and it is posted 40 mph. Even if one is sober, crossing those wide, fast multilane streets (where crosswalks are often far between) is a challenge.

Urban speed kills, which is why many European cities adopting the Vision Zero traffic safety paradigm typically drop city traffic speed limits to 25 mph or lower on streets where there are lots of pedestrians afoot.  The rough rule of thumb is that at 20 mph most peds hit by a car will survive and at 40 mph most get scraped off the road by the morgue truck. So, those wide and fast arterials you speak of are NOT safe for pedestrians because a mistake is going to be gruesome, if not fatal, and as we know, people make mistakes. The Vision Zero concept says that we expect mistakes and design the engineering to minimize the damage those mistakes will cause. Some references to impact speed vs. lethality here and here.

Afterthought added this morning. To some degree, crossing a "stroad" as a pedestrian is a high hazard activity, somewhat akin to working with Plutonium in a nuclear facility (something I did for years as a professional, Ph.D. level scientist). You design hazard mitigation so a mistake is not fatal. A single motorist or pedestrian mistake on a 40+ mph stroad can easily be fatal.

There was a mention in the article about midblock crossings where traffic signals at intersections are few and far between. One thing we found in Honolulu back in the nineties was that adding midblock crossings on multilane urban arterials was getting older folks hit by cars as motorists could be screened by adjacent traffic and not see a person starting into the street. But that was before HAWK systems. So that might work well now but it would require HAWK systems and having tried to get DOT to install one up here was the proverbial Land War in Asia.

Up here in Bombtown, Central Avenue has been our main shopping area prior to the Smiths Marketplace. We wanted to slow traffic down from 35 mph. While I was on the Transportation Board we re-engineered the street by narrowing it and adding bulbouts and many ped amenities. We dropped the posted speed to 25 mph and the 85th percentile speed is actually lower than that. Motorists have that extra time to pick up a pedestrian setting foot into the street, which is another benefit. Design works. So even if we have an incident, it is a low speed incident and the survivability is statistically and in terms of the physics, better.

My wife crossed St. Francis Drive ONCE, and only once, at Alamo Drive in broad daylight to walk from the house to Albertson's and nearly died from fright. She will never do that again. Its considerably better to cross St. Francis at Crucitas/Paseo de Peralta as motorists have finally slowed down after flying down that long hill into town at 50-60 mph and finally cutting the afterburners. It is a longer walk.

Google the Strong Towns web site and read about "stroads", which are a mismatch of designs that try to put rural road traffic speeds and throughput onto wide urban streets. Those engineers and planners you speak with will admit under torture that their designs are primarily to move as many cars as possible (optimize motor vehicle level of service) and the stuff they throw in for ped improvements are designed, as you say in the article, to impede "traffic", i.e. motor traffic, as little as possible. So of course people jaywalk. At foot speeds who wants to walk a mile for that Camel if the store is across the street? In the case of the article, if a homeless shelter (where we know substance abuse and mental illness might be problems) is across the "stroad" from a bus stop, what the hell do we think will happen?

I wonder sometimes what we would think if it were not drunks down on their luck getting killed. Perhaps we need to kill a few high profile people if we are to get something changed. Any volunteers from City Council, the NMDOT, or Santa Fe Institute? The cop who hit and killed the unlucky Francisco Navarette was fined eighty bucks for doing 52 mph in a 40 zone. Of course he could not avoid the crash. He was probably going too fast to avoid Mr. Navarette's mistake. A Vision Zero paradigm would have identified this as a likely failure mode scenerio. Alice Sookying Cameron, who was doing everything right when she was hit and killed by someone alleged to be driving while cellular, got a more sympathetic treatment. She was a corporate VP for accounting.

The bottom line is that it there is no one obvious and affordable fix to this mess, and too many conflicting interests to have a simple answer. It is practically impossible to design a city with both superwide, fast arterials to channel traffic swiftly and at the same time encourage walking if someone has to cross those streets at grade. And of course, once you build those giant arterials and encourage sprawl, its really tough to put that bad boy back in the bottle. Furthermore, walkability is compromised by sprawl.

Sorry for the prolonged rant, but I guess its my dozen years of T Board service showing.

Khal Spencer, Ph.D., geological sciences
Member/Chair, Los Alamos County Transportation Board  2003-2017, now off the board and speaking for myself.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Standing With Charlottesville at Ashley Pond Tonight

Voices of Los Alamos in conjunction with other local organizations is hosting a candlelight vigil at 8 p.m. today at Ashley Pond Park and invites the community to attend in solidarity with Charlottesville.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Situational Awareness and the First Week of School

Next week starts school. Lots of inexperienced students behind the wheel thinking about the First Week, some texting more than driving. Harried parents suddenly realizing that they are running late for work after dropping off Dick and Jane for the first time in months. Did anyone walk Spot? Did Hubby remember his lunch? Even trained drivers can goof, as I describe in this story about my duel with a school bus. You on your bicycle. What to do?

Don't forget to put gas in it
 Well, some will consider parking the bike for a couple weeks in favor of driving the Main Battle Tank to work. Sometimes I don't blame them. For the rest of us, the Five Layers of Safety are especially critical as we ride, shell-shocked by the sudden mass of unskilled traffic, to our destinations. I'll refer you to that NY bike link for the Five Layers and do a little elaboration here.

Situational awareness 
doesn't mean terror
 The most critical (and often overlooked) part of the Five Layers is situational awareness. Without situational awareness, it is hard to stack those layers of safety in your favor. Situational awareness is, to paraphrase this Coast Guard document , the ability to identify, process, and comprehend the critical elements of information about what is happening around you as you go about your ride and how those elements impact your safety. In addition to that, situational awareness requires you to be able to categorize, think about, and react in a competent manner to unfolding hazards, i.e., it requires active thinking and training on your part. Here is another set of examples from a motorcycle publication.

In one of my other circles, we have the WYOR definition of awareness (with acknowledgement to Mike Grimler) where these letters mean White, Yellow, Orange, and Red. These are as follows: In Condition White, you are off in your own world and blissfully aware of what is going on around you. An example is reading a book with the stereo on at home or sadly, riding through an intersection with the earbuds on and not watching traffic. In Yellow, you are continually scanning and paying attention and watching for hazards. When in traffic, one should never drop below yellow.  In Orange, you have identified a potential hazard and are actively observing the situation and planning a "what if" response. In Red, you have a fully developed hazard on your hands and are required to implement defensive measures that you have hopefully practiced, mentally and actually. For example, executing an emergency stop or quick turn.

As far as the techniques of these bicycle maneuvers, learn them. Unfortunately, as an older and wiser League Cycling Coach once quipped, many people think they learned everything they need to know about bicycling by the fourth grade. Complacency creates danger. As far as situational awareness, I think it is safe to say that next week should find commuter cyclists in a yellow-orange state of alertness given the likelihood of mistakes being made. Try to time your commute for a safer hour if you can or at least be aware of what is around you, do your "what if drills" routinely, and practice, practice, practice. Holler if you want a tutorial. Hopefully you won't need to use it.

Note added in review, motorcyclists too (I land in both camps) have their own serious issues of staying safe in traffic.  Their training can be found with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

LA Bikes Bloggers All To Be Fired For Disagreeing on Policy

In keeping with the Google corporate policy (since Blogspot is owned by Google) of firing anyone who strongly disagrees with accepted corporate opinion, all of the bloggers on this site will shortly be fired. Since we don't have an official opinion on bicycling issues, that means we have to fire anyone with any opinion on bicycling issues because we don't know which opinion is official and which opinions are impostors. Especially, say, if we go down the rabbit hole of paint 'n path vs. VC. So, they all gotta go. Take that, LA Bikes.

Here is a transcript (and here is another source) of the actual "manifesto" that got Google software engineer James Damore shitcanned. Since many news outlets are opining on it rather than referring to the original, I will post the link to the original and you can draw your own conclusions rather than mine.

The Google Memo: Four Scientists Respond. 

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Now, Surgery on the Bike

We decided to get outa Dodge for a few days and headed up to Boulder, CO for a mental health break. I brought the CAAD-5 as I worry less about tossing the aluminum bike around on the car than I do with the carbon-aluminum Six-Thirteen.

On Monday I went for a short 20 mile ride and noted that the rear wheel had gone out of true so on returning home, touched it up a little bit. Tuesday morning had me kitted up for what would hopefully be a longer ride but on getting a few miles down the road, the bike seemed to go slower and slower and on inspection, the back wheel was seriously outa round and rubbing on the brake. I stopped to adjust the spoke tension again and one spoke was really loose. On closer inspection, I observed that the hub had cracked at one of the spoke holes and the spoke had pulled through. Oops. So much for putting the lightweight wheels on the bike for a road trip.
Front hub intact.

Limping back to our host's house in Lafayette with the quick release fully open, I checked  online and found an endless supply of bike shops in the Boulder area. Boulder Bicycle Works had high web ratings and they told me that they had a used rear wheel in excellent shape.  I headed over there to look at it. Sure enough, when I arrived, the wheel was in the wheel truing stand ready to be checked and tuned up if I wanted it, which I did. I decided while I was there to also get the matching front wheel and the attached cassette for what amounted to a very economical parting with currency. I think they are ShimanoWH-R540's. vacation was saved. The only complication was I had to run back out to a nearby shop and get new brake pads because the paired spoke Shimano wheels have the spokes attaching to the rims on the sides of the rims and my brake pads were worn down so much that the brake shoe guides were tapping the spoke holes.
Hub flange fractured on non-drive side as shown 
by the arrow.  Stock picture from web. 
I forgot to photograph the original part.

So today found me on a longer ride on the Cannonball sporting shiny newish Shimano wheels that ran fast and true.  Many thanks and a tip of my brain bucket goes to the great folks at Boulder Bicycle Works. They definitely get the Los Alamos Bikes "save the vacation" award.
Cannondale sporting replacement wheels
Eldorado Springs in the background.
 I sallied on to Rocky Flats to search for glowing animals.
No luck.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Surgical recovery program at 10,300 feet

As a sixtysomething, recovering from two surgeries and a broken foot last year sometimes left me wondering if I should trade in all the bikes for a newer motorcycle and a barca lounger. Psychologically, getting back into Serious Cycling© was difficult. For a while, just riding to work took mental, if not physical effort. That mental hocus-pocus is what really surprised me, since I've been riding since, well...since I can remember.  Meanwhile, the blood pressure and numbers on the bathroom scale were inching up. Time to get seriously off my ass.

So there was this bucket list item....done yesterday. The Ski Hill road in Santa Fe, aka NM475, aka Hyde Park Road. Last time I broke 10k altitude via human two-wheeled power was around 2007 during the Red River Century. (That pic on the masthead was taken on the Red River circuit, with me on the Six-Thirteen and long dormant co-blogger Scott following closely on the Litespeed).

The Santa Fe Ski Basin route goes sinuously up into first the Sangre de Cristo foothills and then into the high peaks. From the home base in Casa Solana its about 1.5 miles of flat warmup to Artist Road, followed by about 16 miles of relentless climbing. Suitable for a TdF stage, I suppose. Probably not Hors Categorie (the average grade is about 4%; the 4 mile NM-4 climb into the Jemez is about 7%), but perhaps Hors Old Fat Guy. The Strava page here shows the gritty details better than the NM Touring Society illustration below. As far as my time compared to folks like Ferrara Fortunato, don't even ask.

Santa Fe Ski Basin profile, courtesy of the New Mexico Touring Society

Aside from getting enough oxygen to these old legs as I pushed towards 10,000 feet, the only other problem on the uphill was that my recently rebuilt right shoulder still fatigues before my left when pulling on the bars in hard climbs. But the psychological lift on hitting the imaginary red kite near the top (see Patrick Brady's beautiful description of the power of the red kite here), and then my personal finish line was enough to convince me to do the happy dance out of the saddle and then my usual Fates to the Damn Wind Screaming Descent. Fortunately, there is not another Fabio Casartelli style memorial on the road resulting from my ride back down the hill yesterday.

Ok, bring it on...whatever "it" is. I feel whole again, albeit still a little overweight.

If the city limit doesn't end, does the city go on forever? Another rider, in picture, tackling what Patrick O'Grady calls The Big Hill

Around 8500-9000 ft you go through Hyde Park

End of the road, circa 10,250

Road actually tops out at about 10,300 ft a little before the ski basin at Vista Grande Overlook

I'm not dead yet...

Sturdy and efficient Cannondale CAAD 5 back at normal, 7000 foot altitude.
Yep, that is a compact (50-34) and an Old Guys Special 13-30 on the back. 

I'm still using this bike rather than the Six-Thirteen because I could put a steerer tube extender on this steel steerer tube and that was a must during post-PT recovery. 

Unintentional self-portrait...