Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Bike Lanes: Some reminders, with videos

Original Door Zone Bike Lane, North Road

This was printed in the Monitor some time ago. Perhaps time for a reminder. I've made some edits and added some video links from the Mass Bike Law Officer's Training Page and one produced by League of American Bicyclists Education Director Preston Tyree to hopefully improve this.
Currently, much of Central Avenue and Diamond Drive, as well as N. and S. San Ildefonso have bike lanes. More of these lanes are in the works, as the remaining phase IV of Diamond Drive construction will result in the entire length of this arterial having bike lanes. It is not clear what changes may occur with Trinity Avenue. Trinity was defined by Council (2005) as a Priority I bike route, but without defining exactly what infrastructure will be provided. The County is currently examining the design of Trinity as part of a Corridor Study, but nothing has been decided as far as future designs are concerned, either by LAC or NMDoT.
Diamond Drive Phase 3 bike lanes, from 39th Street to south of North Road, have just opened. Most of our "spinal" (look at a map) arterial connecting our homes to our workplaces, schools, and other public places is now a "complete street" with great bike lanes as well as bus pulloffs and better sidewalks. It is timely to remind readers of some general laws and guidelines that apply to bike lane use.
First, before you wheel onto the road, make sure your bike is safe to ride. Finding out your brakes don't work as you sail down Conoco Hill is not a good idea. In this video, League Cycling Instructor Dan Guiterrez takes about three minutes to explain how to do an "ABC Quick Check" of your bicycle. Watching this video is time well spent if you are not familiar with this quick, painless, and important procedure.
According to DPW Director Kyle Zimmerman, the bike lane is a “traveled portion of the street.” According to code 38-353(a) “no motor vehicle shall be stopped, parked, or left standing, whether attended or unattended, upon the traveled portion of any street when it is practicable to stop, park or leave such vehicle off the traveled portion of the street.”
Parking a vehicle in the bike lane is not allowed and violators can receive a citation. The bike lanes do not need to be posted as no parking zones. Act accordingly and avoid forcing a cyclist to veer around your car.
Not all roads will have bike lanes. All roads, however, may have cyclists. Bicyclists are lawful users of all the roadways unless a road is posted otherwise (no Los Alamos County road or state highway in LAC is so posted--in fact, no roads that I know of in New Mexico, aside from some possible sections of Interstate, exclude bicycling). Cyclists are considered vehicle operators. Do not be surprised or annoyed if a cyclist is on a bike-lane free road.
Bike lanes operate as “slower moving vehicle” lanes. They allow for more efficient passing of cyclists by motorists, since cyclists are typically not riding as fast as motorists are driving their cars. This roadway arrangement will only be safe for bicyclist-motorist operation if that assumption is true and the following safety considerations are made.
Many of these comments are covered in codes, Sec. 38-545: “Riding on streets and bicycle paths.”
• Bike lanes are not always usable. They may be blocked by snow and ice, debris, or other conditions making them impassible. Cyclists should not use a bike lane that is dangerous, blocked, or impassible. The cyclists in these cases will be safely merging into and riding in a travel lane at a safe distance from the travel lane edge or whatever is making the bike lane impassible. Bicyclists may also be merging into the travel lane at intersections to avoid being cut off by right turning traffic.
Staying in the bike lane is not always desirable. A cyclist riding at the speed of traffic may choose to ride in the travel lane if riding in the bike lane creates a potential hazard. One location where cyclists may be wise to take the travel lane is if riding downhill on North Road towards the Quemezon intersection. A cyclist trying to hug the side in the bike lane but at or close to the speed limit is less visible to other traffic and increases his/her chance of being cut off by turning and crossing traffic at North and Quemezon or cut off by a motorist exiting the Quemezon development who does not see a cyclist hugging the curb along the rock outcrop and fails to yield. Likewise for a cyclist riding north/eastbound on Diamond and descending Conoco Hill with cross streets on the right and left turn bays on the left. In the winter, the north/eastbound Diamond bike lane tends to accumulate snow and ice, being in the shade, and is hazardous.
• A further hazard is not adequately controlling or relinquishing the lane on curvy, mountain roads, which we have in abundance in Northern New Mexico. In this video, Dan Guiterrez and Brian deSousa demonstrate how a cyclist can ride safely and encourage safer motorist behavior on a curvy mountain road. They adjust their lane position and communicate through hand signals in order to maintain maximum visibility, deter motorists from unsafe passing on blind curves by taking the lane, assist motorists in overtaking the cyclist safely by relinquishing the lane, and deter motorists from unsafely pulling out of side streets by moving left to be maximally visible.
• Intersections are locations where "left cross" and "right hook" crashes are hazards to consider. Motorists making left turns must look for oncoming cyclists in bike lanes as well as oncoming motorists in the travel lanes and plan their turns safely. Motorists approaching an intersection and making a right turn need to watch for cyclists on their right. Motorists should either yield to the cyclist if the cyclist is close behind or along side them as they get to the intersection, or make sure they are far enough ahead to signal, merge right across the bike lane and make their turn without cutting off a cyclist. Cyclists need to be aware of these maneuvers and plan their own actions accordingly.
Cyclists should not pass other traffic on the right when entering an intersection unless they are absolutely sure the vehicle is not making a right hand turn into their path. Passing on the right puts the cyclist in the motor vehicle operator’s blind spot while the motorist is turning right--such situations have led to fatal crashes, especially when the MV is a large one and actually runs over the cyclist (in a fatal crash in Portland, a garbage truck did exactly that). A cyclist would be wise to learn to make an "instant turn" in order to perform evasive actions in these situations.
Unfortunately, bike lanes can (and do!) contribute to this type of turning and crossing confusion at intersections by placing a thru lane for cyclists to the right of motor vehicle lanes used for right turns or thru traffic, such as at Conoco Hill. This is an unfortunate design hazard and can only be mitigated by alert and defensive riding/driving (or not having a bike lane to encourage suboptimal roadway positioning). To lessen the chance of these failures, a motorist can signal and merge across the bike lane, or a cyclist can signal and merge into the travel lane. Some bike lanes are dashed into intersections to encourage such behavior.
• A bike lane is an appropriate travel lane for cyclists if it is proceeding in their intended direction of travel. A cyclist planning to turn left or right needs to signal and change lanes to the appropriate travel or turn lane in a safe and predictable fashion and in advance of the intersection. Motorists must be aware that this will happen. Again, a bike lane should not be an excuse to not properly position yourself for your intended direction of travel, and in a timely manner.
• Bicyclists must not ride the wrong way, i.e., facing traffic, in a bike lane. That is dangerous and unlawful, just as with operating a motor vehicle on the wrong side of the road. Motorists approaching from side streets or making turns from your street are not watching for wrong-way cyclists. In addition, cyclists "swimming salmon" (i.e., against the flow) cannot see traffic control signs, and may collide with a cyclist riding the correct way, especially at night.
Obey the law. Most of all the usual vehicle laws apply in the bike lane, i.e., a cyclist can be cited for moving violations, including both front and rear lighting violations, running a red light or stop sign, or other inappropriate conduct. Remember, you are operating a vehicle on the public’s road.
• A wide bike lane, such as on Diamond Drive, is not an optional passing zone for motorists.
• Don't ride in the "door zone" of parked cars. At least one local bike lane has cars parked to the right of it (North Road by the tennis courts). Cyclists need to ride far enough from parked cars to avoid being hit by a suddenly opened car door as shown in this video by Preston Tyree; this crash is otherwise known as being "doored". Use bike lanes carefully if cars are parked along side them. Use some or all of the travel lane if riding in a bike lane puts you in the door zone of parked cars. On roads without bike lanes, position yourself far enough from parked cars so that you do not have to weave in and out of parking spaces and unintentionally weave in front of an overtaking vehicle. Be predictable!
• On roads not having bike lanes, some bicyclists choose to ride on sidewalks. These riders must do so safely and not endanger pedestrians. In addition, it is dangerous to ride off of a sidewalk and into the street without slowing or stopping. Sidewalk cyclists crossing roads must also remember that they are bound by the laws that apply to pedestrians doing the same.
• Bike lanes do not eliminate the need for motorists and cyclists to drive defensively, alertly and aware of each other’s actions. We are all interactive parts of traffic, and must operate our vehicles accordingly.
Los Alamos has four cycling instructors licensed by the League of American Bicyclists (myself, Neale and Amy Pickett and Suellen Bowersock). We would be happy to schedule a LAB sanctioned Traffic Skills course if there is interest. In this course, you will learn more about all the topics above and more. In addition, you will be on your bike, being taught some basic but critical bicycle handling skills. These are shown in this video produced by Dan Guiterrez and Brain DeSousa. The drills teach how to scan over your shoulder without veering, a rock dodge, instant left or right turn, and quick stop.
Final notes: Some cyclists are rightfully concerned about how we will negotiate Phase IV, which should be an interesting challenge for all county residents, not just cyclists. There will be a meeting between cyclists and the County (perhaps via the T Board) to brainstorm some options. Council Vice-Chair Wismer is in the loop on this as are others. Stay tuned to this blog and other media for more details. Finally, when Phase IV bike lanes open up on Diamond, they will be in an area with the most intersections, side streets, and parking lot entrances. Turning, crossing, and lane-change complications will be at their highest and those paint stripes do not have magical safety qualities. We will all have to ride and drive carefully in this area.
With acknowledgments to Mass Bike, Dan Guiterrez & Brian DeSousa, and Preston Tyree for the embedded video content.
Khal Spencer
League of American Cyclists cycling instructor


Anonymous said...

A question for the bicycle safety experts from a novice road cyclist: How do these guidelines apply to the two routes off "The Hill" (502 and the Truck Route)? Is there a preferred route for cyclists to reach State Road 4 to head east? Thanks!

Khal said...

Going downhill either would work in theory, but there are much better shoulders (except for a couple shoulderless spots) on Truck Route so that is my preference.

I don't know anyone who rides a bike on Main Hill very much either going up or down. It really sucks.

Dean said...

Do you know why the "door zone" of parked cars was created on North Road by the tennis courts? Originally, the bike lane was on the opposite side. Then they re-striped the street to put the bike lane in the "door zone". What can we do to have this changed back to the opposite (safer) side?

Khal said...

The original configuration had a narrow bike lane in each direction. The original bike lane on the east side was entirely in the door zone. Neale Pickett and I have a picture of it somewhere that I will look for.

I spoke to the county about the door zone problem. County removed the west side bike lane and widened the east side one. I would have simply removed both. There is no logical point to a block of bike lane and as far as I am concerned, the downhill one on North should be removed entirely to stop enticing people to hug the curb on that stretch of road.

Khal said...

I added a pic of the original design. Technically, we could have argued this was now a no parking zone, but that would not have flown easily.

Anonymous said...

As a novice bicyclist I am still in the amazed stage of "sharing the road". It is amazing to me how little rights the bicyclist has in reality. Everyone has the right of way above bicyclists. Bicyclists proving they have the right of way end up dead. Every law considers bicyclists from the position that roadways are for cars and automobile drivers will begrudgingly share the roads with bicyclists when they are forced to.
My best advice to bicyclists is to assume everyone is out to get you and ride with that thought in the front of your mind. Drivers routinely pass me when it's not safe to do so, ignore me at intersections (even if they see me) and ignore bicyclists in general. I support separate but equal facilities for bicycles. We are people too.