Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Why We Desperately Need Four (or Maybe Even More) Lanes on Trinity

What happens when, in a state of denial, you cut down the last tree? What happens when you build a road to worship the car-culture of the nineteen-sixties?

Some compelling reasons we need a wide, fast, multilane road on Trinity.

1. Evacuations off the Hill will proceed faster with four lanes, even though Trinity bottlenecks to two lanes at the Airport.We didn't really need to exit through the San Ildefonso Pueblo (Rendija Canyon) back in May, 2000. After all, Trinity was four lanes through town.

2. Traffic is always slowed in a storm if a road is two lanes, but never slowed if it is four lanes. Diamond Drive in a snowstorm at 8 a.m. on a bad day, when traffic is sometimes backed up from town to the Golf Course entrance, notwithstanding. Gimme decent drivers with snow tires on a two laner any day. I did that for years growing up in Western New York.

3. Gasoline will get cheap again, many predictions notwithstanding. Oil will remain abundant and accessible. Everyone will drive single occupant cars on and off the hill in five to ten years. We will not have more carpooling, vanpools, or public transit. Conservation is for commies and Europeans.

4. Traffic tieups in blizzards are always caused by lack of lane capacity. Never by individuals tying up traffic because they are driving on worn all season or summer tires or can't see out the windshield because their wipers are five years old or because the motorists are just plain terrorized by snow on the road.

5. LANL will greatly expand its work force, and we will diversify the economy to bring more people onto the hill with high paying jobs. Combined with cheap gas, traffic loads will increase well beyond 1% per year as workers and shoppers flood the hill with cars.

6. One or two (or even five) minutes of delay on a really bad traffic day really will ruin your life forever.Or, perhaps the consultants have it all wrong and our local traffic modeling amateurs (since there are no roundabouts on Trinity, any estimates of how the road will behave with roundabouts are models, i.e., hypotheses) are right. Hence all the Sturm und Drang in the Monitor.

All sarcasm aside,  there are some very real concerns.

Regarding function. Roundabouts move traffic continuously and effectively, as long as they don't clog up and fail. That's why you can move more traffic on two lanes with roundabouts without a level of service degeneration. Until it clogs. So one question is: what will be the real world, not "model" peak capacity? Does MIG have it nailed? What are the uncertainty estimates on their models? I suspect, though, that we will likely see future declines in peak vehicle loads at rush hour as gasoline costs make the convenience of the single occupant vehicle inconvenient to the paycheck--especially for those making long commutes from Rio Arriba or Santa Fe Counties. The present may be the worse case.

Regarding safety. Frankly, we don't kill or maim a lot of people on Trinity but one has to ask if this will change as we continue to build on its south shoulder. Is pedestrian safety as straightforward as some roundabout enthusiasts proclaim on a roundabout-equipped Trinity arterial, especially in roundabouts lacking positive ped crossing controls?  If such controls are present, they could affect roundabout efficiency at heavy load times. The devils are in the details.  Bike lanes and roundabouts may not make the road safer or "friendlier", as I discussed earlier. Here is a recent Transportation Research Board paper on bikes and roundabouts. The jury was not in yet, at least in 2008..

The converse problem, adding pedestrian crossing amenities to the present or a new multilane design, is not trivial. Examples include adding more, closely spaced traffic signals or building pedestrian overpasses (flyovers). The problems with these are that more signals will slow traffic down while conversely, each pedestrian flyover is a multimillion dollar endeavor and no traffic calming for other modes would exist. Pity trying to cross between a couple rare and expensive flyovers.

So there is no free lunch when you screw up planning and zoning, i.e., add commercial and residential space to the wrong side of the main highway through town and then try to retrospectively make the highway "friendly" to all competing interests.Council will have to make someone very unhappy or everyone a little unhappy.

Furthermore, two other things to consider. One, we overbuilt Diamond Drive for the same reasons we hear so much about now--fear of too much traffic on Diamond. Diamond is now a super-arterial that is lightly used, even at peak rush hour. We aren't building more housing, we are using the Atomic City Bus, and we have an overbuilt, expensive arterial. Two, if we keep a wide multilane road, we are building for two hours a day (ok, maybe three) to get into and outa Dodge or grab a burger at lunch. The rest of the time, that overbuilt road will not benefit residents. Perhaps we need to divert more commuter traffic onto Truck Route and Pajarito Road or stagger work hours rather than throw money at motorist convenience to all show up in one big glut.

As I said before, we need to move Los Alamos forward, not backwards. Stop building as though peak oil is a myth. Its not--its an urgency. The last century was powered on the backs of several hundred million years worth of dead bugs compressed and heated into oil deposits. The future, depending less on fossil fuel and more on ingenuity, may not be as easy.  Building a highway to worship past auto-dependence is short sighted and for the home of a national laboratory, downright silly. But even labbies are human--with human limitations. But I wonder if a reconstructed multilane road through town will be be our last expensive gesture to the age of cheap and abundant gasoline. Why not put up a few Easter Island Moai along the curbs while we are at it? With the short-term thinking I see in the Monitor editorial page lately, the fate of the Easter Islanders may be our own**. 

** Arnold J. Toynbee in A Study of History (1934–1961) also studied the collapse of civilizations. Diamond agrees with Toynbee that "civilizations die from suicide, not by murder" when they fail to meet the challenges of their times. However, where Toynbee argues that the root cause of collapse is the decay of a society's "creative minority" into "a position of inherited privilege which it has ceased to merit", Diamond ascribes more weight to conscious minimization of environmental factors.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bus and Bikes: Safely Sharing the Road

Nice 12 minute video put together by The Chicago Department of Transportation and the Chicago Transit Authority. I suggested it as required viewing for bus drivers (Atomic City, LA Schools, LANL). And for cyclists, too.  Full size version is at the Youtube link. I've downsized the video to fit here.

Please note that where the Chicago video suggests a three feet overtaking minimum, in Los Alamos County we have a five foot overtaking minimum. There are no magic distances--what really matters is using good judgment and allowing a margin of safety. Also, there are bicyclists shown doing some daft things here. Not all are marked WRONG in flashing block letters. See if you can find examples.

Acknowledgements to Tom Ezell, LCI #1853 for sending me the link. Also, thanks to Jon for his comment and link to John Allen's bike/bus page.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The One Mile Solution

Nah. Nothing to worry about
"...The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling..."

 I thought about my last post after riding in to work this morning and if you read it, you will see its changed considerably. Morning LANL traffic was backed up quite far beyond the actual construction zone on Diamond, snarling well past North Road and backed up approximately to the Pueblo Complex. There was a lot of that "sitting in the car while it stands idling" out there on Diamond Drive.

Meanwhile, the bike lane was open and yours truly and another rider sailed through the mess unimpeded. I did feather the brakes and coasted down from my usual 25-30 mph pace through there to ride a little more cautiously.  There are intersections in that section of road and one has to watch for conflicts developing. One doesn't need nasty surprises to ruin an otherwise nice morning. I used Jerry Merkey's suggested detour to avoid breathing auto fumes while doing the "stop and go shuffle" once the bike lane ended and the construction zone began. The other rider, who was ahead of me, stayed on Diamond. Hope he didn't try to filter along the jersey barriers. Its not too nice in there.

Andy Cline speaks of the One Mile Solution, to wit, if your destination is a mile or less from your start, leave the car home. I wonder how much shorter that snarl would have been, how much fuel could have been saved, and how much good exercise been accomplished, had those who live roughly a mile or two from work (i.e., Western Areas to TA-3) had not driven their cars. I suspect the bike lane could have handled it and they would have gotten to work a lot faster. Even better--once this last segment of Diamond is rebuilt, there will be bike lanes all the way to the Dept. of Energy site. Now, if the DOE could get off its own duff....and read some of its own literature: Peak Oil Is Extremely Real And Extremely Risky

Peak Oil, some estimates of production

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bicycles are faster than cars...

Toss this one out on this side of the pond. From Copenhagenize.

""...The model American male devotes more than 1,600 hours a year to his car. He sits in it while it goes and while it stands idling. He parks it and searches for it. He earns the money to put down on it and to meet the monthly installments. He works to pay for gasoline, tolls, insurance, taxes, and tickets. He spends four of his sixteen waking hours on the road or gathering his resources for it.   

The model American puts in 1,600 hours to get 7,500 miles: less than five miles per hour. In countries deprived of a transportation industry, people manage to do the same, walking wherever they want to go, and they allocate only 3 to 8 per cent of their society’s time budget to traffic instead of 28 per cent. What distinguishes the traffic in rich countries from the traffic in poor countries is not more mileage per hour of life-time for the majority, but more hours of compulsory consumption of high doses of energy, packaged and unequally distributed by the transportation industry..."

Of course,  its easy for those snooty Europeans (who, as a snooty American, I usually agree with) to ignore the profound changes that occurred in the U.S. since the building of that first suburb, Levittown. We sprawled and they didn't. It made sense to most people back then. It only dawned on (a few) Americans as the century wore on, OPEC started tightening the screws, and more folks read corollaries of Hubbert's paper on Peak Oil (here is a second link) that this lifestyle is not sustainable over the long haul.

But frankly, most Americans still lull themselves into thinking that somehow we can just keep feeding gas into Old Belchfire and do so without negative consequences to the environment or our balance of trade. How else can you explain the evolution of modern cars? Modern family cars and Shopping-Utility Vehicles can almost match the acceleration of '60's muscle cars. A zero to sixty time of 10 sec. is considered unacceptably slow in Consumer Reports. We traded environment-friendly fuel efficiency for ego-boosting raw power.

But the financial and energy costs of car+oil dependence discussed in the Copenhagenize blog are pretty accurate-and getting more troublesome all the time. I did those same calculations a decade ago in Honolulu and they were pretty much the same, corrected for inflation.  So while our love affair with the car paid the salaries of a lot of auto workers and "drove" the U.S. economy, even that is moot as much of the auto industry has gone elsewhere. Nowdays, auto-dependence helps fuel the national debt.

The handwriting is on the wall. The One Mile Solution is the least we can do on the short term. Over the long term, anyone who fantasizes about continued car-dependence as we know it is living in a dream world. Those who start replacing short car trips with non-auto trips right now will at least have a leg up on the rest of Americans in thinking about how to adjust to an oil-frugal world.

Life is more complex than a blog post, but one cannot ignore reality.The reality is, change will be hard. We better get started on it pretty soon.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Steve Magas: Understanding Bicyclist-Motorist Tensions

Steve Magas is an attorney practicing in Ohio, and a contributor to Bicycling and the Law with Bob Mionske. Good article on his web site, a condensed version of which was submitted to the Columbus (OH) Dispatch.


By: Steve Magas, April 13, 2011
The Columbus Dispatch asked me to write 750 words for their op-ed page.  Not sure when, or if, it will run, but here’s an expanded, and annotated, version of what I sent in…
Steve Magas, The Bike Lawyer

Friday, April 8, 2011

Trinity Design and bicycling

Its too bad that a better showing was not made by the Los Alamos Cycling Cabal last night. Quite a few details were discussed that would impact cycling on Trinity if one of the A options are employed. Before anyone automatically assumes that the A options will make bicycling more "friendly" then the present road or the non-A alternatives (and I don't know what "bicycle friendly"  means for you, dear reader), consider the various options and decide for yourself. Mind you, I ride Trinity now and would ride it in any of the configurations. But the code words "bicycle friendly" are usually translated to mean those cyclists who think you have to be nuts or unusually brave to ride on on a road (i.e., Trinity as it is today) would suddenly become comfortable riding it in some new incarnation. In my opinion, any of the designs (shown in this presentation), including the present one, require a degree of skill and confidence demonstrated by the cyclist rather than a dependence on the facility making life easy. So here goes: My $ 0.02.
  • Cyclists will have to merge into traffic from the bike lanes at each and every roundabout they encounter, since the bike lanes must terminate in each roundabout to be a safe configuration. Alternatively, cyclists can exit the bike lane and get on short sidewalks/multiuse paths circumnavigating the roundabout to get around with pedestrians as pedestrians (as we can at the San I roundabout and as shown in the pic below). The sidepath option can be slower and cumbersome if you are continuing straight ahead or making a "left turn', i.e., travelling 180 or 270 degrees through the roundabout before exiting. Bike lanes in roundabouts create serious conflicts, i.e., a 360 degree "coffin corner". That's why they are stopped at modern roundabouts and why we don't have them within the San Ildefonso roundabout. 
Grand Junction, CO roundabout. Note abrupt termination of bike lanes

  • Roundabouts are touted as being safer to motorists because they replace high speed crashes with low speed crashes and they eliminate high speed "red light running" crashes entirely. This indirectly benefits cyclists and pedestrians if you do get into a crash with a car. Having said that, being hit at 15 mph while in a car means a bent fender. Being hit at 15 mph on your bike or while on foot should not be trivialized.
  • The bike lane terminations shown at last night's meeting were very abrupt, with solid bike lane stripes continuing right up to the end of the bike lane segment as it abruptly terminates at the roundabout. That common design explicitly discourages merging in advance, i.e., encourages cyclists to dart into the travel lane at the last minute at the stripe termination, rather than encouraging a smooth and timely vehicular merge. Sudden, graceless lane changes are much to the consternation of the motorist slamming on his brakes to avoid hitting you while calling on God's fallen angels to deal with your presence on earth. A better design would provide a more substantial merge zone with broken stripes or a yet to be determined MUTCD standard colored lane zone indicating cyclists are merging into the travel lane with other traffic. Remember: as the person changing lanes, you DO NOT have the right of way when changing lanes unless state law and special lane markings apply: the person who already occupies the lane has the right of way. You must negotiate into the travel lane.
  • That said, it will be difficult to negotiate your way into a travel lane at peak traffic loads if traffic is backed up from the roundabout. It remains to be seen how the traffic modellers think traffic will be backed up out of these proposed roundabouts during heavy periods, but chances are traffic will indeed be heavy and you will be negotiating into the travel lane in close quarters. Is that bike friendly?
  •   The design shown by the consultants, with 11 foot vehicle lanes and 8 foot bike lanes, doesn't actually terminate the bike lane in the roundabout with a physical barrier as in the picture above. Instead, the space formerly occupied by the bike lane continues without the physical obstruction shown above, but instead with crosshatched pavement, i.e., an indication you should not be riding there but in the travel lane.  That is done to provide emergency driving space for motorists if the motor vehicle lane is blocked (by a crash, etc.). It should also make plowing easier. But I strongly suspect, as Neale Pickett did, that at least some cyclists will in fact continue to ride in that crosshatched zone and get squeezed into a "coffin corner" in the roundabout. 
  • If we continue to have numerous curb-cuts, i.e., left and right turns, then Trinity Drive bike lanes will put cyclists to the right of right turning motorists ("right hook crash") and potentially screened from left turning motorists ("left cross crash") if final design includes left turn bays between roundabouts. This may be especially problematic if the cyclist is not alert, engaged, and can bike-handle to avoid trouble (i.e., perform a panic stop or instant turn).
  • Bike lanes will end near the East end of town by the airport. Ironically, this is one location where they may do the most good since there are few turning and crossing points once you clear town. We were told that a Class I bike-ped path would continue on the North side of the highway out to the county line. However, the exact details could make this a blessing or a curse: Short sight lines were designed into the Canyon Rim Trail which although scenic, make the design speed less, in my estimation, than 10 mph--cyclists riding much faster than that ride up on unsuspecting walkers or oncoming cyclists much too quickly. This pretty but patently unsafe design presumably would not be done again on a path designed for transportation
  • No one identified how Eastbound cyclists will cross the road to get back and forth onto the north-side path (I assume most cyclists will not want to use the Canyon Rim Trail and cross the 50 mph road out by Entrada park). 
  • Finally, as Neale Pickett noted, if trees are planted between the multiuse path and the road, the path will be shaded in winter, leading to snow and ice buildup. 
Clearly, the devils are in the details insofar as how a redesign will affect cyclists and there are LOTS of places for those demons to hide. I suggest people stay involved, rather than leaving this topic to Neale, myself, and the rest of those "clamoring bicyclists" that have government wrapped around their handlebars (I have to laugh at Joel William's assertion. I guess he hasn't been to any of the meetings where this huge amount of clamoring is occurring---NOT).

Neale Pickett asked if the consulting company had considered Bicycling Level of Service (described here by Sprinkle Consulting, Inc. They had not. For those not familiar, a Bicycling Level of Service (BLOS) model (originally published in the Transportation Research Record) is not about how long it takes for you to get through an intersection, which is how it is defined for traditional motor traffic. BLOS is a measurable number that reflects bicycle-friendliness, according to the authors.  It takes into account average traffic loads, speed limits, lane widths, heavy vehicle (i.e., truck) useage, and surface quality in an equation spitting out a number, which obviously makes it objective.  I say that somewhat sarcastically because the question isn't simply "how long will I be sitting in this freakin' intersection?", but instead attempts to answer the fuzzier question of what the authors thought bicyclists wanted. They may well be right. Well, go read the article. The Sprinkle, 2006 version of the TRR paper is online.

Seriously, none of the various options proposed for Trinity is going to make the road the kind of place you plop an inexperienced, timid cyclist and expect him or her to ride along in mindless bliss, i.e., the "B or C cyclist" that is the asserted target of these "bike friendly" designs. This is a heavily used arterial which, during rush hours, is best suited for competent cyclists, regardless of whether we build the A, B, or C options. Or, for that matter, if we do nothing at all. I think that if we want a bikeway suitable for the inexperienced or less confident rider, a separate and well-designed right of way, as suggested by former Councilor Robert Gibson, should be considered. Trinity cannot be all things to all people. At best, it will be a soundly engineered compromise.

If you really want to feel like a road is "friendly", I suggest you first contact an LCI such as Neale or Amy Pickett or myself and take a Traffic Skills 101 course. Like most activities, one is more confident and relaxed when one is trained to do the task at hand. Bike lanes or roundabouts are not magic bullets. The closest we come to a magic bullet is the skilled cyclist riding well. In that context, the present design of Trinity integrates cyclists into traffic where they are more visible and where bicyclist actions are constrained to be vehicular, and thus should be more easily understood by other users of the roadway. Perhaps Trinity Drive is a bicyclist friendly arterial just as it is. My concern is that by adding bicycle-specific facilities without a clear evaluation of their safety aspects in that specific corridor design, we could be getting all show and no substance or at worst, adding hazards.

The question of what to do with Trinity has less to do with cycling than it has to do with making the road compatible with the County's continued push to build up an urban environment on the South side of the street, which will continue with Trinity Site development and future development after the proposed DP Road land transfer from DOE to the County.  In other words, making Trinity Drive more of a "complete street" that exhibits synergy with rather than providing an obstacle between surrounding land uses.  If I were moving into town and had kids, I sure as hell wouldn't want to plop them down in a new development separated from the rest of the built environment by a high speed road looking like the Cerrillos corridor in Santa Fe. Neither would I want to be pushing a big cart of groceries across five lanes of Trinity from a newly relocated Smiths (I suppose we could put in ped overpasses or tunnels except these cost millions and are typically cut out of a project. Guess who loses?)

That's the rub--people live here. To say that reducing lanes on Trinity is equivalent to reducing NM 502 (in the valley) or US 84/285 to two lanes, as Victor Gavron suggested last night, ignores that those are long distance rural highways. Trinity is a very short road in an urban setting. That's not apples vs. oranges, its apples vs. orangutans.  We have willingly built up both north and south sides of Trinity with residential and commercial properties and plan on building more. One may not want to divide those north and south of Trinity with a very wide and fast arterial (albeit people buying land south of Trinity obviously knew what they bought into). Compromises to surrounding land use may have to be considered in light of decisions we have already made in our land use planning. That is the dilemma we have already forced on ourselves. The bottom line is this: Trinity MUST function acceptably (i.e. acceptable LOS) as an arterial, but it need not be a fast arterial.

Trinity Drive Corridor Study page (County)

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Advocacy Research and bicycling promotion

As a former academician who still tries to be an academic in outlook, I'll defer for now to Andy Cline but suggest you go read Andy, who still is an academic, in this discussion of the perception of a lack of impartiality in (advocacy?) research studying bicycle promotion. Regardless of one's personal point of view, one has to attempt to put some intellectual distance between research and researcher when doing academic research. Go read for yourself.

When Loaded Language Attacks!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Are we ready for the Thursday Roundabout hearings

Someone commenting on Vancouver has a sense of humor even weirder then mine.Thanks and a tip of the tire iron to Copenhagenize for posting this skit.


Today was one of those days when I want to buy Jerry Merkey a beer or three. With southbound traffic on Diamond backed up well past Orange/Sandia, I happily cruised down the bike lane past all that stopped traffic (slowing down from my usual cruising speed to leave time to react to the unexpected), made a right on Sandia, and weaved my way through his mapped route while everyone else was sitting stalled in traffic.

There is something refreshing about having a quiet, peaceful option rather than breathing auto exhaust in a long line of cars.

Here's to you having miles and miles without a flat tire or a headwind, Jerry.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cycling, Safety & Health by Thomas Krag

 Interesting essay. I've posted the conclusions here. One thing I like about Tom's essay is that he doesn't wed himself to separated facilities. Unlike a lot of people, he knows there is more than one way to skin that cat, not all of which pit us against each other in a zero-sum game.

The .pdf of this article is available from the European Cyclists' Federation's website right here.

Cycling, Safety & Health
by Thomas Krag

       There are reasons to be concerned about cyclists' safety, and one should be careful in providing a safe infrastructure for cyclists, whether this is in the form of separate cycle ways or by integrating cycle traffic in the already existing road network. Concerns should however not be exaggerated. The fatality risk of cycling per hour or per trip is not bigger than for car driving, and the contribution to traffic deaths from long car trips is considerable. The individual who replaces the car with public transport and cycling will be exposed to a reduced risk of being killed in traffic.
       It seems moreover to be an almost general law, that the risk of cycling is lowered the more cycling there is. Experience even in some cases shows a drop in the absolute number cycling injuries associated with an increase in cycling. When also the positive health benefits from physical exercise are taken into account, cycling will in any case turn out very positively. There is no reason to wait for a traffic safety per kilometre level as low as that for motoring, before one can promote cycling from an ethical point of view.
       There are, on the contrary, reasons to warn against a strictly sectoral approach to traffic safety. Traffic safety is a highly relevant concern of health impacts from the traffic system. If, however, one only takes the direct, negative health consequences from traffic accidents into account, one is missing the major part of the full picture.