Friday, July 27, 2012

Wear a helmet cam, and get justice done

After two recent right hook crashes on Phase IV of Diamond Drive that have knocked two of our cyclists off their bikes, I am wondering if we should start wearing helmet cams. In one of those instances, the cyclist,who was injured seriously, was cited for an implausible violation--a pedestrian jaywalking type violation. This case is currently headed for court so I won't comment further, for now.

Mind you, I am not suggesting helmet cams in lieu of competent cycling. Please ride through that section with your head up and mind focussed. Use the SEE (Search, Evaluate, Execute) concept. Know how to perform an evasive act; there are plenty of places to practice. But when all else fails, don't be caught short on good data..

When all else does fail, a good video of a crash or near miss is worth a thousand words, especially since the cyclist is often lying on his back wordless and the motorist is putting the best spin on things to cover his or her own okole after safely emerging from his or her "cage".

I've had several close calls south of Orange/Sandia and on two instances, stopped and asked the driver why he and she put me in harm's way. The answer both times was "I didn't see you". Uh, yeah, uh-huh....this is an unimpressive display of less than stellar vehicle operation in what should be the "World's Greatest Driving Protecting America". God help us if these folks work in a sensitive or high hazard facility and work as carelessly as when they drive.

From the NY Times:

Cameras Are Cyclists’ ‘Black Boxes’ in Accidents

"WASHINGTON — When Evan Wilder went flying onto the pavement during his bicycle commute one morning here, he didn’t have time to notice the license plate of the pickup truck that had sideswiped him after its driver hurled a curse at him. Nor did a witness driving another car. But the video camera Mr. Wilder had strapped to his head caught the whole episode. After watching a recording of the incident later, Mr. Wilder gave the license plate number to the police and a suspect was eventually charged with leaving the scene of an accident..."

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A video from Springfield, MO. In a bicyclist friendly community, why is cycling so rare?

From what I can see, not much difference between Springfield and Bombtown. Frankly, I'd rather be riding here than in Amsterdam if those video segments of Andy Cline's are representative of Amsterdam now vs. Amsterdam in 1986, when I spent a week there.

Bicycling is cultural. The reason we don't have more cyclists here has far less to do with infrastructure than it does with our mistaken belief that cycling is dangerous and not a good idea.

As far as actual hazard? Bicycling is no more dangerous than many activities we take for granted. Stop drinking the kool-aid, and start riding.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Does anyone know of an overtaking crash on NM-4 climbing into the Jemez?

I'm curious, after penning the following letter. Does anyone know of any bike-car crashes resulting from motorists overtaking bicyclists who are climbing into the Jemez? I've never seen or heard of one, and have had, in 11 years, only one instance of grumpiness on the part of an overtaking motorist. If you know of any crashes, send a comment.

Dear Transportation Board

Yesterday I received a phone call from a Los Alamos resident who was referred to me by one of the Chandlers (I forget which one, and did not write it down). The caller thought I was on the bicycling subcommittee of the Transportation board.

I told him that to my knowledge, the Transportation Board has not re-created a bicycling subcommittee and I'm certainly not on one, so anything I say would be offered as the $0.02 of a private citizen. 

The person went on to suggest that bicyclists riding uphill on NM-4 (into the Jemez) create a dangerous situation since there are a lot of tight curves and no shoulders, and that something should be done to make the road more hospitable (such as adding pullouts for slow vehicles).

I told him that to my knowledge based on living here since 2001, there has not been a crash resulting from a motorist overtaking a cyclist climbing into the mountains on SR4 and that while overtaking on a mountain road (or any road) often requires patience and attention to detail, that does not translate into danger--it is the expectation in the West that we need to plan on  such situations, whether the slower vehicle is a bicycle, large R/V, or a truck hauling horses.  Back East where I am from, it is often Amish buggies.

The two crashes on NM4 involving bicyclists and motor vehicles that I am aware of were both caused by conflicts between oncoming vehicle operators, in one case a cyclist and an oncoming motorcyclist, and a recent crash between a cyclist and an oncoming car on the last hairpin. I'm not privy to the finer details.

Generally, we who live in the mountains drive and ride that road with due diligence, as explicitly required by our traffic law. The speed limit on NM-4 West of Back Gate to the top of the climb is posted at 30 mph and sharp curves are posted with lower advisory speeds. I am a regular cyclist on that road and assert it is quite safe if overtaking motorists use prudence; cyclists can help motorists overtake, such as by shading right when it is safe to do so. Since the road is narrow, the position of a cyclist is moot on overtaking since a proper overtaking distance (5' by county law, reasonable and prudent by state law) requires motorists to encroach into the oncoming lane regardless as to how far out a cyclist is riding from the edge. For the record, I generally ride about 18 inches from the edge of the pavement. It is in fact in a motorists own interests to use care--no one knows when a deer or rockfall will lurk around a blind curve.

While improvements to NM-4 would be welcome, especially given the damage to the road from heavy vehicle use during the Las Conchas fire, asserting danger on the basis of one's personal comfort level reduces the concept of danger to a subjective reaction rather than one of science or engineering and that doesn't usually translate into good public policy, whether it be mountain roads or roundabouts. 

While I would cheer on the County if we were to contact NMDOT on their future plans to improve NM-4, I say that with some trepidation since the Law of Unintended Consequences will undoubtedly kick into high gear--an improved road will probably encourage faster speeds and more complacency. Right now, I think people hang up and pay attention, given the nature of NM-4.

I'm writing the T board and Chief Torpy since I was contacted assuming I was a board member, so this is simply an FYI, in case it comes up.