Saturday, September 28, 2013

Strava: Why Cycling Will Never Be (for) The Sane?

Train Safely, So You Will Live to Race Tomorrow  

Or, put another way, remember that first layer of safety: Control Your Bike

Pardon my take-off on the title to a very good and hopefully, thought provoking article in the November print edition of Bicycling, but reading that stuff made me shudder. With Kim Flint dead after crushing himself on a steep descent, and Chris Bucchere a convicted felon after blowing through a busy urban intersection as the light changed and hitting a pedestrian (who later died) one has to wonder why riders would take such chances with both their own and other's lives. Someone has failed to learn that to win a race you actually have to finish it.
Descent where Kim Flint died, -9.6% grade. 
From Forbes article linked in text.
Shades of Fabio Casartelli...
Note this is now flagged. 

A lot of people already think the lycra-clad crowd is both arrogant and insane, but I don't see the point of living the stereotype by racing all out over public roads for virtual trophies. Its easy to get carried away with the competitive spirit, but one has to moderate one's behavior to conform to the reality of riding in a real world set of conditions. Real, sanctioned races are held under race permits with traffic and race restrictions, course marshals and police. Note that the Bandelier Loop, which is the basis for the Tour de Los Alamos and also a Strava segment, has, during the race, course marshals at several locations (such as at Back Gate, the base of Truck Route, and major intersections in White Rock) and in addition, the fast descent to Ancho Canyon is traditionally neutralized.  Note too that aside from sanctioned races, this course, as well as the rest of the world, is governed by normal traffic laws, to say nothing of the laws of physics. One of those laws governs the relationship between transforming kinetic energy (speed) to work (reducing your rib cage to splinters).

In a sanctioned race, a rider can get DQ'ed for stupid behavior. In a training ride one can get the boot off of one's own team for putting others at risk--no one wants the reputation of being a squirrel. Riding against one's self can be just as deadly. I had my own Come to Jesus Moment on a day I was descending NM-4 and nearly ended up as a hood ornament on an oncoming F-150 while apexing without sufficient regard to reality (which is pretty much how Bicycling described Kim Flint's fate). Lesson learned-- "closed course, don't try this at home" means exactly that.

 I don't think the car companies, aside from their legal staff, are serious about that "closed course" admonition, but neither do they put up web sites where customers can brag about street racing and get egged on to top the latest best time on an uncontrolled course. Sadly, while these online Strava competitions may have started out having the best of intentions (and most users of the site may be reasonable riders with good intentions) the site had, wittingly or not, also provided a global platform where the risk-takers could push each other to the ragged edge, turning the "closed course, don't try this at home" idea on its head. Being able to flag treacherous sections of road is great, but it doesn't change the underlying issue I have with this model, to wit, all-out time trialing on uncontrolled courses has the potential to seriously undermine traffic safety.

Although at least one judge in California decided that Strava is immune to lawsuits when people crash and burn trying to be top dog on its web site, I hope the company takes these two incidents as lessons learned (which to some degree it has, with the flagging system). But really, in the ultimate analysis, it is entirely the rider's problem. No one at Strava is holding a gun to anyone's head and forcing them to ride stupid, which, I guess, was their defense as they collected their dividends.  Meanwhile, when things go wrong, the rest of us are tarred with the same brush of irresponsibility as the lunatic fringe, not to mention having to go to its funerals. Note added later: Bob Mionske's comments, "Suing Strava", are here.

So the bottom line? If you want to push the envelope against yourself, bump real elbows with buddies, or compare yourself to online competitors, by all means do so. But first scout the course and scrap the idea if conditions look ugly. Then make sure you are riding within a safety envelope and not being a public menace.  Remember, in a group ride, one can hopefully (not always) count on ride leaders or experienced colleagues to moderate things based on conditions but in a virtual competition, do you really know the state of mind of the competitor or what the road looked like yesterday? The only moderator in a virtual competition is the guy holding the handlebars on your bicycle. Don't let yourself down.

 You can't run life in reverse when the outcome sucks and as we all have to admit, when you push the envelope hard, sometimes that envelope pushes back even harder.

The Castro Street "bomb", via Youtube and SFCitizen, seen in the vid below. There is one other San Francisco "bomb" segment still on the Strava site, this one on Hyde Street, with an average grade of -4.2% and max of about -10%. I count thirteen cross streets. Top time is 20.8 mph equivalent.

Watch the vid and draw your own conclusions.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

More On Trucks Making Right Turns

Try passing this one on the right
Yet another blogger has stated that we need truck side guards to protect cyclists from right turning trucks. John Allen addressed this question a few weeks ago when side guards were promulgated in some earlier blog posts as a safeguard against a cyclist being trapped under a right turning truck. I added my two cents on this blog, to wit, the wise choice is to stay out of the danger zone to the right of a truck making a right turn. The absurdity of the conversation is this: some advocates assert that cyclists should willfully put themselves at risk through bad roadway positioning, often encouraged by "coffin corner" designs, depending entirely on the perfection of truck drivers or the technological finesse of body scrapers mounted on the sides of trucks to keep them safe. Now isn't it better to take safety into one's own competent hands instead?

The issue comes up especially when one has bike lanes, rideable shoulders, or wide traffic lanes at intersections where heavy trucks might be making right turns. If the cyclist becomes situated to the right of the large truck, the back of the truck will likely swing in on the cyclist leading to the truck overriding the cyclist (which is a bit different from the classic "right hook"). This scenerio has led to gruesome crashes as the cyclist is trapped to the right of the truck as the trailer (rear of the truck) follows a track closer to the curb than the tractor, pinching off the rider's space and potentially, crushing the rider.  Its happened with garbage trucks, too. We have an increasing number of large trucks on our roads as the new Smith's Mall/Trinity Site construction proceeds and there are trucks on the DOE site at LANL, especially on Diamond.  I think its important to review this issue here.

As John Allen has stated, well designed truck side guards MIGHT, as a last resort, partially protect cyclists from right turning trucks but could just as easily trap a cyclist underneath, smear him into the curb, or do nothing useful at all (many of the examples in the articles John and I critiqued don't look like they would do anything at all). The side guards have other benefits, such as possibly reducing wind blast to overtaken cyclists at high speed, improving truck aerodynamics, and preventing automobiles from submarining the trailer during a side impact or sideswipe.

But to avoid being killed or injured by a truck at a right turn intersection, its important for the cyclist to not ride to the right of the turning truck because in a turn, the rear of the truck pivots towards the cyclist (esp. with a tractor-trailer) and the rear wheels track closer to the curb and indeed can hit the curb even if the driver is adept at his job. Keri Caffrey covers that at Bike Orlando. If you have any doubts, stay behind the truck. Don't get trapped to its right. The danger of trying to pass or filter forward of the truck is "what if I don't get in front of the truck before it starts up and turns?" The answer could be "roadkill".

Perhaps when possible, we should provide bicycle boulevards and truck routes that are distinct from each other. I am sure this is often not feasible in an already built environment.  Bicyclists have to know how to coexist with trucks and vice versa for truckers coexisting with bicycle traffic.

Meanwhile, here is a good video by the American Trucking Association explaining right turning safety from the trucker's perspective. What comes through loud and clear is the trucker wants to keep anyone (including you) from getting to his right. Help the trucker out by understanding her(his)his predicament and cooperating with him(her). Don't be the cyclist who supplies the coffin in a coffin corner bike lane.

Los Alamos Regional Bike Trail Planning Event

Just got this from Lucy Gent Foma at the National Parks Service. Contact Lucy if you are interested. Click on picture to get original size, which is actually readable.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Autumnal Equinox

I forgot today was the Autumnal Equinox until I listened to Garrison Keillor this morning on Writer's Almanac.  It was a beautiful morning, albeit a bit crisp. The wind was picking up, possibly in anticipation of the thunderstorms predicted for this afternoon, so I abandoned my original ride plan of doing the Bandelier loop in favor of riding the hills, where there is some tree cover and where a quick retreat home at Il Falco speeds (or in my case, Il Fatto speeds) is possible if bad weather closes in.  Besides, once it really gets cold, there will be more than enough excuses to stay below 9,000 feet.

Nice day on the bike. Just be careful of the sand on the curves, courtesy of recent heavy rains. Happy first day of Fall, folks! Almost time to dig out those headlights, too, and fully festoon that commuter bike with short-daylight garb.

Elk: Nature's SUV, and almost as predictable as the human variety.
Topping out on NM-4 in the Jemez

One of the false flats along NM-4 heading into the Jemez

Fire damage in the distance, somewhere past American Springs

Descending School, Los Alamos, NM

Near top of Camp May Road. 
Last bit of pain before heading home.

Rewards of riding

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Fringe Benefit to League Membership

 Did my two year LAB renewal and just got this beer glass in the mail. Something about a bike ride and beer seem to go together like a sewup and a lightweight rim. Especially since you can drink the beer and ride it off.

Many thanks to League Membership Director Scott Williams, who helped smooth out the new online renewal system.  And, many thanks to the New Belgium Brewery, a Platinum-level Bicycle-Friendly Business that gets my greenbacks because it makes good beer AND is bike friendly.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Need For More Bicyclist (and Non-Bicyclist) Education Cannot Be Overstated

In this month's League of American Bicyclists (LAB) magazine, League President Andy Clarke starts off the reading with an impassioned plea for more bicycling education. Spot on, Andy. I could not agree more, and for a variety of reasons:
1. Bicycling education is transportable. If you move from Portlandia to Hostilia, you take your expertise with you, possibly even changing some of those grumpy people in Hostilia into new bicyclists.
2. The LAB is the master of its educational programs. LAB can maintain and administer them independent of external funding, if neccesary, and with or without  (hopefully, with) cooperation with fickle governments and government programs. Although the NMDoT apparently de-funded its relationship with our state League Cycling Instructors (LCIs), the LCIs remain. Just call us.
3.  Cyclists need to be masters of their own fate (i.e., the layers of safety concept) by understanding how to ride in traffic and how to maintain their bicycles. Having that level of expertise, and the knowledge of how crashes happen, the situationally-aware cyclist is empowered to avoid trouble, less likely to break laws, more comfortable in traffic, better able to handle a wide range of facilities, and is a better example to new cyclists.
4. Non-cyclists need to understand cycling, thus the need for cycling education to be disseminated to the general public. As cyclists, one of our biggest burdens (aside from behavior that produces many self-inflicted wounds) is non-cyclists making mistakes that put us at risk and meanwhile, making demands of us that put us at risk.
This diagonal bit of bike lane is continuous, but
crosses a right turn bay. The smart cyclist looks over 
his/her shoulder to check and manage traffic
regardless of who has the right of way, 
 to avoid a conflict leading to a crash.
photo from John Allen
 5. Cyclists who are knowledgeable about how crashes happen and how they should ride on our streets are much better critics of street and roadway design. At a time when more people are getting on bikes and when the government is experimenting with new designs (such as found in NACTO) as well as using old ones (such as found in AASHTO), the educated cyclist needs to be engaged in the planning process. An example of a flawed design can be seen on Streetsblog showing a brand new bike lane in Detroit that has its outboard stripe flush with parallel parked cars, thus creating a door-zone bike lane. So faced with a diversity of both good and bad designs, friendly and ambivalent communities, and coming to the table with different levels of expertise, cyclists gain power and credibility when the cycling community becomes better educated and more streetwise. With programs such as the LAB's Traffic Skills classes taught by several thousand LCIs, and the expanding availability of the CyclingSaavy program, its becoming easier and easier to obtain this expertise. Go get it if you have not done so already.

New Detroit Bike Lane
 A better design might have eliminated some or all
of that center median, or used sharrows
(photo from Streetsblog article)

Central Square, Cambridge fatality (Dana Laird). 
The cyclist , who was doored, might have 
grazed the opened car door with the handlebar 
 and performed an instant turn under the bus
photo from John Allen's site
6. Here in Los Alamos, our principle employer has just rolled out a new set of health care plans that provide financial incentives and rewards for fitness and physical activity leading to better health. What better way to stir some physical activity into your life than to bike or walk to work, or bike or walk around the large LANL campus.

 Are these enough reasons to become a better  cyclist?

In other news, Jonathan Maus, in Bike Portland, reminds us of the need to use language carefully and avoid loaded words and phrases when discussing cycling issues.  Good points, Jonathan.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Major Strasser has been shot. Round up the usual suspects.

Interesting piece on the NYC Streetsblog page, written by my good friend Charles Komanoff. Several schoolchildren walking to school in the Big Apple were hit and injured when a motorist in an SUV jumped the curb and hit them, causing serious injury. The response of the NYC Dept. of Education and its legal department? Tell the kids to not wear electronic distractive devices while walking to school.

Never mind that there is no evidence they were distracted and never mind the Honda SUV was being operated on the sidewalk, where it doesn't belong. The bottom line is that this bureaucracy cannot possibly fathom that a motorist was responsible for this mess and that they should be protecting the kids. Yeah, round up the usual suspects. Damn pedestrians ought to know better than to get in the way of a car or at minimum, be prescient enough to jump out of the way in time.

This would seem to be the classic case of blaming the victims for their plight rather than prying ever so slightly into why kids walking to school on a sidewalk aren't safe from curb-jumping motorists. There is a banality to this evil that only Hannah Arendt could understand. The NYC DoE is simply doing its job and not too critically, either. I suspect they drive cars and are hopeless, albeit willing, victims, to their worldview.

Not that Los Alamos should feel smug. It was not too many years ago that I had to do a long detour getting home because the PD was investigating a dead child hit by a car. Here is what I recall. Others may recall differently:

The kid was blamed for not looking before leaping, i.e., crossing the street.
The bus driver was blamed for letting the kid off the wrong end of the bus.
The county was blamed for not properly managing how people get off the bus.
I don't recall the motorist being issued a summons or infraction or frankly, being blamed for anything. At the time, I wondered whether I would have a responsibility to slow down and exercise due care when passing a stopped Atomic City bus at a marked crosswalk in a marked school zone, where one might infer that someone might be getting off and crossing the street.

This bench, by the North Mesa Middle School,
was paid for with a child's life

In Casablanca, Captain Renault knew who shot Major Strasser. He covered it up for a higher good. I wish there was some higher good that the NYC DoE could lay claim to as they round up the usual suspects. But sadly, in this case, they are well inside the auto-centric bubble, as Bill Maher might say. I wish they were alone in being there.

Somewhere, sometime, we need to have a real, unbiased, non car-centric discussion about risk management, and whether those of us who pilot 5000 lb vehicles owe the public an elevated sense of responsibility, given we are licensed by the state to operate said vehicle safely. Until then, get those blankety-blank kids off the sidewalk so I can jump the goddamn curb with impunity.


Friday, September 13, 2013

Wetbike weather

Almost seven inches of rain so far this week. Nice thing about a bicycle is that its a little tougher to flood the engine. I hope...

The street outside our house at eight this morning.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Further Comments on New Mexico State Rt. 4

  And, a Few Comments afterwards on Those Nice Roads We Normally Ride On.


Looking downhill, westbound, towards Las Conchas
I rode back up NM4 to Las Conchas today on the pedalbike rather than the gas burner. The two shoulders, i.e., headed towards La Cueva vs. heading towards the Valles, are quite different in texture. It looks like the state put the worst pavement dropoffs on the La Cueva bound lane (South? West?).

Between Valles Caldera and Las Conchas, this means you are riding downhill with a steep dropoff on the shoulder. So if someone driving the speed limit of 55 mph is trying to pass me, I'm pretty much going to hold my line and let them figure it out.  I can't see wanting to bunny hop the bicycle off a 2-3 inch ledge at over 20 mph--and then back onto the road again to assist an overtaking vehicle. Nor should I have to put myself at risk by doing so.
Closeup of westbound lane pavement lip. 
Blackberry case for scale

Headed back towards the Valles, the shoulder really isn't much worse than it was before, which is being charitable. So it is still possible for me let traffic overtake if it is backing up by moving right when it is safe for me to do so on one of the wider bits of shoulder. Fortunately, traffic is rarely heavy except on holiday weekends.

Heading Back East Towards the Valles Caldera
This is probably the best bit of shoulder on that stretch
The State of NM has a lot of reasons for its paving practice, many having to do with the lack of money. This practice trades money for personal safety. Perhaps there is money in other pots that can be raided to fix the badly paved shoulders all over New Mexico. That is a political decision. Fortunately in the case of NM4, it is a narrow mountain road; people expect primitive conditions. Indeed, most people behave prudently. Its the rare bad situation that leaves you with only a white knuckle response.

The dinosaur rock just east of Las Conchas.
 Good place to take shelter from hailstorms, 
as I once discovered

Right Hooks on Diamond Drive...Is that a right turn signal blinking on your car, or are you just happy to see me?

Ironically, its sometimes the superficially "nicer" roads that will get you. Heading home on Diamond Drive in that wide bike lane and passing the Orange/Sandia intersection, someone in a dark SUV dashed ahead of me a little and made a right turn. This happened quite suddenly (perhaps because I was tired from the ride into the mountains?) So I had to make a quick judgement call. I took a quick look over my left shoulder* to check traffic and then did a quick jog (more like a lateral sprint) out of the bike lane and into a gap in traffic in the travel lane to pass on his/her left as he/she slowed down to make the turn (I could have done a quick stop* or instant turn*, too, but did not have to). If I had been totally oblivious, it would have been the classic right hook crash (see video below). Vigilance never hurts, and sometimes, nicely "improved" roads breed complacency.

* The over the shoulder scan, quick stop, and instant turn are taught in League Traffic Skills courses.

In the situation shown in the video, I'd not recommend hammering in a bike lane when there are side streets and curb cuts immediately ahead. Combining bike lanes and side streets is a bad design to begin with, so one has to assume a finite number of right of way foul-ups will occur and you need to avoid them. The design shown is the worst, which has a solid line to the intersection, thus encouraging cyclists to keep right and motorists to turn right from a cyclist's left. I had a roadway situation much like this on my daily commute to the University of Hawaii, riding along Kalanianaole Highway in East Oahu. While I used the long stretches between side roads as a place to get in some training, I always approached intersections with some caution rather than flat out.

In this case, perhaps the cyclist might have wanted to merge left behind the car when he saw the right turn indicator blinking rather than being trapped; it looks to me like there was time to do so.  Perhaps he was indecisive, sitting up and hollering while braking, and he lost precious time. Or he just didn't know how to set up and countersteer sharply. It looks like he slid the rear wheel just before impact, suggesting he was still on the brakes rather than using his traction and bike handling skills entirely to maneuver sharply. He also might have slid on the white pavement markings.

  Sorry to be an armchair quarterback when someone in the video has just eaten at the Pavement Cafe, but....

 Coffin corner indeed. Excellent way to test the strength of one's collarbone. Situational awareness and training. Repeat five times....then go practice.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Pavement edge dropoffs on NM-4 West of Valles Caldera Are Worse Than Ever

Stay Away From the Edge

Took a motorcycle ride up NM4 today just for the heck of it. I was headed to Las Conchas. Just past the turnoff to the Valles Caldera staging area, there starts new pavement at least as far as Las Conchas. The edges have an abrupt 2-3 inch drop in the "La Cueva" direction (South? West?). So now the pavement edge dropoff is worse than ever. Plus, the shoulder, what there was of it, looks pretty trashed.  So you will have to ride your bicycle well into the lane. If you are on a moto, please, please don't overcook a curve and drift to the edge. It could be fatal.

I don't know if the State of New Mexico is planning on remediation of this or if we are supposed to live with this. My suspicion is this is what we get, because it conforms to NMDOT practice elsewhere in the state. Partial paving might save a few bucks, but at risk to your life due to the possible loss of control if you hit the edge lip wrong.

I'll email the district engineer, BCNM, LAB, and our state legislator. You should too.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Homebound LANL bicyclists crossing Jemez on Diamond Drive: Don't Get T-boned

Last night I saw two northbound cyclists pull into the leftmost of the two right turn lanes on Diamond Drive where it crosses Jemez Road. When the right turn green arrows lit up but the two left turn arrows were red, they crossed straight ahead across Jemez Road to work their way to the bridge sidepath.

Cyclists travelling northbound on Diamond Drive  and crossing Jemez Road must note that when the right turn arrows on Diamond at Jemez Road are green but the left turn arrows are red, westbound Jemez Road traffic has a green light. Therefore, the two cyclists could have been t-boned at high speed by westbound traffic if they were oblivious to that traffic pattern. They were, simply put, running a red light.

Westbound Jemez Road traffic only (to my knowledge) has a red light when left turn Diamond Drive traffic has a red arrow AND when a pedestrian in one of the N-S crosswalks has activated a protected pedestrian crossing WALK cycle stopping westbound traffic. Or, of course, when left turning Diamond traffic has a green arrow.

Since there is no northbound Diamond Drive lane crossing the bridge any more, there is not a straight through green light.  Two ways to legally and safely cross Jemez Road straight north from Diamond Drive to the Omega Bridge sidepath as a cyclist, at least that I can think of, are these:

1. Legally mount the sidewalk and activate the pedestrian crossing cycle. Cross as a pedestrian, either by dismounting and walking the bike or by riding slowly and carefully in the crosswalk. Both are legal. Do not ride fast in a crosswalk--you may endanger pedestrians and may be hit by a "right on red" motorist not looking far enough into the crosswalk to note your presence.

2. Get into the rightmost left turn lane and cross with the left turn green arrow as left turning traffic. Immediately upon crossing the intersection, signal and peel off onto the shoulder and get onto the sidewalk at the ped crossing ADA curbcut or beyond.

I'm hoping the cyclists in question did not assume they were safe because their lane arrow was activated green. That is a complex intersection and one must pay attention to all the different traffic duty cycles to stay out of trouble. Going straight on a right-only arrow is not too safe, not to mention not too legal.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Reflections on Equitable Transportation: A discussion of class, race, stereotypes, values, and bicycling

Excellent essay over on the League of American Bicyclists web site by Adonia E. Lugo, a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at UC Irvine and a member of the LAB Equity Advisory Council. I highly recommend it and without further ado, recommend you go here.

"...Usually when people talk about bikes, they focus on bike lanes, cycle tracks, and other kinds of infrastructure projects. What about the culture that underpins our uses of shared roads?..."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Short fuse item: Old Solutions from a Passing Generation: USDOT's Proposed Strategic Plan Falls Short

I won't reinvent the wheel here, and simply suggest that folks go read League of American Bicyclists Exec. Director Andy Clarke's strong crititique of the latest USDOT proposed strategic plan, and send your comments to the email or interactive site embedded in the LAB link I've provided above.

Sounds like more of the same from the USDOT: Car is King, Long Live the King, no thinking outside the box, etc. Short fuse on this one. Comments due by 10 September. Fire a broadside or two for sustainability and safety.