Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ride Your Bike to the Co-Op on Saturday

"Follow Us to the Co-Op"
I guess that Saturday is our Los Alamos Co-Op's 3rd birthday, and a lot of stuff will be happening from ten to two. If you are in town and thinking of some shopping, ride the old two wheeler over there if you can to pick up the hunting and gathering for the week. I'm especially interested in how the Canyon Rim Trail works for a bike loaded down with groceries.

See Carol's Daily Post for details.  And remember, only you can prevent CO2 buildup.

The North Mesa Mutts endorse this message.

Oh, Dave, I'm so glad I met you that day you rode to the Co-Op!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Right Hook: Another Near Miss at Diamond and Sandia

Posted this earlier at my place of employment.

Right Hook Setup
This morning as I was driving to work on Diamond Drive southbound with a dead motorcycle battery sitting next to me in a bucket,  I noted and passed a fast commuter cyclist riding south in the bike lane between North Road and Sandia.  As traffic approached the Orange/Sandia intersection, it had slowed to a near stop as traffic queued at a red light and had just resumed moving.

The cyclist was rapidly overtaking motor traffic as he approached the intersection. This puts the cyclist into a potentially hazardous situation in the event that a motorist makes a right turn, thus cutting in front of the cyclist with the side of the car. If the cyclist hits the side of the car, its referred to in cyclist-speak as a “right hook”. I think the cyclist did slow slightly as I saw him backpedaling as he approached the intersection.

Sure enough a white SUV turned right, narrowly missing the cyclist. I pulled up behind the driver on one of the side streets. The motorist was visibly shaken,  having realized too late what happened; sure enough the cyclist was in the motorist’s blind spot. We had a short discussion about the pitfalls of having a thru bike lane to the right of a “travel lane” acting as a turn lane, which schematically amounts to a right turn lane in the middle of a three lane arterial.  

Some lessons.
1.       To traffic engineers: cyclists are already small vehicles and harder to spot—keep them visible. The right hook, caused by a motorist overtaking a cyclist on the cyclist’s left and then turning right, is so common a crash as to have its own nickname. The setup is ripe for mistakes because the cyclist can be in the motorist’s blind spot, the motorist has overtaken but is slowing to turn, the cyclist is catching up. In situations where there are numerous side streets and curbcuts, perhaps a better design is a wide lane with sharrows.

2.       To motorists. When there is a bike lane on your right in a right turn situation, its important to be aware of any cyclist you are overtaking or have overtaken.  Ensure you have room to turn or that you yield right of way. Legally, one cannot leave a lane unless it is safe to do so. A crash is pretty good evidence that it wasn’t safe.

3.       To cyclists: You must have excellent situational awareness when and where you are in a bike lane to the right of potentially turning motorists. You can slow down and observe caution, or can signal and merge into traffic when it is safe to do so, especially if you are going as fast as the gentleman was this morning. One thing you should not do is get trapped unaware. I don’t know if the cyclist in question “saw it coming” and evaded the trap, or was just lucky. A couple years ago, one of our LANL colleagues was trapped near there and ended up in an ambulance with very serious injuries.

I’m more than happy to do the annual lunchtime discussion of cycling situational awareness, if folks are interested. Motorists and motorcyclists more than welcome, too.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Anti-Texting Bill Headed to Governor's Desk for Signature!

The bill easily cleared both houses and Gov. Martinez supports it.
From the Albuquerque Journal:  "...The legislation, Senate Bill 19, would allow law enforcement officers to stop drivers who appear to be texting, reading or writing on their mobile devices while driving or stopped in traffic. Drivers could be cited with a $25 fine for the first offense and a $50 ticket for subsequent incidents.....Gov. Susana Martinez’s office suggested Tuesday that she expects to sign the bill into law.“Gov. Martinez is encouraged that New Mexico will join most other U.S. states in banning texting while driving,” Martinez spokesman Enrique Knell said. “Texting while driving is a lethal distraction. There is no text message that is worth a person’s life. Distracted drivers pose a serious danger to fellow motorists on New Mexico’s streets, roads and highways, especially among our youth...”

The bill would take effect 1 July. I will not further encroach on the Journal's copyright. Please go read the article and support a very fine independent newspaper, fully endorsed by the North Mesa Mutts, with your checkbook.

Some of us just want to ride without always expecting drivers to be ignoring their primary job--driving. This bill is a good start.


Monday, February 17, 2014

"...No One Who Lives In Our Hamlet....Should Ever Ride A Bicycle..." Or, Why Elections Matter

"...Suffolk County is a suburban automobile community...—drivers expect to see other drivers on the road not bicyclists and motorcyclists..."--Suffolk Co. Legislator Thomas F. Barraga, to a constituent whose mom was hit by a car.

 If you wonder why cyclists should occasionally pay attention to politics, the comments that Suffolk County, N.Y., 11th District Representative Thomas Barraga sent to a youngster whose mom and four friends were all hit by cars are telling. Barraga has also, in co-sponsoring adult mandatory helmet legislation, asserted in the bill that cycling is "inherently dangerous". I don't see how anyone could expect support on reasonable cycling policies or diversified transportation planning from Legislator Barraga. Rather than repeat all the good legislator's comments, I'll attach the letter, which has gone viral.

Suffolk County makes up the eastern half of auto-choked, air polluted Long Island; LI serves to some degree as a bedroom community to New York City and is also home of the prototype post-WW II suburb, Levittown.
Click for full size
I spoke, via email, to my Ph.D. advisor, Stony Brook Distinguished Service Professor of Geosciences Gil Hanson, about this the other day. Gil lives in Port Jefferson, a little east of West Islip. For decades, he rode his bike to work. Gil agrees that the traffic on Long Island is worse than ever and tends, even for a seasoned cyclist like Gil, to be rough to deal with.  He wishes there were separate bicycle facilities where he could ride away from traffic, as he has done when on sabbatical in Germany.

Gil is about twenty or more years older than me; as a lifelong cyclist wishes to keep riding, but doesn't want to mix it up with frantic traffic.  Gil's idea for German/Euro style facilities is a good one in a college town, should the closely knit Three Village area (Stony Brook, East Setauket, Port Jefferson) try to pull it off. My own thoughts are that its possible to do it right, but only with a lot of careful design.  Such thoughts don't take away from our rights to the road and to an expectation that society will support our roadway rights.

Indeed, if one looks at the age distribution of Los Alamos and the number of retirement homes in the town, we could definitely stand to expand our off road "urban" cycling facilities here, too, so as to encourage folks in their golden years to stay active. Like Gil, others as they advance in age don't necessarily want to take the chance of an unplanned meeting with Mr. Pavement while in heavy traffic where driver aggression and inattention are endemic. A retired Chemistry Division colleague of mine recently told me that he hung up his bike. In his nineties, he no longer feels confident riding on our roads.

As far as Long Island, it was a nearly ideal place to ride back in the days I lived there with a good mix of quiet roads and year round mild climate. Thus,  I resumed cycling as an adult, after the usual late teen devotion to being infernally combusted, while a graduate student at Stony Brook. Getting off my hind end, which had been getting more and more portly, significant improved my health and my mood.  Heck, I even met girls that way, in one instance while filling my Motobecane Mirage panniers with vegetables, pasta, and tofu purchased at a Stony Brook natural food store.

The bottom line is that Long Island has become a traffic and air pollution nightmare precisely because it is far too auto-dependent and because its developers see nothing wrong with more sprawl and auto-dependence, as long as there is more land into which to sprawl and as long as someone else writes the check. That philosophy has created a monster that affects people's health and safety in multiple ways.  I'd wager, based on other studies, that as many, perhaps more Suffolk County residents are sickened by cardiorespiratory disease brought on by Suffolk County's dirty, ozone-thick air than are injured by crashes. Long Island's traffic woes also contribute to a carbon-spewing lifestyle that will eventually consume its beautiful shoreline in a rising ocean as anthropogenic climate warming slowly creeps up on us. Telling people to not use alternatives, and indeed dismissing good alternatives such as cycling, is a little like treating lung cancer with cigarettes. Mr. Barraga's views need to change, either by a change in heart and mind or via the vote.

Here in Los Alamos, we have been very lucky to not have such extreme opinions in our officeholders. Let's keep it that way, but not get complacent. With county and statewide elections around the corner and primaries weeks away, we need to pay attention and support good people. Thoughtful people and good government policy go hand in hand.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Should Tuff Riders and Los Alamos Singletrack Association Merge?

Chris Collord, the current president of Tuff Riders, sent this message appended below out to the Tuff Riders list this morning and he agreed I could post it here.

My uneducated $0.02?  I don't know the politics of Tuff Riders vs. LASA, but to me, it would be useful to have a coherent, strong voice or voices from the cycling community to not only discuss cycling matters amongst ourselves, but to discuss a coherent policy with local government and both address issues proactively and reactively. The timing could not be more critical with Pajarito Mountain in the news as the snow situation leaves our ski resources dangling by a thread. Perhaps more could be done to make Pajarito Mountain sustainable, indeed more of a year round money maker to a town that desperately needs a second horse to pull its economy.

Anyway, if you are interested in the discussion, leave comments here as well as contact Tuff Riders and LASA.

From Chris

Tuff Riders,
Over the past month I've met several times with Steve Watts, the head of the Los Alamos Singletrack Association (LASA).  Steve is an active member of the community and a great advocate for mountain biking here in Los Alamos. Some of you may also know him as the general manager of the Los Alamos Cooperative Market.

LASA was formed several years ago as a local IMBA Chapter.  In that time, they have had a positive effect on the mountain biking community around Los Alamos with projects such as the IMBA "Los Alamos Community Trail Plan" [1], a bicycle swap meet, and several other events.  Steve also works closely with the county council, Craig Martin (for trail work), and a number of local businesses.  He is also known to join the Tuff Riders on an occasional ride.

Steve has expressed an interest in combining LASA with the Tuff Riders to form the "LASA Tuff Riders".  This would make the Tuff Riders into a full IMBA chapter and Steve would join the current Tuff Riders board in an advocacy position.  Tonight, the Tuff Riders board met and discussed his proposition and we are unanimously in favor.  We'd like to hear what you all have to say.
My thoughts on the matter:
I believe this merger is mutually beneficial.  IMBA Chapter status would give us access to national resources that we can leverage to improve Los Alamos for everyone.  The "Community Trail Plan" is a great example of the types of resources that IMBA can provide and Steve has already demonstrated his enthusiasm for this type of advocacy work.  These benefits extend beyond mountain biking- they improve the trails for runners and hikers too.
These changes also come at a good time.  The county is currently investigating long-term investments into Los Alamos' economic development, and I believe that having a strong voice now will significantly increase our resources in the future.  The joint LASA/Tuff Riders group, with Steve as an advocate, would have a united voice when working with the county council and other local groups (our National Forest Service representatives, Craig Martin, etc.).
What would NOT change is the rides, the parties, or any of the other things that have made the Tuff Riders such a fun group to be a part of. 
Please let us know if you have any questions or comments.
Chris Collord, 2014 Tuff Riders President
P.S. -- Send me your jersey orders! :-)

[1] http://


Club founding member Gabriela Lopez Escobedo adds this as a comment, and I've moved it up front.

Good afternoon everyone,

Please consider the following before making this drastic change to the Tuff Riders Mountain Bike Club.
The club has been around since 1994, with the 20 year anniversary is this year! We have accomplished so much and have had such an impact in this community:

- At the time the club started, the mountain bikers in Los Alamos started to see some of the local trails closed to bicycles. At the time there was a huge movement to close trails to bikes and only have them open to hikers and horses. One of the reasons (if not the main reason) we started the club was to change that attitude, and the Tuff Riders was successful in changing that; currently there are no trails that are marked closed to bikes in the area (with the exception of the National Park Land of course), and I have not heard anyone speak of trail closures in years. When we started the club, we worked with the local agencies (Forest Service, National Park, and County) to ensure trails were open to bikes, and we initiated a huge movement for doing trail work even in the national park were we could not ride. I think this is one of our greater successes.

-We brought IMBA to Los Alamos, after the Cerro Grande fire. We had an IMBA Trail Crew here for several days. We received a grant to purchase tools and materials, and IMBA and the Tuff Riders Mountain Bike Club held a series of workshops and completed hundreds of hours of trail work in which dozens of participants received training and participated in several activities, including building new trails (the Cabra trail re-route and the Pajarito Canyon re-route).

-Club members provided leadership during the Cerro Grande Fire rehabilitation efforts around town, we planted hundreds of trees and helped re-build almost every trail that was affected by the fire including the Guaje Ridge Trail. We raked and mulched hundreds of acres of forest land around the town.

-Members of the mountain bike club are largely responsible for the mountain bike trails in the Pajarito Ski area. We built a race course in a matter of days to ensure the Pajarito Punishment could go on the year of the fire.

-The club has fitted and given away thousands of helmets for kids (with the help of the Heart Council) in the last 10 years. We have helped keep kids safe.

-We have held many community activities were we did bike safety checks for anyone, and provided advice on places to ride around Los Alamos.

The Tuff Riders was already an IMBA affiliated club; we used to pay the fees for that every year. I am surprised to hear that we no longer are one.

I propose that you keep the club as it is and perhaps evaluate the work that the club is doing these days. I agree that the club could benefit from doing joint projects with other clubs including LASA, but I ask that you review the bi-laws of the club, re-assess your decision, and keep the Tuff Riders Mountain Bike Club for the purpose for which it was founded.


Gabriela Lopez Escobedo
(Founding member)

Friday, February 7, 2014

House Transportation and Public Works Tables Tougher DWI sanctions

New Mexico: You Drink, You Drive, You Drink, You Drive. You Drink, You Drive. Toughest thing you do is try not to get too dizzy going through the judicial revolving door. You eventually kill, and we find out you were a repeat DWI offender.

Ad Naseum.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, the vote was 5-2 to table. Voting to table were James White (R, Albuquerque), Sharon Clahchischilliage (R-Shiprock), Sandra Jeff (D-Crownpoint), Jane Powdrell-Culbert (R-Corrales), and Anna Crook (R-Clovis).

Voting against tabling the bill were Reps. Roberto “Bobby” Gonzales (D-Taos), and Dianne Hamilton (R-Silver City).

Our own Stephanie Garcia-Richard is a co-sponsor of this bill, supported by Gov. Martinez and which has broad bipartisan support.

Article in the New Mexican as well, but not as comprehensive.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Unsafe Behavior/Crash Precursor on Diamond Drive

Often disputed as to its original assertions, 
but still useful, safety pyramid.
(The links between unsafe behavior 
and its consequences still apply )
Unsafe acts and conditions don't often result in a major incident. But occasionally they do, with catastrophic consequences. Catastrophic consequences resulting in ghost bikes, for example. To quote from the Vista web site:  "...underlying factors - missing controls, lax procedures, badly designed equipment - create high-risk situations that are likely to lead to a major incident. Thus identifying and addressing these high-risk situations, or 'precursors,' is the key to preventing major accidents. A precursor is any high-risk practice that has not been recognized and corrected. It could, for example, be a safety control that is routinely ignored. In such a case, the company could go for years with very low lost-time injury rates. Then a worker is killed..."

Thus,  I sent the following note to Chief Sgambellone, Rep. Richards, and our County Council. Feel free to do the same.

Dear Los Alamos County Council, Chief Sgambellone, and Rep. Garcia-Richards
This morning while driving to work, I saw a white sedan weaving erratically while headed Southbound on Diamond Drive in Los Alamos during rush hour. One minute the motorist was in the right lane, the next drifting all the way into the bike lane. Ahead of the car were two bicyclist commuters.
I accelerated to pull alongside the driver and saw she was staring intently into her lap. I beeped my horn and got her attention, whereas she started watching her driving again. The two cyclists were passed safely.
Currently, there is a bill in the State Legislature calling for a statewide ban on texting while driving. I implore Council as a group, and individual councilors as concerned citizens, to write or call our state legislative deligation supporting this bill, which is also endorsed by the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico, of which I am a Board member. Former Police Chief Torpy in the past did not like the idea of individual counties having different texting or cell phone laws, so passing a statewide bill is a good idea.
If the current bill does not become law, I strongly urge Council to revisit this issue, preferably before we have a dead or maimed resident to name an ordinance after.

A traffic safety pyramid of sorts

209,000,000 Drivers and 2,973,000,000 miles travelled (2008)

West Jemez Road. One of our cyclists is down (2009)

Monday, February 3, 2014

When did Momentum Magazine Lose Its Balls?

Old Critics Don't Go Away. They Write Blogs. 

 Interesting exchange on John Allen's Bicycle Blog regarding Momentum Magazine's recent blog post "Support for Better Biking is Strong". John, as well as yours truly and several others, noted some failings of the photo shown on the Mo article linked above, including that the two cyclists shown in the picture are cycling in a deeply debris strewn facility, thus asking for an unexpected meeting with Mr. Pavement. Does a neglected facility argue for support for cycling being "strong"?

Momentum deleted all the comments, with Momentum Managing Editor (and author of the article in question) Duncan Hurd referring to the comments as "concern trolling" on Mr. Allen's own blog. To which I reply that such a response is little better than an ad hominem attack on the commenter rather than a refutation of the critique.

Description of Ad Hominem
Person A makes claim X.
Person B makes an attack on person A.
Therefore A's claim is false. 

Mr. Allen (MIT engineering graduate, prolific bike safety author, former LAB board member, LCI, expert witness, longtime formally recognized technical advisor on infrastructure), is critical, but far from an unwavering opponent, of facilities. Readers of his site find him far more nuanced. What he lampoons are poorly done examples and in this case, a photo that argues for facility construction while showing not only a poorly maintained example, but of cyclists portrayed as oblivious to the difference. As far as deleting comments, that is common these days as comments in the blogosphere have often degenerated to attacks, profanity, obscenity, threats, and other examples of poor citizenship. Simply disagreeing with someone, without being overtly disagreeable, is a far cry from all of that, but it is not my magazine to manage.

My own comment, since deleted, pointed out that the one-way nature of the roads at the intersection as shown in the blog post actually argued for its relative safety in terms of traffic control, since hooking and crossing crashes were less likely given the traffic layout. On the other hand, the debris strewn path indicated a lack of maintenance by the municipality where the photo was shot, thus increasing the chances of a crash due to an unmitigated encounter with hidden debris, wet leaves, or roadway irregularities. I commented, sensu lato, that it is just as important to maintain a facility as it is to build it. Context sensitive design is critical as well. As a video on Allen's site points out, the road in question reverts to two-way later on, resulting in the usual intersection hazards and/or low level of service exhibited by cycletracks. Let the buyer beware is all I can add.

If one cannot poke holes in flawed execution, one is failing cyclists rather than supporting them. One would expect better from a mag that so strongly endorses facility construction and which is itself endorsed, via choice of Board members as well as offerings of subscriptions to members, by the LAB. The problem is, once facilities are built, change is harder. Meanwhile, cyclists are often stuck with poor examples due to political and social pressure to use them. New cyclists count on them for their proponent's claims of safety and attractiveness. We have to deliver on that promise of safety in design, construction, and maintenance. Here in Los Alamos, we promptly fixed that poor example, mainly because we are a small and thoughtful community and worked together. Uncritical cheer-leading has limits to its usefulness.

Seems Mo has gotten a bit thin skinned. I originally was quite excited by a new bike magazine not so heavily devoted to the bike as toy/spandex crowd but to the rest of the world. My enthusiasm is slightly diminished by this exchange. Mo's editorial board is welcome to support the policies they wish to support. Ad hominem attacks on critics, however, should be beneath the dignity of a good magazine.

Till You Pry My Handlebars From My Cold, Dead Hands.

 The ideological kerfluffle this exposes is nothing new. The battle between "Paint and Path" vs. "Vehicular Cycling" is an oversimplification, but it goes to a deeper topic that has less to do with the bike than with one's worldview. To the new urbanists, the bicycle is a tool to replace the despised car. Biking for the People is an expression of that politic, somewhat akin to Five Year Plans, and a cycletrack is a means, however imperfect, to a political end. To that true believer, criticism of these facilities amounts to "... fishing for controversy where it does not exist." because to the true believer, no fault could possibly be found with the underlying worldview. To die hard opponents of facilities, these policies and structures restrict and cheapen what already works, i.e., unfettered access to the road, albeit roads that need physical and political improvements, for competent cyclists. Sort of a cycling analogy to that old "from my cold, dead, hands" quote. Through such prisms, almost any topic takes on hidden agendas. Bike education isn't bike education, but a battle between those who see it as empowerment vs. those who see it as elitism.
Comrade John S. Allen commenting
on questionable taste and on
People for Bikes over on his web site

My problem with facilities, as someone who has ridden as a commuter in cities, is rather simple: I've seen a lot of lousy ones. To a competent cyclist, a policy of providing separate facilities restricts one's options when they become de-facto requirements for travel, i.e., once that cycletrack is built and paid for, there is both legal and social pressure to use it and stay off the main travelway.  Further, the main travelway will no longer be seen as a cycleway but as a motorway. That simply doesn't work for me.  I would prefer solutions that make the roads more civilized rather than solutions that carve out separate restricted space. The problem is, America is not a cycling culture. Perhaps may never be. Cycletracks and their kin will usually be relegated to the space not used by motorists or result in pitched battles for more useful space, thus they tend, like apartheid and its kin, to be both separate and unequal, as Jack notes in a comment on Allen's site. One cannot remake the U.S. into Copenhagen simply by building tracks. One has to address the last fifty years of car based culture--inexpensive gas, zoning and transportation policies, human expectations and cultural practice, and sprawl. And not just with a bigger hammer.

Cycling remains the perfect parsimony to the human being and motion, at least on some scales. Efforts to make cycling more accessible, through policies, social change, and infrastructure improvements, must be accomplished. Let's just keep our eyes open and as Mr. Allen would say, avoid the notion that there are magic carpets out there waiting for us. Good facilities exist in a variety of forms including separated facilities, bicycle boulevards, and just plain old roads designed to be shared. The mark of a good facility isn't bollards or tree pots, but a close examination of how it works in its surrounding environment.

If you want a good view of that cycletrack in the Momentum article, both John Allen and Keri Caffrey have ridden it with bicycle cams. Their videos are posted on John Allen's latest blog entry. 

Also, Jack Hughes left an educational link, reproduced here, over at John Allen's site that links to a good pdf put out by Bike Austin that shows the conflict points on a cycletrack. Good reading. It shows clearly that cycletracks act as "bicycling sidewalks" and must be managed accordingly. Bike Austin seems to be in the facilities movement, but at least that flyer is somewhat honest about the conflicts.