Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Is Safety Getting "Too Dangerous" for Santa Fe Bicyclists?

"Riding made simple. The choice to ride a bike is yours. The responsibility to ensure safe and convenient riding opportunities is ours. "
--People for Bikes


For the second time since April, a Santa Fe bicyclist has inexplicably ridden into a Railrunner train where the tracks cross a sidepath or sidewalk. Both of these fatalities occurred in broad daylight, with good visibility up and down the tracks, and based on current reports, in both cases the lights and gates at the adjacent road crossing were working properly and well within the line of sight of cyclists or pedestrians. As, presumably, would be a train. See photo below.

I'm still not convinced that it is a good idea for DOT to neglect putting lights or crossing guards on sidepaths for what now might be obvious reasons, but I fear something else is going on here.

For a few years now, some advocacy groups have been telling cyclists they need safer accommodations (and in many cases, I cannot argue with that!). Published journal articles, although some seriously critiqued (see John Allen's site for details), tell cyclists there is safety in numbers and safety in separated infrastructure. Perhaps this is having a bit of an unintended consequence, to wit, a message that safety does not have to be a cyclist's personal value, but is a commodity provided to the cyclist by advocates, infrastructure, and government. Easily chewed or swallowed whole.

Maybe its because I'm a League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor, or maybe because I've been riding on roads and trails for 35 years (more, if you count childhood riding and motorcycling), but I think most of safety resides in that space between the earlobes. Nothing against good infrastructure, advocacy, and programs. I gave a thumbs-up to Santa Fe's Silver level Bicycle-Friendly Community application for its efforts at solving some vexing problems through the strategic use of separate pathways. I've also supported (actually pushed for), warts and all, any possible extension of the Canyon Rim Trail to provide better connectivity between Townsite, the new Smith's Marketplace mall, and Airport Basin since improvements on NM502 seem to be going nowhere, fast and all the on-road "improvements" I reviewed during the Trinity Corridor project seemed to make things more complex rather than safer. That said, the external stuff like infrastructure and enforcement is not enough on its own. Safety has to be internalized.

In a comment, John Allen suggested a possible mechanical (brakes). Or, perhaps, gross inattention. Someone commented in the New Mexican that with at most only 17 trains per day vs. thousands of cars, people discount the train.  But timing is everything. Please maintain your situational awareness, your cycling skills, and your gear, and let's be careful out there. You can examine a crash video multiple times, but you can't do a "rewind" on real life.

What I assume was the cyclist line of approach, headed W. on N. side sidewalk on St. Michael's Drive
Click photo for full size version of picture. 
Acknowledgements to Jerry Merkey for the photo.  

12 comments:

Mars DeLapp said...

The location at the RR tracks and St Micheal's does NOT have good visibility. There is a turn in the tracks and a tree partially blocks the view of an oncoming train from the south.

The crossings in Santa Fe are all Quiet Zones. The train does not sound it's horn at these crossings. Quiet zones have special rules that require crossing gates to completely block roads but the crossing gates are missing from sidewalks and trails.

Crossing gates on the trails and sidewalks probably would have saved both cyclists lives.

Khal said...

I received an email from a cyclist who said witnesses stated the cyclist in question didn't get hit by the train, but plowed into the second car. Kinda like missing something in plain sight.

Khal said...

BTW, I agree that sidepaths or sidewalks should be protected, and have said so publicly.

Steve A said...

Not to excuse things, but an extension to that crossing bar on the path side would reduce the incentive for, er, people to go blithely riding on across the tracks without looking...

John S. Allen said...

Plowed into the side of the train-- You can't fall alseep and stay upright on a bicycle. Brake failure maybe? I wouldn't want to take speculation too far, but if I were investigating thie crash, it's certainly something I'd want to look into.

Khal said...

I too wondered about brake failure. Hard to imagine inattention given the layout.

Anonymous said...

You are friggin' kiddin' me! No gates over a sidepath crossing an active rail line???!
I'm not a hand-wringer, but that's just plain stupid engineering standards. Either that or some traffic engineer's planned chlorine for the bicycle gene poo.

Khal said...

Anon--that's what DOT has done in Santa Fe. I'm not a fan of it either.

Jon said...

So, quiet zones require four quadrant gates (or a median), but do NOT require a gate on the sidewalk? Seriously?

My father spent years getting the UP crossings in his town set up as quiet zones. I now live two feet from a track which is not in a quiet zone, but does have gates for the sidewalk.

Expecting a cyclist, or even pedestrian, to notice the lights/bells for the roadway, when next to a busy six lane road is asking an awful lot.

Khal said...

I'm not a fan of relieving people of personal responsibility, but agree that these urban bike/ped crossings should be better protected.

Anonymous said...

If one looks at the train schedule, it appears there would be about 17 trains per weekday crossing the intersection. How hard would you look for traffic if you wanted to cross a street that only saw 17 cars pass through per day? If you walked across the street without looking, how unlucky would you have to be to get the timing just right to be hit by one of those 17 cars? Maybe the cyclist hit here was just thinking he wouldn't be THAT unlucky and was unconcerned about being aware of a train.

Chandra said...

This is the mobile phone era. People fall down steps, walk into others, while texting or talking on the phone. I see cyclists text and ride. Hope this wasn't the case with this poor chap. I wish him well.

LCI training, Cycling Savvy, and just lots of plain ole fashioned caution all come in handy. Particularly, here in Atlanta; which is notorious for crazy traffic.