Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NM State Rt 4 Realignment Study, White Rock. Recap

Ok, here is what I remember.

The consultant presented the overview for a possible realignment/widening of NM-4 between White Rock and La Cueva. Scott Eddings, a P.E. from Huitt-Zollars, did much of the presentation, sharing the stage with Eric Johnson of Marron and Associates. On the table were some right of way realignments, some very nice looking shoulder or bike lane treatments (I think 4 foot shoulders in addition to travel lanes) and a separate but related off road path to be built, in theory, by the Park Service as part of Bandelier National Park-see earlier posts regarding that here. Rep. Stephanie Garcia-Richards was there and we spoke.

Here were my comments, as well as I could remember them.

I commented that the most hazardous and busy part of NM4 is between White Rock and Truck Route/NM502, and it was implausible that a plan based on improving NM4 to make it safer would exclude this segment explicitly. The next busiest is between White Rock and Bandelier due to tourism and bus traffic. If priorities have to be made,  these realities should drive priorities. The consultants stated that this segment of NM4 currently has roughly 800 vehicles per day on it, but did not specify where these traffic counts were made. With such a low volume one does not have serious safety issues except in the 3 miles between Truck Route and White Rock where traffic counts are much, much higher given its a major conduit for LANL traffic as well as traffic between White Rock and points east.

Given the engineering drawings/designs showed standard shoulder treatments/shared shoulder/bike lanes in addition to travel lanes, I noted that the New Mexico Dept. of Transportation has repeatedly and flagrantly installed partial paving on road shoulders on many New Mexico highways that are heavily used by bicyclists including this road (I showed Scott Eddings the pictures I took of NM4 up in the Jemez, showing bad shoulder lips) and I repeatedly stated that NM-4 is a critical bicycle resource. If we get standardized width shoulders on NM4 but they are lip or partially paved or poorly designed, they will not serve cyclists and may actually make the road more hazardous. If defining them as bike lanes (travellled portion of the street and thus requiring a continuous profile) rather than shoulders changes the way they are paved, that could be a consideration.

Steep uphill segments would be better served if the road profile was biased with wide uphill shoulders at the expense of downhill shoulders, as downhill cyclists are travelling fast and using the lane to set up their line through curves. Uphill cyclists could use wide shoulders, making it easier for motorists to overtake them. Several in the audience howled not about bicyclists, but about overtaking R/Vs on steep grades.

I once again had to forcefully remind the Bandelier National Park staff that their proposed bike path would not serve fast recreational cyclists, but could readily serve more casual cyclists who do not ride there presently or who ride there intermittently and who want a separate facility. I stated that BCNM would likely object to the building of a grade separated bike path if the expressed purpose was to separate bicycle traffic from vehicle traffic, but that if built as an additional resource to encourage a more diverse ridership, this could work well.  A LANL representative stated that a grade separated bike path could require the approval to work around some 600 archeological sites, so that could be problematic for many reasons.

I asked, as did others, if there were projections of vehicles per day on this section of NM4 if NM126 is paved to Cuba, or if the Valles Caldera becomes a national park. These considerations have not been explicitly calculated, so its hard to justify improvements based on an economic model or traffic count change basis. This is a weakness of the current study. In order to spend a lot of money on NM4, it would really help to know what the return on investment would be in both safety and bringing dollars to the region. Neither economic projections nor traffic crash/near miss counts were included in this public informational talk.

The consultants indicated that if this is to happen, it will happen because a diverse clientele supports it and builds an economic rationale, not just a safety rationale. So this could work in favor of those who see this road as an economic and recreational resource, not just a way to move cars. Also, no funds have been appropriated for construction at this time. Rep.Garcia-Richards's support would be important if money is to be snagged. Stay tuned.

One other bicyclist (self identified) was there. Pretty piss poor showing given how many people ride this road.

Email Eric Johnson with comments.   eric at marroninc dot com

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