Thursday, December 8, 2016

My Letter to LAB about awarding Los Alamos Honorable Mention as a Bicycle-Friendly Community

Sent to LAB's State and Policy Manager Ken McLeod, Board President Karen Jenkins, and Exec Director Alex Doty

Hi, Ken, Alex, and Karen. I hope this finds you well and riding.

Thank you very much for considering the Los Alamos application to be a Bicycle-Friendly Community. As a bicyclist who has made this community my home since August of 2001, I appreciate this.

I wear various hats in these parts but am speaking for myself here. Although on the board of the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico and chair of the Los Alamos County Transportation Board, these are my thoughts, not either Board's. Now that I have that firewall out of the way, here goes.

Thanks for the feedback; we discussed this last night (12/1/16) at the monthly Transportation Board meeting. Frankly, I was a little disappointed in the League's decision to award honorable mention instead of a metal color. As former Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico President, the late Dr. Gail Ryba, once told me as we rode through Los Alamos a decade ago, Los Alamos is a great place to be a bicyclist--and it is far better today thanks to the dedication of our county government and professional staff at making improvements. The evaluation criteria on the League's application cover a small slice of reality.

Bike lanes and analogous stuff seem to be almost a litmus test. A decade ago as Vice-Chair of our County Transportation Board, I wrote and got passed the 2005 Bike Plan so that we had guidance to rebuild our major N-S arterial, Diamond Drive, with bike lanes and we did so with full support of County Council. Those lanes are great and as I said at several national meetings, connect many of our homes to many of our destinations. We looked at various designs for our E-W major arterial, Trinity Drive, for example, and adding bike lanes in most of the studied configurations would likely have made the road more dangerous to cyclists as there are numerous side streets and curbcuts that would complicate traffic. Instead, we have extensively traffic calmed the parallel street, Canyon/Central. The county has no control over the design or build of roads on the federal facility, our national lab, which is administered separately by the Dept. of Energy and its prime contractor, Los Alamos National Security. As far as urban design, we passed the 2010 Policy for the Design of Streets and Rights of Way that explicitly calls out multimodal transportation, including bicycling.

We are adding a mix of more pathways and quiet onstreet facilities. We just spent over a million dollars to bridge a canyon so that we can expand the coverage of the Canyon Rim Trail. This will add a key separate pathway to allow cyclists who are riding from downtown to new, eastern developments a safe way to avoid the 50 mph State Route 502. Ribbon cutting is not too far off. A set of bicycling facilities in our historic district is being designed as a result of a citizen initiative blessed by County Council.

The criticism of not enough Bike Month activities is a good one but will involve someone figuring out a way to get the county and the Federal facility that makes up half of town and provides many of our jobs on the same wavelength. I brought it up recently with the associate national lab director since I work at LANL.

I am perplexed by the criticism to "Improve public decision-making processes for transportation improvements, including bicycling improvements" as we have a very transparent decision making process involving a Transportation Board that holds monthly meetings, takes public comment on all planning and policy decisions, and advises Council.  The last several board chairs have either been dedicated bicyclists such as myself, who act not only as board members but as subject matter experts on cycling matters, or dedicated multimodal transportation advocates who support cycling. Bicycling improvements have been a key part of this planning process for as long as I have lived here--2001. I've been on the Transportation Board for more than a decade (with hiatus for term limits) and simply disagree, as the guy in the trenches, that this process is problematic.

Does the League still have a guy like Steve Clark on board who actually goes out and evaluates communities? I worked with Steve on the Santa Fe re-evaluation and am not aware if a League rubber meets the road staff evaluation was ever performed here as part of this application.

Once again, thank you and wish us luck. I suspect we will be back!

Khal Spencer
Chair, Los Alamos County Transportation Board
Board Member, Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico
League Cycling Instructor

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