Saturday, December 30, 2017

Driver Found Guilty of Careless Driving in Irena Ossola Crash

Another cyclist down. 
Round up the usual cartoons
 From yesterday's New Mexican: Driver gets unsupervised probation for striking bicyclist.

Fair enough. Having looked at the definitions before, this fits the bill, at least in the USA. The article claims some cyclists wanted a pound of flesh but there was no evidence of impairment or malice, which would be requirements to raise this to a criminal offense. Besides, this could have been a really good driver who had a really shitty day. Certainly Irena did. Plus, no amount of flogging the motorist would bring Irena back to full health as though this never happened. I guess this could go to the usual lawsuits.

No, this crash was the symptom. The disease is that we don't take driving seriously. With cars sold for their speed, horsepower, and number of distractive devices, not to mention the number of good Santa Fe residents who drive while yacking or texting on their phones, these crashes are inevitable and if you are not safely inside a two and a half ton vehicle (or even if you are) you are the equivalent of road kill. Even when caught, moving violations are trivial. So while it was bad enough that we had to wait months for the motorist to be charged with failure to yield or careless driving, it is far worse that this happened in the first place, and we expect it to happen. If driving was taken more seriously, we would have fewer of these ghastly incidents.

I have to say that I was particularly riveted to this one. "I didn't see him/her" was the same refrain offered by the motorist who turned left in front of my stepdad's motorcycle back in 1970, leaving him with two broken legs, a shattered kneecap, and a broken hand. He now gets around with two bionic, titanium knees. That was also what the motorist said when he turned left in front of me in 1979, leaving me with a TBI and having to take most of a year off  before starting a different dissertation topic because for months after that crash, I could not read a technical paper.

Vision Zero isn't just a good idea. Its the difference between life and death on the road for a lot of people.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Is Santa Fe a Bicycle-Friendly Calamity or Community?

I wrote a letter to the Santa Fe New Mexican, copying Santa Fe's Mayor Gonzales and 1st District councilor Sig Lindell the other day after blowing a fuse while reading the followup story about Irena Ossola, who was left close to death and with massive upper body injuries after a motorist made a left turn in front of her on West Alameda near the Siler roundabout as she was on a training ride. Apparently, the SFPD did not cite the motorist and I wondered why. Letter below, after this rant.

While investigating that crash, I learned from a Santa Fe cyclist that League Cycling Instructor Gary Schiffmiller, shortly after writing this bicycle safety editorial to the New Mexican, was hit by a motorist. Gary was injured but fortunately not in need of the emergency helicopter ride to an ICU (not sure of his exact condition; I've only heard a couple indirect reports). In that case it seems the motorist was cited. Good. Unfortunately for the cycling community, the cyclist who just updated me on Gary's condition indicated that a colleague of hers was hit and seriously injured two weeks ago while cycling by yet another careless motorist.

And of course, Outside Magazine trashed Santa Fe's motorists and Santa Fe's Finest after one of its writers, Aaron Gulley, was whacked by a motorist while, ahem, riding safely on “the biggest bike lane in Santa Fe.”. Adding insult to injury, he was cited rather than the motorist because by the time the cops got there to write it up it was dark and of course his fun bike had no lights.

Go figure. The hits, as they say, just keep on coming.

The good news is the St. Francis underpass for the Acequia Trail is open and cyclists have yet one more car-free option. That allowed a little less adrenaline to flow in my and my better half's veins when crossing St. Francis Drive/Cerillos Road on our tandem, rather than my previous experience trying to carve a zigzag line while not dropping a tire into the train tracks or getting hit by a car not understanding why a cyclist can't cross tracks at an oblique angle. We took the underpass and then crossed to the Rail Trail and only had to cross Cerrillos as pedestrians once. Whew.

The bottom line is that it is easier to build stuff like trails than change roadway attitudes. But cyclists will always need and are entitled to the roads, not just the trails. As long as Santa Fe's motorists and cyclists have trouble coexisting due to things like Driving While Cellular or "I didn't see her", or much of the public treating traffic laws as user-optional, life for cyclists will have these terrible stories.

As someone with decades of experience as an advocate, LCI, and county transportation board member (not to mention, a lifelong cyclist and motorcyclist), I've twice recommended Santa Fe as a Bicycle Friendly Community in my review to the League of American Bicyclists. Its a good place, but not sure I would recommend higher than silver (or even silver) after this spate of crashes unless we see some changes in how policy is translating to roadway safety.  The good news is that the City Different is about to get a new police chief as the existing gentleman retired so this is a good time to speak up. And, we shall see how the new administration treats cycling. Mayor Gonzales was pretty pro-cycling. I think it is time for cyclists to descend on City Hall after the elections and pound a few cleats on the table demanding that the future chief, as well as the city administration, take the safety of cyclists, pedestrians, and other vulnerable users absolutely seriously. That means taking out the ticket book. I would be the last person to claim that cyclists should be treated like prima donnas entitled to special treatment. Rather, cyclists and pedestrians are the canaries in the coal mines. If we are getting splattered all over the roads, something is seriously wrong with the picture.

Carnage and Culture, as Victor Davis Hanson titled his book.

We cannot count on building our way out of traffic violence with total grade separation of users as our systems are far too integrated. We have to change attitudes. That is a lot harder as it means we have to work on changing accepted thinking that has taken decades to develop, i.e., that cars are used as casually as the kitchen toaster and with little thought to their unintended lethality when misused. Meanwhile, we keep finding ingenious ways to misuse them with driver distractions. We tend to stovepipe safety, i.e., MADD, New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, etc. Its time we took an integrated approach to public safety.. Everything matters.

Related reading: Patrick O'Grady, "How to sell cycling when ‘street smarts’ keep buyers indoors?"

Now that letter....

Dear Will (Webber) (copy Mayor Gonzales, Councilor Lindell, 1st District, and Bill Nesper, Exec. Director, LAB)

regarding the followup Irena Ossola story

I read the Irena Ossola story and its bizarre that not even a traffic ticket was issued to the motorist for failure to yield right of way to an oncoming vehicle and causing tremendous injury, practically death, to a bicyclist. Your story does not indicate if it was SFPD or the SF County Sheriff that responded and investigated the crash. I don't know where the city/county jurisdictional boundary is on W. Alameda so don't know who was responsible. I would like to write a letter to the responsible law enforcement party but did not recall seeing that ever identified in the New Mexican. Do you have a copy of the police report and therefore an idea of who did the investigation and why the left turning motorist was not cited?

Just reading that story is infuriating to me as a bicyclist. The lady was almost killed and no one held accountable by law enforcement for a careless act behind the wheel. To vulnerable users, this is unacceptable.

I have twice been an outside reviewer of Santa Fe's Bicycle Friendly Community application (in my capacity as a League Cycling Instructor, nearby cyclist, and a longtime member of the Los Alamos County Transportation Advisory Board) and both times recommended the city as a bicycle friendly community. These incidents, however, scare bicyclists off the road because there is apparently no holding people accountable for deadly acts. We should expect fair and effective law enforcement protection from the cognizant authorities.

Given that my wife and I now own a home in Santa Fe (1st District) and I support our city with our tax dollars, not to mention our enthusiasm for Santa Fe, and we now bicycle on our city and county roads, I have a serious investment in how this plays out.

thanks for any help on this,

Khal Spencer

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Whither a Flow Trail?

I've sort of stayed out of the flow trail idea, not wanting to either rain on or cheer for anyone's parade. Given that my idea of mountain biking is huffing and puffing and getting my heart rate up, I don't have a dog in this fight as a cyclist as much as I do as a taxpayer and resident.  I have marginally followed the discussion, most recently offered by Mike Warren here and here. But here are some thoughts.

One, this would be a highly manufactured trail aimed at attracting a visitor industry. That is not a bad idea for a town with a circa 75 year old one horse economy; horses don't live forever. That said, I have seen a dearth of analysis of the realistic costs vs. benefits of such an adventure.  Being a highly developed trail, it would require an enduring maintenance and advertising budget to ensure we are both attracting visitors and not attracting litigation should someone auger themselves into an un-maintained curve. As far as costs vs benefits, I go back to my column regarding the Krogers Marketplace fiasco that has left a Mari-Mac size eyesore at the eastern edge of town (and I was skeptical from the start). We are not always good at predicting the future or managing outcomes. Like rain following the plow, tourism following money is a belief, not a fact. On that note, if this is such a good idea why isn't a private company ponying up cost matching with LAC?

Mike Warren made some good comments about the effects of such a trail on our canyons. Those are worthy of consideration. Some locations are more ecologically and historically sensitive than others and this could easily turn into a political fight rather than a community collaboration. From my conversations with the county, considerable thought is going into planning this potential development in a thoughtful fashion designed to do minimal impact to the sensitivity of the landscape. But that's just my opinion and we know all about opinions.

The notion that we could partially transform Los Alamos from a company town populated by coneheads to a significant tourist destination must be backed up with some facts.  Especially as we would be competing with established tourist destinations. I don't blame those who are putting their sweat equity into establishing recreational resources up here for trying and wish them well. Nor do I blame Council for trying to add a second horse to the economic team.  Certainly a more diverse economy, not to mention a more diverse community, could be good for the place as we are utterly dependent on Uncle Sam's largess, which is in part a result of our being a single business community and in part predicated on involuntarily taking other taxpayer's money by virtue of the vaunted GRT windfall resulting from privatization.  But there are a lot of ifs, ands, and buts involved in how to accomplish economic diversification and what such efforts would bring in the way of changing traffic patterns, a need for housing diversity, and ensuring a living wage for those service workers who would be making a living in a tourist business within a community predicated on high government salaries for people with advanced degrees. We need a fuller discussion with numbers on the table.

Again, going back to history, I recall the T Board finally recommending that we get a second professional opinion to vet the county's consultants on a roundabout project because the consultant offered rosy models not accepted by critics who did their own calculations. As T board chair, I eventually became exasperated with the difference between official projections and a private citizens group's more dire models. When the county hired a second, highly technical firm to do a numerical model as a form of peer review, the roses quickly wilted into dust.

Since this is public money and public space, we need a serious and quantitative as well as qualitative analysis of what we would put into this and what we would get in return. Its that simple.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Merry Christmas

No Christmas is complete without a bike ride. Hope your day was a nice one.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Solstice Ride

Sun finally makes an appearance over the
trees a little after 0745
Since it is a workday, the Solstice ride was a commute, but as in my last post, a bike ride is a bike ride and commutes are not second fiddle to anything. So as the sun finally got out of bed after sleeping late, I headed off to work.

The wind picked up, which I knew it was supposed to do, and of course it was a headwind. Other than that, all went well.

Happy solstice and if you, like me, are deeply touched by the darkness of the winter solstice, I hope you enjoy your cocoon of darkness as much as I do.

Salsa La Cruz in current battle dress. 
Those Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires mounted on Salsa's Delgado Cross hoops are massive (700-37) but pretty impenetrable to damage.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Even with a good bike plan, a lot is up to you

Road bike in battle dress for the ride up the ski hill
Appropriate gears for an old guy and light wheelset

Salsa LaCruz cross bike/commuter in winter commuting dress
heavier wheels with light knobbies, fenders, reflectors, lights
Lower wide range (11-34; 46-34) gearing, disk brakes
With the Laboratory beginning work on a site-wide bike plan, the County having just received Bronze level bicycle-friendly community status, and a plethora of good road and trail riding in Los Alamos and surrounding areas, there is a lot for local bicyclists to cheer about. That said, whether one is riding for fun, utility, or both, a lot still depends on the engagement and awareness of the rider in order to get out and back with the rubber side consistently down.

For fun, a bicycle need not be festooned with lights, fenders, or other utility stuff unless one plans on riding where that stuff is necessary. Fenders don't make a lot of sense in a desert environment but lights might be handy, if not mandatory, if riding before or after work during dawn or dusk hours. Gears appropriate for topography and one's strength and level of fitness are the difference between fun and misery. As is proper bike fit and good saddle/handlebar choices. Having a bike that has passed the ABC quick check  (don't forget your patches and tool kit) and sporting a rider prepared for potential inclement weather (I once was stuck in the Jemez in summer bicycling spandex as the temperature dropped by thirty degrees and hail pelted me until I found a rock outcrop to hide under) and who is competent at the handlebars is a must. Fun riding is often done in low traffic conditions but one must still be situationally-aware and know how to dance with cars.

And not to be left out...
 Commuting or utility riding is a little more challenging. A rider must be ready to work with heavier traffic if one is working at a location where a lot of other people are also headed, such as LANL. One can expect a range of conditions including separated bike paths or sidewalks, bike lanes, or plain old roads that must be shared. Good bike handling skills, situational awareness, and a respect for traffic law and other users (motorists, pedestrians, fellow cyclists) go a long way towards keeping one upright and out of trouble of one's own or other people's making. I've avoided crashes with situational awareness and an ability to execute instant turns and emergency stops.  Having a bicycle equipped for the range of conditions one can expect during the commute to and from the salt mines is important: rain, snow, wind, darkness, rough roads, or what have you.

Full dress commuter (fenders, etc)
 Effective commuting usually means more of a "utility" bike rather than a gossamer racer. My choices are touring or cyclecross bikes since they are more easily fit with fenders (to ward off rain and slush), larger and burlier tires (that can shed debris and possibly get you home in some snow or after hitting a pothole) and where you are not heartbroken over festooning a featherweight carbon bike with lights, reflectors, fenders, drop tanks, bomb racks, and a luggage rack to carry stuff. Plus, a longer wheelbase bike is more stable steering and, depending on chainstay length, can have more room between the backs of your feet and the panniers you might hang on a rear rack. These bikes can also be fit with a variety of tire widths and wide range gear trains useful for hauling you, your stuff, and a fully loaded bike back and forth to the factory.

Paying attention to the Five Layers of Safety is pretty important and puts a lot of stuff in context.  Its about being competent and effectively utilizing your skills, situational awareness, and the amazing abilities of your highly maneuverable bicycle to keep you out of trouble. Its also where the "wear a helmet" campaigns get it bass-ackwards. A helmet is the innermost layer of safety and you should hopefully never have adversity pierce those other four layers. Using your helmet up in a crash should be an extremely rare event (unless you are a gonzo mountainbiker or similar) but hitting your head can be a high consequence event. Avoid smacking your bare skull on something hard such as Mr. Pavement. Traumatic Brain Injury ain't fun and I have indeed experienced it, quite predictably, back when I was an inexperienced cyclist riding in traffic. Nearly ended my budding career as a scientist, if not my life.

Safe and effective cycling is a combination of good local policies and infrastructure, effective enforcement of traffic laws to keep people honest behind the wheel and handlebars, education/training so we all react appropriately when necessary, and finally, making use of the grey matter between the ears to integrate all of that within the scope of the bicyclist and his or her steed. Eventually, it all comes down to looking out for #1 and the best person to do that is #1.

Yours truly is a League of American Bicyclists instructor and was a member of the Transportation Board and 2017 bicycle plan advisory committee.  As both a past policy advisor and avid bicyclist, I wish to thank all of those who were involved in making Los Alamos a Bronze level bicycle-friendly community.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Where would we be today if Adam Lanza had picked up a Bianchi instead of a Bushmaster?

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Newtown Massacre, where Adam Lanza shot his mom dead, stole her Bushmaster, and shot up an elementary school before eating his gun. Adam was apparently a deeply troubled individual. I just wonder where we would be today if he had picked up a Bianchi rather than a Bushmaster to deal with his devils.

That occurred to me as I sat looking through my first issue of Bicycling in a while. Apparently, the League of American Bicyclists has reestablished connections with the granddaddy of bike mags after a layoff for whatever reason.  Having just returned my two year League membership fee, the first of a series of what looks like a somewhat skinnier and glossier issue than I remember arrived in the mail. Perhaps not surprisingly for an old coot, I felt some of that old excitement we felt back in grad school as the new Bicycling issue appeared, en masse, in our Stony Brook Geosciences mailroom. A number of us subscribed as there was a big contingent of riders in the department. Even several faculty members. Some good stuff in this one, too.

I had my own devils spinning in my head while in grad school. A TBI from being lofted over a car as I rode my bike, a painful and protracted divorce, and convincing myself to finish my Ph.D. rather than pump gas during a time of deep self doubt. At one point I unwisely (and in a fit of stupid self-pity) put up a news story of Theodore Streleski on my door with my own face pasted over his mug. Thankfully no one took it seriously enough to call in the men in the white coats. (I retroactively apologize to anyone I rattled.) I wouldn't dare put up that shtick today, in a world where too many people think the answer to their grievances is an M4 rather than therapy--and where, with our retreat from a committment to public health care, its getting harder to get good therapy than to get a Bushmaster. Fortunately, I took to Cannondales rather than carbines (except during deer season) and no one was the worse for wear from my bicycling addiction except that raccoon that ran in front of me on a ride back in 1986. Even he/she ran off apparently unscathed and all I had to do was true my front wheel.

Too bad old Adam couldn't find a more constructive outlet for his demons than mass murder. Solve your problems. Ride a century or two; it kinda grows on you. In that context,100 miles is more constructive than 100 rounds.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Splash Pools and GRT Windfalls

Sent to the Daily Post


We have elections for a reason, and as Terry Goldman recently opined in the Daily Post, Council is empowered to make decisions on what to build and how to fund it subject to public input at regular intervals, i.e., election day, or at other critical times through referendum. The question of whether to build a more elaborate aquatic center is one of those decisions we as a community make, either directly via a bond issue or via a vote by council to spend our money.

Every community wants more stuff and ours is no exception. That said, once we build more stuff, we have the eternal obligation to maintain it. That costs money through staffing and maintenance outlays. Hence it requires us to raise these funds either through growing the economy or raising taxes.

Ever since LANL was privatized, Council and some citizens have seen this as a cash cow windfall. Indeed, Council has decided to speak for the work force in demanding that LANL stay private so that the county can continue to spend money like a drunken sailor on shore leave. Given the decision on who will manage LANL and what the terms of the new M&O contract will be are up in the air, all I call for is prudence.

I for one, having grown up in a community that saw its industries rust away, am a bit ashamed that one of the most financially well-off communities in the US might demand that the taxpayers of the Republic, many of whom can't afford a new roof over their heads, are being asked to pay a GRT surcharge so we can build a more elaborate swimming pool. At some point one has to ask if we have enough already.

Khal Spencer

Monday, December 4, 2017

Ode to Being A Bronze Bicycle Friendly Community

Acknowledgements and a tip of the 
brain bucket
 to Patrick O'Grady/Maddogmedia
(or, what a skeptical bicyclist might think about bike plans and metal colored awards. Heck, even Platinum Portland almost made the top ten in killing bicyclists)

Bike plan, bike plan, where art thou,
When every car gives me the plow
With every day I come and go
Some crazy motorist pushes me to and fro

So perhaps some day I will be free
To ride my bike without fear of thee
But until that day comes and I am loosed
Of someone's misdirected boost

I will remain quite skeptical of plans
Because every plan has left me damned
And all the virtue we so claim
(because we write our wishes in vain)
Does little to help when I'm always to blame

Burma Shave,