Saturday, June 16, 2018

"How Many Idiots Can There Be? Some Say Its One Out of Three..."

With all the recent sturm und drang regarding bicycling crashes in Santa Fe and the need for safer cycling, we can't simply throw time and money at problems. Especially if people are doing their level headed best to defeat the existing safety system, as rickety as it might be.

Tonight while walking the dog, we were passing through the Alamo and Camino de las Crucitas intersection, which has a four way stop. Crucitas is a very popular cycling route as it connects the city to the quiet country roads north and west of the urban center as well as to the La Tierra Trails. As we walked past the intersection, a bicyclist in tight lycra was barreling downhill on Crucitas from the west as fast as he could pedal, hunkered down on the drops. He simply blew through the four way stop without so much as looking for traffic. I think he was going between 30-40 mph.  I had barely contained my amazement at Mr. Testosterone when a lady in a midsize SUV likewise cruised through the four way at about 15-20 mph without slowing or braking or looking. Go figure.

Carlos Mencia had it right. We have a lot of Dee Dee Dees who think safety is someone else's problem. No amount of throwing scarce tax dollars at safety will stop the bloodshed as long as idiots think responsible behavior is for other people. Yeah, I know...getting that personal best time onto the laptop in the Tour de Strava is pretty damn important; its definitely more important than slowing down at a stop sign or thinking about consequences. Not sure what Blondie The SUV Girl was thinking. Maybe she was thinking about dinner. Or chasing Mr. Lycra.

Sigh...

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Santa Fe Police Study of Bicycle Crashes: Are They Primarily "Somebody's Fault"?


Santa Fe bicycle crash map. 
Credits to SFPD and the New Mexican
The Monday New Mexican ran a front page story on a recent SFPD investigation of bicycle crashes in the City Different. I have a few concerns.

First, I was concerned that not a single member of the BTAC or any other cycling organization or cyclist was quoted for the article. I don't know if the reporter contacted cyclists or BTAC members. The result is a focus on who was at fault in crashes rather than on root causes such as how design affects behavior (flagrant use of cell phones and other forms of lawbreaking notwithstanding). I attended the May BTAC meeting where the police presented their study and indeed, it focused more on the actual crashes than on the role of design although the BTAC and audience members did bring design into the conversation. Also, before I forget, I don't think adding signage fixes bad underlying design. The sign on the hideous St. Francis/Cerrillos/Railrunner crossing warning cyclists not to crash on the tracks comes to mind, i.e., "we goofed, so don't get killed here".

My friend and fellow cycling advocate, 
the late Dr. Gail Ryba, 
worked tirelessly to improve cycling conditions 
for Santa Fe's cyclists and fought the NMDOT 
over its redesign of St. Francis Drive
Although we know that cycling crashes are under-reported unless there is death or serious injury involved, number of crashes reported to the police is the database that was presented.  That said, the article indicates that the police found cyclists and motorists about equally responsible for the causes of the crashes, which is consistent with what the League of American Bicyclists teaches in our classes.  What we don't know is how many cyclists are on the roads, i.e., how many crashes per total number of cyclists, which is a usual metric for safety. We also don't know how many minor crashes went unreported.

In a glaring omission perhaps understandable, no one questioned the role of infrastructure as bearing on "fault". That's not surprising because police are charged with deciding who made a mistake or committed a citeable offense that causes a crash, not whether the infrastructure is properly designed to be shared or whether design contributes to human failure or misuse. So looking at this study, its not surprising that Councilor Mike Harris thinks that operator error is the major problem.

But if you look at the crash map in the article, which I have included above, the major state managed arterials are heavily represented. Many studies have been written about the role of infrastructure in increasing or decreasing crash frequency and risk, i.e., the Vision Zero concepts. For example, as far as turning and crossing crashes, which the study said are a major cause of crashes, its hard enough for motorists and cyclists to see each other at a busy intersection but when you make the roads extremely wide such as the Cerrillos, St. Francis, and St. Michaels arterials, aka "stroads",  picking out small vehicles or pedestrians in busy traffic is even tougher on a wide multilane design. But to be fair, these three arterials are state roads under the jurisdiction of the State of New Mexico Dept. of Transportation, so its not clear to me if the city has the authority to change or influence the design.

The article says most cycling crashes involve male cyclists, but doesn't tell us whether the cycling population is overwhelmingly male. One might wonder if male cyclists are risk-takers. But at least some sources indicate that male road cyclists far outnumber female road cyclists in the U.S. so the proportion might just statistically represent each population within the city. We don't know.

I just moved here so I don't want to go around condemning people or institutions. That said, I spent a dozen years on the Los Alamos Transportation Board (often enough as chair or vice-chair), wrote or contributed to three urban bike plans and a complete streets ordinance, and am a longtime League Cycling Instructor who twice reviewed Santa Fe's Bicycle Friendly Community application.  I am a little perplexed that this article or the police study it covers did not take on a broader, deeper scope and talk to a few more people. The city has been making great strides in providing trails and other resources for cyclists but in a city where it is still more practicable to get from Here to There and Back Again on the roads, we need to pay attention to roadway design, not just decide who gets the traffic ticket.

Stay tuned.