Monday, December 2, 2019

Is the River Trail Safe to Share?

Yield to Peds. Good idea

Its a pretty place, and very popular.
At a recent Bicycle and Trails Advisory Committee (BTAC) meeting in Santa Fe, an older gentleman (and I don't mean that disparagingly, given my advance into geezerhood) who walks the River Trail was adamant that sharing the trail with bicyclists is not safe. Today, I took a short ride from the bridge crossing at the Gonzales School to the current end at Siler to think about it. Yes, it is safe, but only if everyone does their part to make it safe.

There are several issues to consider. Human conduct, engineering, topography, and maintenance. All come into play.

As far as topography, the trail follows the river, which is why its called the River Trail. Rivers need a gradient and this one is no exception. Riding a pretty mundane bike at a pretty mellow level of effort, I was able to easily push 15-22 mph riding downhill to the Southwest. Riding back to the Northeast, I was trying to maintain a moderately easy level of effort and chugging along at about 10 mph. So my suspicion is that downslope cyclists probably worry people a little more than upslope ones.
The bicycle

As far as design. The trail follows the river in some sort of easement. The trail width is eight to nine feet, approximately (I forgot my tape measure so used paces). The section from  Camino Alire to Ricardo Road is about eight feet. That is AASHTO minimum and a little worrisome for a busy multiuse trail. NE and SW of that the trail is about nine feet wide. I'll go measure it again to be sure.

In addition, the section of trail from Gonzales School to Ricardo Road has several sharp curves with limited sight distance and at Camino Alire, a fast downhill beneath the roadway bridge. This requires everyone to be on their best behavior lest someone go around a curve or down a hill too fast and get a nasty surprise. I show some of these below. This section also happens to have multiple parks and recreational fields, a senior center, and three bridges crossing the river to Casa Solana, so it is often quite busy. The combination of sharp curves and fast downhill cyclists coupled with meandering pedestrians and dog walkers can make for a hazard unless there is cooperation.
Sharp, limited sight distance curve needing signage

 Finally, maintenance. In addition to the widespread presence of ice, the trail is festooned with chamisa, some growing to be quite substantial and in addition to narrowing the trail, can obscure other users. I'm not sure what the policy is for the city to clear ice and snow from multiuse trails but strongly urge the city to look into this before someone is badly hurt and sues the city, and in addition, trim back the foliage so it doesn't create a hazard by obstructing the trail and screening users from each other.

As far as what bicyclists should do? Keep speed under control, stay alert, yield to and ride carefully around other users, esp. pedestrians who can turn more quickly than a bicyclist, and put a bell on your bike to alert others. As far as additional things the city can do? In addition to the Yield to Peds sign, I would suggest some SLOW, SHARP CURVES and perhaps SLOW, STEEP INCLINE signage to remind people what should be obvious. And trim the chamisa back so it is not impinging on the trail.

Fast downhill under Alire

 There is no one silver bullet here, just a lot of lead (or perhaps copper, to be environmentally correct) ones. The city should provide signage and maintenance and the cyclist should provide due care and common sense. The fashionable words today are to protect "vulnerable users" on our roads. Well, on a trail, an elderly gentleman is a vulnerable user. Ask one of my former Univ of Hawaii colleagues who accidentally knocked down an elderly lady who was walking with traffic as my colleague rode his bike down a mountain road. She hit her head on the pavement and died a few days later of a brain injury. Think about that next time you don't worry about trail safety.
Curve, ice, and chamisa screening

Massive chamisa obscuring a walker
About a hundred yards of glare ice
Nice bell purchased at REI
SW portion of trail has great sight lines

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