Friday, November 4, 2011

Los Alamos gets sharrows, and some actual biking stuff

Pardon my combining what would have been two posts. Sharrows and touring bikes are a little orthogonal, I suppose. Unless you ride your touring bike on a road with sharrows.

It was my day off, and given how lousy I've been feeling lately (having re-aggravated a herniated disk), I decided to actually forgo work for a change. But prior to a 4:15 with my M.D. and after an 0900 taking the cats to the vet, I decided to check out some fine tuning I had just done on the new Surly Long Haul Trucker and take it for a second ride up the Col d'Pajarito, riding up the 4 miles of hors fat guy Camp May Road to the Pajarito Mountain ski lodge.
The Las Conchas fire was not kind to Pajarito Mountain
On the way through town, I noticed that the County road crew was erasing some of that worrisome bike lane at Canyon and Diamond Drive. I had packed the small Olympus digital camera, so I planned on checking back on the way down from the mountain (and got a ping on the Blackberry from Jon on the way up--thank you, Jon). The plan, as discussed Thursday night at a T Board meeting, was a variation on a combined bikelane/right turn bay that, while not idyllic, would eliminate the constant hazard of right hook crashes. I wanted to see what would actually be painted on the road when spray can met asphalt.

Back to a bike ride. The climbing on the Trucker, albeit without a full load of panniers (just a rack trunk with camera and spare heavy clothing), felt pretty good.  The frame tubes are sturdy enough that I did not feel any flex or wasted energy while climbing, including on that first "wall" one hits at the bottom of the climb and during some out of the saddle stuff later. It feels more like a good hardtail mountain bike and is happy being ridden hard. But it is comfy. My last touring bike, a Univega Specialissima (good example here), a lovely bike with thinner, elegant tubes and a Cadillac of touring frames, would have groaned and flexed noticeably under similar conditions (or conversely, I was a stronger rider then...). The ride was almost uneventful for a shakedown. I had to fine tune the front derailleur, since with the 115 mm bottom bracket I put on this morning, had some adjustment available in the trim screw and sure enough, dropped the chain off the granny ring first time I tried it on a ride rather than on the workstand. Out with the screwdriver.

Summit, stage right.
Thankfully, not every tree burned

Last pitch. Almost there.
Gasp, cough, wheeze. 
Long Haul Trucker gets fat guy to the top
Once at the top, it was time to descend. Those who know me have commented that I descend pretty fast, using skills learned while riding motorcycles during my misspent youth and usually limited by the interplay between gravity and wind resistance. The LHT, amazingly, handled quite well on fast switchbacks. Yes, the bike lets you know that the wheelbase is LONG. But once I made some mental adjustments, it swept through high speed switchbacks gracefully. Whoever designed this bike did a good job.

Getting back to town, the Public Works crew was busy reconfiguring that troublesome intersection. County staff and I had discussed a shared right turn lane, similar to that shown in the new  National Association of City Transportation Officials guidebook.
Work in progress. What will it look like?
Note the downhill slope, which is the source
of the problem here
Sure enough, that's what we have. It should be a huge improvement in not having cars overtaking bikes on their left and then turning right, i.e., that dreaded "coffin corner bike lane". Like any other traffic control involving bikes vs. cars, this one will not be perfect, but it looks intuitively a heck of a lot better. You will STILL HAVE TO USE YOUR HEAD! And, of course, someone is bound to get behind you and honk the proverbial horn. 

This NACTO stuff is slightly outside the box when you consider how conservative traffic engineers are (and they SHOULD be conservative). If it doesn't work well, we need to hear from you. And, if you are flying north off the bridge at the speed of traffic, this doesn't mean you cannot take the lane--use your best judgement. Just do us all a favor--don't weave in and out inconsiderately as neither fish nor fowl.
Not quite NACTO, but MUTCD 
compliant and pretty intuitive
Many thanks to DPW Director Kyle Zimmerman, Traffic Manager Nancy Talley, Pavement Manager Tom Roach and his crew, County Administator Randy Autio, Asst. County Administrator Ann Laurent,  and others who worked on this. This sort of cooperation and willingness to make things better surely shows that Los Alamos is a Bicycle Friendly Community. Rumor also has it we may be seeing more sharrows. Plus, we will need some educational efforts to ensure everyone knows what they mean.


Steve A said...

So, does that bottom photo mean everyone turns right at the corner or that I get honked at for destination positioning? I don't care how much they spend on paint, it'll be a cold day in Hell before I go straight in a right turn only lane. If necessary, I can afford to pay the tickets AND the lawyers.

Khal said...

The issue was that we have bike lanes on either side of this intersection and County was reticent to have one section without a bike facility.

Actuallly, one is free to use the thru lane, since we don't have an AFRAP law enforced here. Or, you take the left half of the turn lane and motorists can effing wait behind you.

I'd have preferred to simply use the thru lane, but this was to some degree a tough discussion to find agreement on. I'll be deliberately using the sharrow lane and will report back.

Steve A said...

I can't say I'm thrilled with the notion of a bike facility that goes out of its way to create delay for motorists overtaking a cyclist obeying the law and waiting for a green light when no delay at all would be needed if basic traffic principles were followed instead. It'd be different if it were a "through or turn" lane for motorists as well.

James Sinclair said...

Right turn on red is purely optional, and frankly creates danger when none should exist. Theres a reason the US is one of the only countries in the world that allows it. A motorist can wait behind a bike just as they would behind any driver waiting for the green light to mark a safe turning time.

JerryM said...

This is a BIG improvement. If the light is GREEN, you can cruise through in the bike lane or in the straight through car lane.

If the light turns RED, and you are in the bike lane, you can stop to the extreme left and allow right turning cars behind you to pass by (carefully) to your right.

During my commute home at about 6 pm or so, I find the bike lane open and the travel lane backed up. I pass cars carefully and get to the Canyon intersection without having the opportunity to get back into the car lane. So this change is probably the best solution to a difficult problem.

The bottom line: BE CAREFUL OUT THERE!


Belov said...

We have a number of these up in Rio Rancho, both at signalized and unsignalized intersections. For the last three years, I've regularly ridden through one such intersection during peak high school traffic time, and have never had a problem. Glad to see other agencies using the same solution.