Thursday, January 19, 2012

Albuquerque: A Bronze Level Bicycle-Ambivalent Community?

Welcome to Chappell Drive, 
Albuquerque, NM
Note added on 1/21: The City of Albuquerque has, after considerable pressure from cycling interests and the Albuquerque Journal, now reversed this decision.  

Albuquerque recently banned bicycling along a half mile section of Chappell Drive, which is near the north end of town (Costco, Sam's Club, some industrial stuff), relegating cyclists to a sketchy sidepath. While at least one cyclist down there wondered why some of us were objecting to this seemingly insignificant insult, what is significant to me is the lack of any review and discussion process in implementing the ban and its possible precedent value.  Not to mention, bike bans keep coming up, such as in South Carolina and Colorado. Bottom line: don't let that happen here.

Basically, and as published in the Journal, the city got a few complaints about those pesky bicyclists on a narrow road, sent out an engineer to look at the road, and then made a decision to put up NO BIKES signs. That shallow methodology, coupled with the utter lack of a way for the cycling community to contest the decision other than to storm the Mayor's Office, is what is deeply troubling to me as a policy adviser in my own county's transportation sector. It makes a mockery of the decision making process used almost everywhere these days in making decisions in the public sector. After all, we pay the salaries of the municipal employees and we pay for the roads through our general tax funds--this is not a Federal or state road paid for in part by the gas tax.
 Some concerns.

One, The Duke City's logic could be applied to any road that a non-cycling traffic engineer decides is not safe for a cyclist and frankly, that is a often matter of opinion or downright prejudice rather than of sound engineering judgement and data. This as precedent is therefore dangerous. So is the lack of a review and dispute resolution process. Albuquerque's Bicycle Advisory Committee, the GABAC (Greater Albuquerque Bicycle Advisory Committee), was ignored and only brought into the loop after the "no bikes" signs went up and the shit hit the fan. So what is the point of having a GABAC? Window dressing for the city's Bicycle-Friendly Community application?

 Secondly, as Journal reporter Leslie Linthicum points out, some of the city's road-parallel sidepaths, including this one now made mandatory, are far from optimal and thus force cyclists into potentially more dangerous situations. To quote the Journal article: "...To reach the path from the Osuna intersection, a cyclist must navigate drivers turning right on their shared green light, then make two tricky 90-degree turns, ride on a narrow sidewalk for a short stretch and bump over a few wooden-surface bridges that rattle teeth (and other more delicate parts)...." As Duke City Wheelman's Jennifer Buntz points out, there has been one bike-car crash on that section of Chappell Drive in two decades and that was due to a motorist following too closely. So what, exactly, is the problem here that is searching for a solution?

Thirdly, this precedent basically puts the city of Albuquerque into the position of asserting, without any enabling legislation, a mandatory sidepath law by fiat instead of vote.  Albuquerque Director of Municipal Development as quoted in the Journal, says “When there’s a parallel bicycle trail built specifically for them with taxpayer dollars that allows a safer passage for those type of commuters use, it was the appropriate decision to have them use that alternative path,” Director Riordan said. “There’s no other place for the heavy trucks to go.” Again, a lack of process. Not to mention, we don't have a choice to use the path. We are instead run off the road. If the path were so good, no one would have to tell cyclists to use it.

Albuquerque has really dropped the ball on this and its Mayor's office and Council both need to ensure this never happens again. Politically, the city needs a way to back away from this without being dragged through the mud. But if a road is to be closed, it should be done by a process with far more sunlight built into it, with real justifying data, concurrence of GABAC, and with a solution provided to cyclists that is not worse than the problem.

Meanwhile, as some of us have often said, beware of what you wish for. By insisting on separate facilities, we can reasonably be expected to be told, in some jurisdictions, that we MUST use them.That is the flip side of the separate facilities coin.

I wish to acknowledge the League of American Bicyclists HQ staff in helping to push back on this administrative decision. As quoted in StreetsblogThe League of American Bicyclists weighed in on the controversy, saying it was disappointing that Charleston, a league-certified “Bike Friendly Community” would be considering what is essentially a bike ban. They also had some harsh words for Albuquerque, another Bike Friendly Community, which is having a similar problem. “Ironically, both come in the aftermath of tragic fatal crashes involving cyclists in those communities, and neither of the bans really does anything related to solving the causes of the crashes,” the League said in an email blast.


Steve A said...

The sign is both disturbing, and appropriate. And, as in the historical parallel, many in the minority favored segregation. Where the analogy breaks down is that a cyclist can blend in by simply getting off that gol darned bike and driving like everyone else. In that way, cyclists are more like gays in that they CAN blend in via behavior changes.

Either way, it is one more argument in favor of curbing arbitrary governmental action.

Khal said...

I put it there to make people uncomfortable, Steve. I had a very good friend, John Furedy, a very prolifically published professor at the U of Toronto, who often said his job was to literally get inside his student's heads and make them as uncomfortable in their skins as possible in order to make them think that much harder.