Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Putting the cart before the horse?

In a valiant attempt to make our roads safer, Los Alamos County Views and LA Daily Post blogger (and a co-blogger on this site) Greg Kendall suggests we make the NM-502 hairpin safer from idiot drivers by adding lane dividers. This is in response to yet another crash on the hairpin, apparently caused when an allegedly drunk eastbound motorcyclist drifted into the oncoming lane and bounced off the side of a pickup truck. The occupants of the truck were taken to LAMC but it doesn't sound like they were seriously hurt. The motorcyclist was more seriously hurt and more seriously arrested.

I don't have objections to engineering our roads to be safer when it is possible and cost-effective. My concern with this response to this incident, though, is that there is simply not enough money in the budget to fix every hairpin turn or other sub-optimal traffic situation in Los Alamos County or elsewhere in Northern New Mexico in order to make our roads safe from dangerous driving as long as we continue to set the bar so low on what we are willing to tolerate from bad drivers. Fixing the 502 hairpin (or S-curve), to be sure, sounds like a good idea, but it probably won't come cheap, if it includes not only lane dividers but badly needed shoulders. That would probably require an expensive widening of the old road cut.

Not to mention, if we throw money at this location simply by adding lane dividers, it will do little to protect cyclists from bad driving. Virtually no cyclists ride Main Hill Road, and not just because of the S-curves. Virtually the entire stretch between the "Y" and the county line lacks shoulders and forces uphill riders to labor into a hard climb while sharing a narrow lane with 40-50 mph motorists hell-bent on trying their hand on the hairpins. I once almost hit a clown in an Audi who was drifting sideways into my lane as he stoked his ego heading up into BombTown. My fear is of the Law of Unintended Consequences: improve the road, and we will encourage more risk-taking.

Meanwhile, motorist and cyclist alike share all of our twisty, narrow mountain roads with drunk, drugged, reckless, and clueless drivers. We can't rebuild our roads fast enough to protect us from these folks.

What we need to do first is put the horse before the cart.  Get the bad drivers (drunk, careless, clueless, and reckless) off the roads by making repeated lawless driving more unpleasant than lawful driving. Then fix the segments of roads screaming for an engineering fix. But please, let's not throw scarce money into making the roads "safer" so that our drunk, drugged, and reckless drivers can continue to match their witlessness and egos against the expensive best efforts of our traffic engineers. In a battle between bad driving and good engineering, we are certain to lose--our shirts, if not our lives.



Steve A said...

Safer tends to be a euphemism for "faster and more throughput." Straightening those curves certainly won't cause motorists (or cyclists) to take them slower. I'm reminded of the lesson about the "improved" Colonial in Orlando versus the "unsafe" part. The "improved" part has more, and more serious crashes. Sometimes making things "scary" isn't all bad...

Anonymous said...

Bravo... the problem is not so much the road!

Anonymous said...

There's nothing wrong with that S curve. The problem was a drunk driver. Kendall's column was blatant over reaction and hysteria.