Sunday, September 8, 2013

Further Comments on New Mexico State Rt. 4

  And, a Few Comments afterwards on Those Nice Roads We Normally Ride On.


Looking downhill, westbound, towards Las Conchas
I rode back up NM4 to Las Conchas today on the pedalbike rather than the gas burner. The two shoulders, i.e., headed towards La Cueva vs. heading towards the Valles, are quite different in texture. It looks like the state put the worst pavement dropoffs on the La Cueva bound lane (South? West?).

Between Valles Caldera and Las Conchas, this means you are riding downhill with a steep dropoff on the shoulder. So if someone driving the speed limit of 55 mph is trying to pass me, I'm pretty much going to hold my line and let them figure it out.  I can't see wanting to bunny hop the bicycle off a 2-3 inch ledge at over 20 mph--and then back onto the road again to assist an overtaking vehicle. Nor should I have to put myself at risk by doing so.
Closeup of westbound lane pavement lip. 
Blackberry case for scale

Headed back towards the Valles, the shoulder really isn't much worse than it was before, which is being charitable. So it is still possible for me let traffic overtake if it is backing up by moving right when it is safe for me to do so on one of the wider bits of shoulder. Fortunately, traffic is rarely heavy except on holiday weekends.

Heading Back East Towards the Valles Caldera
This is probably the best bit of shoulder on that stretch
The State of NM has a lot of reasons for its paving practice, many having to do with the lack of money. This practice trades money for personal safety. Perhaps there is money in other pots that can be raided to fix the badly paved shoulders all over New Mexico. That is a political decision. Fortunately in the case of NM4, it is a narrow mountain road; people expect primitive conditions. Indeed, most people behave prudently. Its the rare bad situation that leaves you with only a white knuckle response.

The dinosaur rock just east of Las Conchas.
 Good place to take shelter from hailstorms, 
as I once discovered

Right Hooks on Diamond Drive...Is that a right turn signal blinking on your car, or are you just happy to see me?

Ironically, its sometimes the superficially "nicer" roads that will get you. Heading home on Diamond Drive in that wide bike lane and passing the Orange/Sandia intersection, someone in a dark SUV dashed ahead of me a little and made a right turn. This happened quite suddenly (perhaps because I was tired from the ride into the mountains?) So I had to make a quick judgement call. I took a quick look over my left shoulder* to check traffic and then did a quick jog (more like a lateral sprint) out of the bike lane and into a gap in traffic in the travel lane to pass on his/her left as he/she slowed down to make the turn (I could have done a quick stop* or instant turn*, too, but did not have to). If I had been totally oblivious, it would have been the classic right hook crash (see video below). Vigilance never hurts, and sometimes, nicely "improved" roads breed complacency.

* The over the shoulder scan, quick stop, and instant turn are taught in League Traffic Skills courses.

In the situation shown in the video, I'd not recommend hammering in a bike lane when there are side streets and curb cuts immediately ahead. Combining bike lanes and side streets is a bad design to begin with, so one has to assume a finite number of right of way foul-ups will occur and you need to avoid them. The design shown is the worst, which has a solid line to the intersection, thus encouraging cyclists to keep right and motorists to turn right from a cyclist's left. I had a roadway situation much like this on my daily commute to the University of Hawaii, riding along Kalanianaole Highway in East Oahu. While I used the long stretches between side roads as a place to get in some training, I always approached intersections with some caution rather than flat out.

In this case, perhaps the cyclist might have wanted to merge left behind the car when he saw the right turn indicator blinking rather than being trapped; it looks to me like there was time to do so.  Perhaps he was indecisive, sitting up and hollering while braking, and he lost precious time. Or he just didn't know how to set up and countersteer sharply. It looks like he slid the rear wheel just before impact, suggesting he was still on the brakes rather than using his traction and bike handling skills entirely to maneuver sharply. He also might have slid on the white pavement markings.

  Sorry to be an armchair quarterback when someone in the video has just eaten at the Pavement Cafe, but....

 Coffin corner indeed. Excellent way to test the strength of one's collarbone. Situational awareness and training. Repeat five times....then go practice.


Jerry said...

Well now the guy in this fine vid of the "right hook" had time to avoid this as the driver was using his turn signal, which was certainly visible to the cyclist in enough time to brake and avoid the situation. That doen't make it OK, it just makes it avoidable.

Jerry said...

Oh yeah... is this partial paving thing saving the state and the tax payer money? ...or is the contractor making more money by not meeting the specs/standards and getting away with it? I strongly suspect there is some corruption here.

Khal said...

1. Seemed to me the cyclist had enough time to avoid the crash.
2. Corruption in New Mexico? Never!

Tim said...

I realized a long time ago that it's better to be delayed and angry at an ignorant motorist than to collide with a vehicle while expecting the driver to do the right thing.

@Jerry and Khal's #2. Corruption happens in New Mexico, sure, but incompetence is much more common. I expect if you looked at the plans for the repaving, it would quite clearly show a paving section that does not include the whole shoulder.

I don't know if it's better to be the victim of evil or incompetence (or if it matters), but it bothers me when public officials are accused of illegalities when the simplest explanation (stupidity) is the likely answer.

Khal said...

I actually don't ascribe the paving to either evil or incompetence, but value judgements being made at high levels that are automobile-centric. But even for autos, a sharp drop-off can result in a greater probability of a run off the road crash.

Bottom line is that if we want these roads paved properly there has to be a synergy between the politicians, who must appropriate sufficient money to the DOT to pave properly, and the DOT technical staff insisting that shoulders be paved as part of a "complete streets" mentality. Change is hard, and slow.

When I went to a fundraiser for Jim Hall in Los Alamos, there was some grumbling among some of those present that the Rail Runner has seriously depleted the funds available for other transportation projects, because of the money borrowed for the train. If anyone knows more about that, it would be good to hear.

NMN said...

If the Albuquerque MSA had had only 8,000 more people in the last Census, the State would have received an additional $3m/year from the feds for the RailRunner.