Saturday, April 19, 2014

RailRunner 1, Situational Awareness 0?

Similar to R15-1, 
your basic rail crossing sign
Multiple news sources have reported that a cyclist was hit and killed while crossing the railroad tracks directly into the path of the 10:30 am. southbound Railrunner today at the Santa Fe Rail Trail where it crosses Zia a few feet west of  South St. Francis in Santa Fe (see map below). One commenter, who left a comment on the KRQE web site, stated "The young lady was zipping along with headphones on... She did not hear the train or the train's horn blowing. Please do not ride your bikes or run with head phones on... Be aware of your surroundings... This was a horrible accident."  The New Mexican cites unnamed witnesses who said much the same. Note added later. As of this afternoon, 4-22-2014, there is no evidence of headphones having been used.

I don't know much other than what's been reported and these uncorroborated comments, but it is never a good idea to leave the mental situational awareness switch turned off for any reason, electronic or otherwise, and leave mental distractions turned on. Way too much going on around a cyclist, especially in a city. There is some stuff out there marketed as safer for those who want to listen to tunes while riding, but I'm not sure I would buy into anything that would take my mind off the road. Live to the end of the ride and you can turn on those big 901's.

Some mistakes you only get to make once. This is tragic. Be careful out there.

The entities who designed this intersection/trail crossing don't get off scot free. The main road, Zia, is marked with flashing lights and gates. The bike path has Jacques Schitt--just a little white sign.  Tim Rogers, posting to the BikeABQ list, said "There are no gates here or at any other sidewalk or trail crossings.  These crossings are all adjacent to roads and it was decided that the bells & whistles were enough to warn pedestrians and cyclists without dedicated gates. Ugh."

Readers should also note that the cyclist was on a path that runs north-south, parallel to St. Francis until, at the last instant, it turns sharply right and crosses the tracks. I was told by a Journal reporter that she was headed north on this path and then made the sharp right across the tracks (see below). Therefore, it would seem a cyclist could not easily see the lights flashing until late in the approach to the tracks because the cyclist would be parallel to them rather than facing them, and contending with screening buildings as well. Still not sure how you miss the train, but there could be a lot of visual clutter there on a Saturday morning. I'll have to ride that myself, but looking at Google maps, that is what I would suspect. But based on my assumption of how the layout affects visibility, there is even more reason for a separate set of warning lights.

That double standard in design does not relieve cyclists from their obligation to pay attention and maintain situational awareness. Having said that, a city that prides itself on its trails as part of its Silver Bicycle Friendly City status, and which relies on trails because many of the major roads are pretty sketchy for cyclists, needs to make sure they are done right, even if it means spending a few bucks and twisting some arms at the NMDOT.

cyclist's intended route, south to north, as I understand it, 
shown with the black line. 
The Rail Trail jogs over the tracks just south of Zia, crosses Zia, and continues north.


Steve A said...
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Khal said...
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Desert Dirt said...
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Pat O'Brien said...
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