Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Some comments on the Monitor's coverage of the NM 502 presentation to the Transportation Board... and Homage to Wombats.

When Does a Highway Become a Street?

Thanks to Arin McKenna for covering the NM DoT's presentation for the Los Alamos Monitor. A couple things from her article. Note that although I talked myself into accepting the vice chair of the Transportation Board, as always, my comments and criticisms here are mine alone. Here is my $0.02 on two issues raised at the Board meeting.

1. "Cyclists’ concerns about having to dismount at the roundabout were addressed in the new design. They will now have the option of sharing the roundabout with vehicles or diverting to the (10 foot wide) sidewalk without dismounting."

Actually, that is standard practice with multimodal roundabout design. Cyclists have the legal right to ride through the roundabout or divert through the sidepaths provided them, provided they do not endanger pedestrians and they are careful when re-entering the street. The way the DoT guy explained it was not clear and I didn't say anything. Maybe I should have. The provision of ramps and expanded sidewalk space so cyclists can avoid the roadway in a roundabout is normal. See, for example, the San Ildefonso/Diamond Drive roundabout. Given this will be a multilane rather than a single lane roundabout as designed and therefore more complicated for both cyclists and motorists, it is probably critical to provide an offroad option.

2.  "The plan includes the placement of High Intensity Activated Cross-walks (HAWK) at the East pool and East Park crossings. However, pedestrian counts at those crossings have to reach at least 20 per hour as some point in the day to meet Federal Highway Administration warrants for installing pedestrian signals. The count is currently at 12 crossings per hour.

Vice Chair Khalil Spencer asked what, if anything, could be done to override those warrants. NMDOT Project Development Engineer Bryan Danielson said there was little flexibility to override those standards unless traffic counts got closer to 20.

“When you’re in the gray area where you’re close, you can start looking at different justifications,” Danielson said. “I know the county has brought up the new trail that’s going in and how that could factor in, but at this time we don’t have the numbers.”

“We’ve had numerous times when people come into this room and complain to this board that it’s unsafe to cross that street, so presumably not many people are doing it,” Spencer responded. “So we’re in a Catch-22, where if people aren’t crossing the street because it isn’t safe, you don’t get the warrants, therefore you don’t make the street safe to cross. I find that impossible to justify from the standpoint of this community’s commitment to multi-modal transportation.”

Vehicle miles travelled vs. year, from Streetsblog
click on the pic to actually see something. The max
is at 2008.
 It never ceases to amaze me that a transportation department will rebuild a road with excess capacity based on hazy projections of traffic growth into the future (vehicle miles travelled in the US are flat and who knows what Bombtown will look like in 20 yrs), but will not install ped-friendly infrastructure even as the town builds out into an area. There is now a community pool as well as multiple trails and destinations (including extensive LA Schools and County facilities at Airport Basin, a hotel, and a food co-op) along NM-502 to the east of Smith's Marketplace. Instead of being pro-active, we demand that suicidal peds dash across the street where it is dicey to do so in order to justify a safe crossing.

This isn't about simply painting crosswalk stripes, which as Kyle Zimmerman points out can be ignored by motorists unless in constant use. Its about putting up a damn bright set of flashing stop lights. If the community is growing to the east, it has to be reflected in how we build the road. It also means that the DOT and County have to find a way to effectively transition "from a highway to Main Street" as the nature of a community evolves. I hold both entities responsible for making this work since just as the DOT wants to concentrate on level of service, the county wants to develop along NM502 regardless of how the transportation infrastructure presently works.

There is clear guidance on overriding warrants of 20 peds per hour in the FHWA. I wonder if anyone seriously examined this.

2009 Edition Chapter 4F. Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons

Section 4F.01 Application of Pedestrian Hybrid Beacons

05 If a traffic control signal is not justified under the signal warrants of Chapter 4C and if gaps in traffic are not adequate to permit pedestrians to cross, or if the speed for vehicles approaching on the major street is too high to permit pedestrians to cross, or if pedestrian delay is excessive, the need for a pedestrian hybrid beacon should be considered on the basis of an engineering study that considers major-street volumes, speeds, widths, and gaps in conjunction with pedestrian volumes, walking speeds, and delay.

Note. There are several other rationales where a warrant can be overridden by the engineers. Have these been examined?

Safety Effectiveness of the HAWK Pedestrian Crossing Treatment (Tucson
Tucson safety study.

Note: The county subsequently found out that the State had not done a gap analysis, one way of overriding the warrants. More to come, so stay tuned.

3. Thanks always to Joel Williams for bringing up stuff that would otherwise not be discussed.

Women in Bicycling, revisited. My small tribute to Jacquie Phelan...and Eve DeCoursey...and...

Jacquie Phelan
 LAB recently did a spread on women's history in cycling. I commented to the author that it seemed odd to leave out WOMBATS founder Jacquie Phelan in what was otherwise a good piece. So here is a tip of the brain bucket to Jacquie from up here on the mesas where mountainbiking is king. Jacquie has done a lot for women in cycling. She's done a lot for humans in cycling, period, because unless cycling is inclusive, it is woefully incomplete.

While we are at it, I might as well add my old friend and fellow Hawaii bicycling advocate, the late Eve DeCoursey, to the LA Bikes Woman's Hall of Fame. Eve was a Hawaii State Champion (USCF, road racing) and longtime Exec. Director of the Hawaii Bicycling League. She worked tirelessly to get more people riding,  personally leading several big rides a week, especially for aspiring women riders, and started the Pace Car program to combat speeding. When Eve moved from Hawaii to Washington, D.C, she took those efforts with her and grew them at the WABA.
Eve DeCoursey


Jon said...

So we're expanding East Rd. from two lanes, maybe 26', to four lanes plus bike lanes plus turn lanes. Call it 70'? And we won't need a HAWK because there aren't enough people crossing? Yeah, that's a problem that'll solve itself. How well is the Pueblo Complex crossing working out for everybody? (Answer from here: not well.)

Khal said...

I think the NMDOT position on this is both unacceptable and also a clear indication of how far we need to go to change the way we deal with what happens to state highways that become city streets. Its not just about NMDOT, but they actually did not do all their homework.

I looked up the actual FHWA requirements, which are themselves tough to get around, but last I heard is the county called the state and it is back to the drawing board because they overlooked the fine print in Chapter 4F and need to do a gap analysis and analyze just what you say--when the street is wider, what then? Stay tuned, and stay engaged.