Thursday, April 9, 2015

League of American Bicyclists Puts Cleats to the Pedals to Review Santa Fe's Silver Bicycle Friendly Community Status

BCNM board member and urban planner Tim Rogers (l), 
a city/county staffer (c) and LAB's Stephen Clark (r) 
tour the City Different
Here, at the Rail Trail crossing at St. Michaels
"...I’ve had fewer negative interaction with motorists here in six months than I did when we lived in Santa Fe. It’s not scientific, but I’m inclined to credit the extensive bike infrastructure..."  Patrick O'Grady, in his comments on Albuquerque's proposed 50 mile bike loop. (Patrick lived in Santa Fe in the 1980's, racing bikes and writing for the New Mexican)

Stephen Clark, the Bicycle Friendly Community Specialist for the League of American Bicyclists, was in the City Different yesterday to pitch the bennies of bicycle-friendly community status to the Mayor, Council, and some of the local city, county and state staff and bicycle advocacy community** and to do a cleats on the pedal tour of the city from a cyclist's perspective. Figuring it was easier for me to spend a few hours relaxing sick in Santa Fe rather than put in a 9 hour day being sick at work or being restless at home (thank Campagnolo for Cipro), I drove down and did about five miles of easy riding on the Long Haul Trucker with Steve and some city and bikie folks looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Some of the good. New gates and lights on Zia 
rail-trail crossing. From the New Mexican article
 The good included the many quiet if narrow streets in the older parts of town and the relatively recently and greatly expanded trail networks in progress. Its been a non-starter to convince the State DOT to make "the bad and the ugly" stroads like Cerrillos, St. Francis, and St. Michaels bicycle-friendly (assuming that is even possible), so pathways such as the Rail Trail, River Trail, Acequia Trail, etc. are put into service as alternative connectivity. I'm never fond of having to cobble together bike paths as substitutes for complete streets, but one does what one has to do while negotiating change and those trails are a lot more amenable to riding than getting into dogfights with driving-while-texting motorists in hulking SUVs on a high speed stroad.

Nice view of the Rail Trail, pic courtesy of Steve Clark
Given these paths are by definition basic transportation routes, they deserve high quality safety systems; these increasingly are provided by important touches such as the gates and lights at pathway RR crossings such as at Zia, Cerrillos, and St. Michaels. Sadly, the fast, six lane stroad ped crossing where the Rail Trail crosses St. Mikes, while having a protected center island refuge, is otherwise unregulated. The adjacent roadway RR crossing makes that a difficult but not impossible problem; one would probably need a couple of doglegs on the trail crossing to enable stopping cars safely. As Steve and most of us agreed, the present situation could be a real show stopper to many peds and bicyclists, at least when traffic is heavy (which is much of the time).
Lunch at the original 2nd Street Brewery was quite tasty!
So while I supported (and still do) Santa Fe's Silver application, I don't know how it will advance further up the noble metal route without some changes in the relationship with the NMDOT. Given that the DOTs stroads cut up Santa Fe like a freshly butchered chicken, it seems hard to make the City Different a platinum quality bike gem without some serious change in how the state handles its highways when then enter a city, or by either yanking the jurisdiction entirely and calming these highways or finding a way to bridge, parallel, or bypass them efficiently. Heck, even the state Bike-Ped coordinator seemed a little too accommodating to the rude treatment the state hands non-motorists when a state route cuts into a city's lifeblood. Then again, I don't ride a mile in her cleats.

Its an admittedly tough problem balancing all the interests when a heavily used highway enters a town, but unless getting people (not just people in cars) across and along the street is as important as moving trucks and cars cross the state, we have sacrificed urban connectivity to long range transport. Strong Town's Chuck Marohn (PE, AICP) doesn't think stroads should exist, period, for a variety of reasons he can explain better than I. Alternatively, I mentioned a concept I've been mulling over in BombTown with Trinity Drive, i.e., Complete Corridors. Basically, one has to find an ingenious way to provide equivalent bicycling and walking connectivity along a major corridor, either by calming the arterials or by hopping, paralleling, or bypassing them. Such an idea takes some ingenuity and (a lot of) money but suggests that rather than trying to pound a square bikeway into a round stroad, there may be a smarter solution. To go gold or beyond, its worth finding it. I suppose one could look at the right of way along something like St. Francis and engineer a buffered bikeway--left to me, I would snatch a couple lanes back. Or, suggest something else. I'll toss that to the folks who live there and know way more than I do.
Here, a narrow cut-through on the Acequia Trail connects to streets and a neighborhood north of Cerrillos near the Cerrillos-St. Francis intersection. Stephen Newhall (yellow jacket), a BCNM Board member and manager at Rob and Charlie's Bike Shop, leads the way through as the LAB's Stephen Clark, Tim, yours truly and others prepare to follow. We saw several cyclists use this priceless connectivity to make the trails network work when riding from their communities. But as someone noted, a bike trailer would probably not fit.
Thanks to all who attended, helped, or were invited due to their involvement and persistence in making Santa Fe a better place to live, work, and oh yes, ride a bike. Thanks to Bob Siqueiros, the City's Railyards Project Administrator and BTAC Liason, for herding the cats and Tim Rogers for planning the route. The list of invitees is below (I crashed the party late), along with a group shot taken at the Plaza.
Photo courtesy of Tim Rogers

**Javier Gonzales, Mayor (Tentative)
Patti Bushee, City Councilor
Bicycle Trails Advisory Committee BTAC (3)
Gretchen Grogan
Shelley Robinson
Paul Cooley
Ron Pacheco
Leroy Pacheco, City Engineering Staff
Melissa McDonald, Engineering Staff
Robert Siqueiros, BTAC Liaison
Maria Lohmann, County Trail Staff
Rosa Kosab, NM State Staff
Tim Rogers, SFCT, Trails Program Manager
Bob Ward, REI Store Manager
Chainbreakers Staff, Tomas Rivera (BTAC)
Keith Wilson, MPO Staff
Stephen Newhall – Educator/Public Advocate
Santa Fe Fat Tires Society Representative(s)
Bicycle Technologies Inc. Representative(S)

"What do you expect us to die of? Old age? "
--Hub McCann, in Secondhand Lions

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