Expanding bike lane system

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By The Staff

Since Daylight Saving Time and spring are upon us, it is timely to review some principles of bicycle operation with respect to our new and growing system of bike lanes.

Currently, much of Central Avenue and Diamond Drive, as well as N. and S. San Ildefonso have bike lanes. More of these lanes are in the works, as the remaining two phases of Diamond Drive construction resulting in the entire length of this arterial having bike lanes. 

Phase 3, from 39th Street to south of North Road, is scheduled to start in the spring. It is timely to remind readers of some general laws and guidelines that apply.

First, the bike lane is a “traveled portion of the street.” According to code 38-353(a) “no motor vehicle shall be stopped, parked, or left standing, whether attended or unattended, upon the traveled portion of any street when it is practicable to stop, park or leave such vehicle off the traveled portion of the street.”

Parking a vehicle in the bike lane is not allowed and violators can receive a citation. The bike lanes do not need to be posted as no parking zones. Act accordingly and avoid forcing a cyclist to veer around your car.

Not all roads will have bike lanes. All roads, however, may have cyclists. Bicyclists are lawful users of all the roadways unless a road is posted otherwise and cyclists are considered vehicle operators. Do not be surprised or annoyed if a cyclist is on a bike-lane free road.

Bike lanes operate as “slower moving vehicle” lanes. They allow for more efficient passing of cyclists by motorists, since cyclists are typically not riding as fast as motorists are driving their cars. This roadway arrangement will only be safe for bicyclist-motorist operation if the following safety considerations are made.

Many of these comments are covered in codes, Sec. 38-545: “Riding on streets and bicycle paths.”

• Bike lanes are not always usable. They may be blocked by snow and ice, debris, or other conditions making them impassible. Cyclists should not use a bike lane that is dangerous, blocked, or impassible.  The cyclists in these cases will be safely merging into and riding in a travel lane. Bicyclists may also be merging into the travel lane at intersections to avoid being cut off by right turning traffic.

• Staying in the bike lane is not always desirable. A cyclist riding at the speed of traffic may choose to ride in the travel lane if riding in the bike lane creates a hazard. One location where cyclists may be wise to take the travel lane is if riding downhill on North Road towards the Quemezon intersection at the posted speed limit. A cyclist trying to hug the side in the bike lane but travelling 25 mph is likely to be cut off by traffic at North and Quemezon.

• Motorists approaching an intersection and making a right turn need to watch for cyclists on their right. Motorists should either yield to the cyclist if the cyclist is close behind or along side them as they get to the intersection, or make sure they are far enough ahead to signal, merge right across the bike lane and make their turn without cutting off a cyclist. Cyclists need to be aware of these maneuvers and plan their own actions accordingly. Cyclists should not pass other traffic on the right when entering an intersection unless they are sure the vehicle is not making a right hand turn into their path. Cyclists need to be wary if they are in a vehicle’s blind spot when entering an intersection.

• A bike lane is an appropriate travel lane for cyclists if it is proceeding in their intended direction of travel. A cyclist planning to turn left or right needs to signal and change lanes to the appropriate travel or turn lane in a safe and predictable fashion and in advance of the intersection. Motorists must be aware that this will happen.

• Bicyclists must not ride the wrong way, i.e., facing traffic, in a bike lane. That is dangerous and unlawful, just as with operating a motor vehicle on the wrong side of the road.

• Most of all the usual vehicle laws apply in the bike lane, i.e., a cyclist can be cited for moving violations, lighting violations, running a red light or stop sign, or other inappropriate conduct. Remember, you are operating a vehicle on the public’s road.

• A wide bike lane, such as on Diamond Drive, is not an optional passing zone for motorists.

• At least one local bike lane has cars parked to the right of it (North Road by the tennis courts). Cyclists need to ride far enough from parked cars to avoid being hit by a suddenly opened car door (i.e., being “doored.”)Use these bike lanes carefully if cars are parked and the area is busy.

• On roads not having bike lanes, some bicyclists choose to ride on sidewalks.  These riders must do so safely and not endanger pedestrians. In addition, it is dangerous to ride off of a sidewalk and into the street without slowing or stopping. Sidewalk cyclists crossing roads must also remember that they are bound by the laws that apply to pedestrians doing the same.

• Bike lanes do not eliminate the need for motorists and cyclists to drive defensively, alertly and aware of each other’s actions. We are all interactive parts of traffic, and must operate our vehicles accordingly.

Los Alamos has four cycling instructors licensed by the League of American Bicyclists (myself, Neale and Amy Pickett and Suellen Bowersock). We would be happy to schedule a LAB sanctioned Traffic Skills course if there is interest.

Khal Spencer

League of American Cyclists cycling instructor