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Having just finished reading an article on bicycle-friendly communities worldwide that are experiencing a boom in bicycle use (Albuquerque Journal/ Journal North 8/31/08), I am both green with envy and red with anger – and I’m not talking chile here.
If large European cities, such as Berlin, can manage to overcome huge logistical difficulties to make it easier and safer for citizens to use bicycles for everyday trips to work, school, shopping, etc., why can’t little Los Alamos figure out how to do it? This article states that “Germans are 10 times more likely than Americans to ride a bike and three times less likely to get hurt while doing so.”
The reasons for this are that gasoline/diesel are expensive and the communities include bicycle use in their transportation planning. Well, it looks like we have arrived at the first condition; however, we have a long way to go for the second. If it isn’t bad enough that very little is done positively to encourage safe cycling in Los Alamos County, we cyclists also have to put up with street and road projects that make cycling more dangerous.
In particular, I refer to the current fad of building islands and pedestrian-crossing peninsulas on our streets in the downtown area. As I pointed out to Public Works Department Director J. Kyle Zimmerman a few years ago (during a public planning session at the airport building before the islands were installed on Trinity Avenue between Canyon Road and the airport), the islands narrow the road at random and unpredictable locations, thereby squeezing cars and bicycles dangerously close together.
The pedestrian-crossing peninsulas are even more dangerous for cyclists, as they intrude into the roadway farther and more abruptly than the islands, perhaps even forcing a violation of the county’s ordinance that requires a five-foot spacing between autos and bicycles. Imagine a cyclist riding on the right side of the roadway, as required by law. When he/she comes to this peninsula, he/she is forced to the left into the traffic coming from behind. This is a sure recipe for disaster.
The only safe strategy for a cyclist is to ride the center of the lane along the entire roadway. But this will infuriate trailing motorists, some of whom may react in ways that are equally dangerous to the cyclist. It would seem that the Public Works Department simply doesn’t care about making Los Alamos County streets more safe and convenient for cyclists. What will it take for the county to at least stop making our streets even more dangerous for cyclists – a fatal accident?
Los Alamos should be a leading community (like Boulder and Davis, Calif.) for including bicycle travel as an integral part of transportation planning. Instead, shamefully, we just follow the same old pattern of catering to automobiles. When shall we wake up to the new reality?