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In a letter entitled “Los Alamos bicycle unfriendly,” letter writer Mario Schillaci claims that Los Alamos is bicycle-unfriendly. His argument concerns the traffic calming measures, or “bulb-outs,” being implemented on Central Avenue, a road running though much of our town’s businesses, library, retirement community, and government center. The idea that these are cycling-unfriendly is one shared by at least a few residents, but betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about cycling safety. Los Alamos County is actually making great strides in becoming more bicycle-friendly.
Mr. Schillaci states that “when [a cyclist] comes to [a bulbout], he/she is forced to the left into the traffic coming from behind.” This is precisely where cyclists should have been riding. By riding in a straight, predictable line, part way into the lane, visible to other traffic, and not weaving in and out of parked cars (or bulbouts), cyclists increase their visibility, predictability, and reduce the likelihood of the two most frequent bike-car collision scenarios – motorist turning left across a cyclist’s path, and motorist turning right after overtaking a curb-bound cyclist--both of which happen in front of the cyclist. Overtaking (i.e., “hit from behind”) collisions make up only about 1 percent of car-bike crashes.
Bulb-outs also serve as effective traffic-calming devices, reducing the speed difference between motorized traffic and cycling traffic. A recent county study found 85 percent of traffic on Central Avenue through the existing bulb-outs travels below the posted 25 miles per hour limit. This lower-speed “main street” atmosphere is ideal for cyclists at any speed. The narrow lane and lower speeds ensure that any passing maneuvers are deliberate and well-considered, again increasing the margin of safety.
Just as importantly, pedestrian safety is vastly increased by traffic-calming bulb-outs. Visibility is increased at the crossing points by ensuring pedestrians are visible on the bulb-outs, clear of parked cars and in the sight lines of road traffic. Lower vehicle speeds mean drivers are more likely to stop, and should there be a car-pedestrian collision, the pedestrian’s survival rate soars.
According a U.K. Times Online article (http://tinyurl.com/5lbyz9), pedestrians struck by a car have a 97.5 percent survival rate at 20 miles per hour, compared with 80 percent at 30 miles per hour, and 10 percent at 40 miles per hour. Such walkability improvements also improve the small business environment and decrease road congestion, by encouraging people to park their cars and walk to multiple shopping destinations in our town center.
With bulb-outs making Central so pleasant for cycling, walking and driving, bike racks on all buses, bike lanes being added all throughout Diamond Drive, a cycling-friendly populace, and the recently enacted Bicycle Transportation Plan of Los Alamos County, Los Alamos is, in fact, becoming a very bicycle friendly community!
Neale Pickett and Khalil Spencer
League Cycling Instructors,
League of American Bicyclist