I saw a cool sign in an Albuquerque neighborhood (photo below). It reminded me how we’re evolving our consciousness to better accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians. It starts with basic steps, including raising awareness. Small changes gradually add up to very big things!
Bicycles go everywhere cars go, and more. Here’s a photo from Uptown Albuquerque, which is a high density and mixed use area that is also a hub for transit and the nexus of numerous bike routes including the 50-mile activity loop. You’d expect to see bicycles here, and you’d expect to be able to bicycle here. The road has two lanes and the right lane is not wide enough for a bicycle and motorized vehicle to share side by side. On this road configuration expect bicycles in the right hand lane and expect overtaking vehicles to use the left lane to pass.
When I bike through here I usually use the middle of the right hand lane. It makes me more visible to other traffic, and gives me a buffer and room to react if a vehicle is pulling out from an intersection or driveway. Plus my experience has confirmed what the evidence clearly shows, that riding to the far right of a lane that is too narrow to share leads to closer passes, increasing the danger of being sideswiped. It can be counterintuitive to think that a bicycle positioned further out in the travel lane is safer, but in spite of our conditioning, statistically this is true. When Steve Clark from the Bike League was here last April, he explained lane positioning as a way of communication. Riding in the lane, rather than on the edge of the lane, makes it easier for faster traffic to intuitively understand that they need to change lanes to pass. And when you have a lot of turning traffic like you do at Uptown, riding in the lane also decreases the likelihood that a motorist will overtake you and then suddenly turn right in front of you, aka the “right hook”, which is a common crash type. When bicycles use the full travel lane it can help other traffic see and process you as a vehicle on the road and account for you. Riding off to the side makes it easy to be overlooked. Cyclists have to make these critical positioning judgments. Other traffic responds to that positioning, and follows the universal traffic rule to yield to all traffic in front of them. Traffic flow depends on cooperation and a set of common rules.
The photo above is from recycle day on Constitution, which is one of the best east-west bike routes across Albuquerque. The bike lane has a few obstacles in it. This is pretty common in my experience, and I don’t sweat it. Bike lanes are a preferred use facility. They’re intended to encourage people to come out and be a part of traffic on the road. They’re not intended to limit where bicyclists may operate. Believe it or not, I find everything I learned in Commercial Driving School, where I was trained to drive 18-wheelers, is perfectly applicable to being a safe cyclist. What do I mean? Well, I learned to look ahead, anticipate hazards, position my vehicle in advance, and signal my intentions. So I am always on the lookout and looking far up the road to see if a bike lane is blocked, either with an obvious hazard like this one, or a more subtle but equally dangerous hazard like broken glass or a parked car with a door that could hit me if it was opened. If there’s a hazard in my path, I look over my shoulder (“shoulder check”, or you can use a mirror) to check for traffic. When you are changing lanes you always have to yield. When it is clear I’ll signal left, and move into the general travel lane. When it is safe to move back over, I’ll do the same thing, check for traffic, signal, change lanes. It works well.
If we are on the lookout for cyclists, it makes it a lot easier and safer to ride. Bicyclists are trained to be visible, to follow the rules for vehicles, and to be predictable. One road, a variety of user types, with coordinated movements is the outlook for keeping safe while navigating different kinds of infrastructure and conditions. More to come on this topic…here a few more pictures from a recent hike in the foothills east of Albuquerque. Enjoy outside on Earth Day!