Monthly Archives: April 2016

Roads as Generators of Health

There’s a new guideline out for structuring the design of the built environment around the goal of cultivating health and wellness.  It is called The WELL Building Standard.  One of Albuquerque’s original innovators, Kris Callori at EDI Integrative Consulting, recently earned her WELL AP credential according to Albuquerque Business First’s People on the Move report.

bright array

Elena Gallegos paintbrush

The International WELL Building Institute is a public benefit corporation whose mission is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment.  WELL is a “fourth sector” organization.  They combine the organizational powers of corporations with the orientation of nonprofits by focusing their mission and goals on delivering benefits for the greater good.

Elena Gallegos paintbrush fire

You can download the WELL standards from their website.  Their work touches on the interface of buildings and the transportation system.  Transportation systems are one of the most influential parts of the built environment in terms of wellness and human health.  Can you imagine what it would be like if we built streets around walking and bicycling first?

Elena sprinkles

Indian Paintbrush array High Desert
Photos:  from a walk this Spring in the Sandia foothills above Albuquerque

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Underneath an Ocean of Light

On clear mornings when I’m walking at my local park I see a sheet of light appear on the West Mesa as the sun rises over the Sandia ridgeline.  The morning light hits the west side first then chases the shadows across the river.  I see sunbeams illuminate the tree tops and gradually angle down on me, lighting up the field.  It’s a beautiful scene but sometimes I yearn to see more.  So Sunday morning Mai and I decided to check out San Lorenzo Canyon south of ABQ.

San Lorenzo cactus flowers

San Lorenzo form flow

San Lorenzo tilted forms

San Lorenzo Canyon is a quiet place on BLM lands .  Visitation is light enough that there are no developed areas aside from the dirt road into the canyon, there are not even trails.  This kind of unmediated experience and direct contact dissolves the abstract notions we have about “the environment” and fills in our mental map with actual places and the vivid details that we absorb through immersing ourselves with a walk and some modest exploration.  The canyon is managed for the gift that it is, and the value it bestows is the spirit of the American West itself.

San Lorenzo white and wood

San Lorenzo red

Mai in big sandy canyon

San Lorenzo red on sky

It was a fun day.  As we prepared at home I was excited with the anticipation of the cool desert morning air rolling down the canyon walls.  The fault-block ranges casting trapezoidal shadows across the fanned alluvial sands of the canyon floor.  Curvy washes shaped by the ebb and flow of water.  Being outdoors in nature’s theatre is the ultimate life.  The canyon walls show millions of years of history and tell of their origins below earth’s salty ocean.   As we walked the sun arced higher and hawks circled on warming air currents.  We followed a side canyon with a faint trail past damp microclimes and verdant growth so stark against the oxidized tone of the hard rock walls.  We scrambled up scree slopes before topping out with tremendous views of the canyon below and vistas across the Rio Grande Valley to the Manzanos and even the Sandias some 70 miles away.  We stayed awhile and let the desert light shine in.

San Lorenzo gnarly juniper suprise

San Lorenzo wash fluvial

San Lorenzo hidden cactus flowers

Earth Day Bike Ed Tips

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!

watch for bicyclists

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.

Uptown bicycling

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.

Constitution bike lane trash recycle

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.

This is it

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!

paintbrush windmill emergin

twotone

Spring bloom

Change Leadership in Comprehensive Planning

I attended the transportation focus group last Friday, which is part of the Comprehensive Plan update process.  The community conversation is happening at a pretty high level.  But to create the kind of changes we need, the work has just begun.  A few quotes came to mind.

“The world we have created is a product of our thinking; it cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”— Albert Einstein

Sunset April 14 at Grant Park

“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”  — Mark Twain

Seven story pagoda

‘Learn all you can about where you are.  Make common cause with place.  Resolve to work with it for a long time…to make a living is to have enough.’ –Wendell Berry interviewed by Bill Moyers

Albuquerque nights

The photos are from recent sunsets in Albuquerque from Grant Park, right near where I live.  Here’s the Wendell Berry interview with Bill Moyers.  Wendell’s an innovative thinker about people and place, and wrote a book on sustainable agriculture, the Unsettling of America.

Pedalling Circles Changes the World

Albuquerque celebrates Bike to Work Day on May 20.  Every day can be bike to work day.  But it takes only one day to get the habit rolling.  If you keep up the practice of biking to school or work, you can change your life.  Daily bicycling creates a more vital life.  A vital person energizes those around them.  By changing yourself you influence the world.   Make a bold decision.  Leave a legacy.  Ride your bike, or walk, to school and work today.  You can win a prize.   

ABQ BTWD Poster2016

Details on the Greater Albuquerque Bike to Work Day event are here–
https://www.cabq.gov/parksandrecreation/events/bike-to-work-day

The Quiet Catastrophe

Door to Door by Edward Humes book cover“He ultimately makes clear that transportation is one of the few big things we can change—our personal choices do have a profound impact.”  —book review of Door to Door

Edward Humes has a book out today called Door to Door. The Magnificent, Maddening, Mysterious World of Transportation.  There’s an essay introducing the book in The Atlantic.  A main theme is the high prices we are paying for cars.  Knowledge about the cost of cars is critical to understand, yet somehow it alludes our conscious grasp.  Jim McNamara, a sergeant with the California Highway Patrol, says the car problem is “massive but diffuse. Whether it’s climate change or car crashes, if the problem doesn’t show itself all at once—as when an airliner goes down with dozens or hundreds of people on board—it’s hard to get anyone’s attention.”
Here are some quick facts.

  • since 9/11 more than 400,000 men, women, and children have died on America’s roads
  • California Highway Patrol spends 80% of their time responding to car crashes
  • MIT calculates that 53,000 Americans die prematurely every year from vehicle pollution
  • Car crashes are the leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 1 and 39
  • each week car crashes take American lives at a rate equivalent to four airliner crashes

What do we do?  Change our perspective on driving.  Status quo fixes like adding traffic lanes “only attracts more cars.  It’s called the rule of induced demand and it’s like trying to solve overeating by loosening your belt,” Humes writes.  We can start by taking driving more seriously. Gone are the days when driving seemed carefree.  Building local scale economies for food and energy and simplifying our lives helps.  Think of this as opportunity for innovation.

Resources:  Edward Humes’ website has several press releases on his new book.
http://www.edwardhumes.com/
Facts and quotes for this blog post are from:
http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/04/absurd-primacy-of-the-car-in-american-life/476346/
https://hbr.org/2016/04/why-the-future-of-e-commerce-depends-on-better-roads

the good outing we had Sunday at Golden Open Space stays with me for days

good outings, like Sunday’s walk at Golden Open Space, stay with me for days.  Still snow on the Sandias

Friluftsliv at Golden Open Space

Sunday morning Mai and I rejuvenated with a walk at Golden Open Space on the Los Duendes Trail.  Golden was one of the first spaces set aside by Albuquerque in 1964 to preserve nature. Exploring city green space is a way to engage what the Scandanavians call friluftsliv, free air life.

Color country New Mexico style

ooh!

Utah blue

Mai and I were startled at what we found there.  The fresh air and silence covered us like a shawl of comfort.  Though Golden Open Space is only 20 or so miles from the City, the Sandia Mountains run between them.  Golden is triangulated under three large mountain ranges, the Sandia, the Sangre de Cristo, and the Jemez.  The smaller San Pedro’s rippled profile meanders across the eastern horizon.  Between all these mountains is a country full of color New Mexico style.  Arroyos and erosion indicate water’s workings everywhere but the element of water itself is ephemeral and rare.  There are plenty of birds and horse prints.  Hidden beauty unspooling.

horns of Juniper

fallen gravity

color canyon

I’m a big fan of getting exercise in our city environment.  But we need to rest and de-stress too.  A gentle walk for adventure and discovery at Golden is a great way to combine the two.  Albuquerque is a nature rich city, and we have access across a range of scales, from neighborhood parks, to wide open spaces.  Every citizen receives nature’s benefits for free.

dimensions

standing tall

yellow green

violet

Resources:  Here’s the link to Golden Open Space at the City of Albuquerque website