Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
In 1969, JoAnne Vigil Coppler’s younger brother was riding his bicycle near E.J. Martinez Elementary School. School had just let out for the summer and he was pedaling along with friends when he was struck by a vehicle and killed. He was 12.
“Ever since then, I’ve been scared of bikes,” said Vigil Coppler, who was elected to the City Council in March.
Nevertheless, she was appointed to chair the Bicycle and Trails Advisory Committee by Mayor Alan Webber. And now she’s introducing legislation intended to make bicycling in the city safer.
Vigil Coppler has introduced a resolution that would call on the city to replace “Share the Road” signs with signs that say “Bicycles May Use Full Lane.” In part, the change is meant to remind motorists that bicyclists have just as much right to the road as cars and trucks.
The “Share the Road” signs sound more like a suggestion, she said, “and it isn’t legally enforceable. The new signs will make it enforceable and safer.”
According to the resolution, which was endorsed by the council’s Finance Committee on Monday, both state law and city ordinance dictate that “people on bicycles are granted the same rights as vehicle drivers, therefore people on bicycles may use the full vehicle travel lane.”
“Education is key,” Vigil Coppler said. “There’s a need for education about that, and bicyclists need to understand that they have to follow traffic laws, too.”
Vigil Coppler said there are roughly 50 “Share the Road” signs that would be replaced. There would also be some signs reminding motorists of the city ordinance that requires them to leave a minimum of 5 feet of space when passing bicycles.
That ordinance has been in effect since 2011 and was introduced by former City Councilor Patti Bushee, who Stephen Newhall credits for helping transform Santa Fe into a bicycle-friendly city. There are now more bike trails, more marked bike lanes and more signage about bikes.
“When I moved here in 1991, Santa Fe was in no way bike-friendly,” said Newhall, who is store manager at Rob and Charlie’s bike shop on St. Michael’s Drive, and a member of the Bicycle and Trails Advisory Committee.
“Things have improved drastically, but we still have a long way to go.”
Replacing the “Share the Road” signs with “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs will help, he said.
“The idea behind switching signs is that ‘Share the Road’ doesn’t really mean that much,” he said. “In Santa Fe, a lot of the old roads aren’t very wide, so the idea is to communicate to drivers that, yes, the bike may be in your way, but you have to wait to move around. I think it really will be an improvement when it gets switched over.”
Some may argue that letting bikes take up a whole lane would make things less safe. Newhall doesn’t think so.
“When there isn’t enough room for cars to pass, it’s much safer to be in the middle of the road. If a cyclist is hugging the curb, drivers may think they can make it past. Maybe they will and maybe they won’t,” he said.
Newhall said studies by the University of Texas and North Carolina State University have shown that the “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” signs are less confusing and ambiguous, and more effective in communicating the rules of the road than “Share the Road” signs.
The proposal is scheduled to come before the full City Council at its meeting on Dec. 12.
If approved, the resolution calls for the signs to be replaced within a year.
According to the fiscal impact report, it would cost about $17,000 to replace the signs. Funding would come out of capital improvement funds earmarked for “on-road bicycle improvements.”