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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — You’re driving in Albuquerque and you pass a person riding a bicycle. Would you rather:
(a) Have to pull out around the cyclist who is sharing your lane?
(b) Have a thin painted line separating you from a lane dedicated to cyclists?
(c) Have a wider painted buffer between you and a cyclists’ lane?
(d) Have your car and the cyclists’ lane separated by a physical barrier – a curb, planters or posts?
As a driver who also cycles, I vote wholeheartedly for options (c) and (d).
For all of the legendary conflict in Albuquerque between cyclists and drivers over who owns the road and who violates more traffic laws, I think we share the same goal whether we’re on two wheels or four: We want to get where we’re going with the least engagement with one another.
To that end, the city of Albuquerque is near completion on a massive bikeways master plan that will help shape the future of the system of lanes and trails that move bike traffic throughout the city.
The preliminary draft is a big read and filled with fascinating data, but what caught my eye were the options under discussion for defining spaces and keeping distance between those who pedal and those who drive.
City planner Carrie Barkhurst told me the options include lanes painted bright green at “conflict areas” such as right-turn lanes that should leave no doubt in a driver’s mind as to which is the cyclists’ path.
Other options are wide-striped or hatched lanes separating vehicle traffic from bike lanes or physical barriers that prevent motorists from drifting into cyclists’ spaces or vice versa.
Another option puts a 10-foot-wide, two-way bike lane on one side of the road, completely cut off from traffic by some sort of barrier.
Some of those are already being used – busy Coors Boulevard, for example, has benefited from a wide, painted bike buffer – and any or all of those options could be employed on certain Albuquerque streets and intersections as the city weighs their costs and benefits as it extends and makes improvements to bikeways.
The bikeways plan has been the focus of several public meetings, and it will be the subject of a public hearing at the city’s planning commission in September before it goes to the City Council for approval. So far, public comments have focused on maintenance of existing multiuse trails and bike lanes (fix the wooden bridges and goatheads be gone!) and hopes that the city will address gaps between biking corridors to link up more routes.
The ultimate goal of the plan is to encourage more bike traffic, because experience shows that more people biking helps keep some cars off the road, improves a city’s health statistics and actually makes biking safer by creating a more visible biking population that helps change drivers’ attitudes about sharing the road.
Barkhurst relayed some interesting statistics. People tend to fall into four categories when it comes to cycling: “Noway/nohow” – about 33 percent of the population, who have no interest in cycling. “Strong and fearless” – about 1 percent who will ride anywhere, anytime. “Really confident” – about 5 percent who are comfortable taking their bikes on just about any street. And “interested but concerned” – the 60 percent majority who would like to bike or bike more but worry about safety.
It’s that big last group of “interested but concerned” that the city has in mind as it looks toward connecting bikeways, building new ones and adding elements that mitigate auto-bike conflicts.
“That’s the group who would like to go on bikes with their family to get an ice cream or to get exercise,” Barkhurst said. “To attract that group you have to make it feel safe and comfortable. A protected bike lane is probably the easiest way to start attracting that group of people. Especially if there’s a physical barrier, people feel safer and they think, ‘I could go there with my kids.’ ”
It seems to me that Albuquerque has the strong and fearless riders in spades and plenty of riders of all capabilities who will happily spend their time on the protected multiuse trails. But hopping on the cruisers to cycle out for dinner or taking the kids on their bikes for ice cream?
That’s a threshold we’ve yet to cross in anything resembling a trend – but protected bike lanes on some major streets might be the trick to allying some of the concern of that big group of potential riders.