FROM NO BIKES TO TWO BIKE LANES: That’s how fast things turned around last week on Chappell NE.
On Wednesday, 20 or so cyclists showed up at the Albuquerque City Council meeting to voice concerns over the new no-bike signs on Chappell between Osuna and Singer. The official version from the city’s Department of Municipal Development was that several calls had come in about cyclists on Chappell, including a few from the three large industrial businesses located on the west side of the street.
So a traffic engineer was dispatched, and he measured the road at 21 feet wide and got to watch a near-miss and ensuing fight between a cyclist and a driver as a bonus.
And up went the signs.
And off went the alarm bells.
Jennifer Buntz, president of the Duke City Wheelmen Foundation, says in fact the road is 30-33 feet wide, there has been just one bike-vehicle accident on that stretch in two decades (and it was the driver’s fault), and no other city streets are off-limits to cyclists.
Her bottom line on the precedent-setting signs is this: “Cyclists are capable of deciding the best route for their travels,” she says. “We do that every time we are on our bicycles. We can and do make choices with our ‘life, health and safety in mind.’ We do not need the city to do that for us.”
On Thursday, after DMD director Michael J. Riordan had the road width re-measured, and it came up 30-feet-plus, he told Buntz and other cyclists as well as city employees and councilors via email “I am asking that the traffic engineer re-evaluate his decision to make the section of roadway a restricted bikeways section. I am not declaring that his decision is wrong, only that I would like him to re-evaluate his decision based on today’s findings.”
On Friday, Riordan himself took the lead, re-evaluated the decision to place the signs and reversed it, at least in the short run.
“I have had further time to review Traffic Engineering’s cited conditions and discuss the adjacent construction of the North Diversion Channel Trail underpass at Osuna,” Riordan told cyclists via email just before 5 p.m. “The trail construction provides an opportunity for a potential solution to the bicycle restriction issue. As part of this traffic control plan on the trail reconstruction project, I have instructed the contractor to re-stripe Chappell Road between Singer and Osuna with two 5-foot bike lanes and two 11 1/2-foot vehicle lanes as a temporary detour route.
“This will provide bicyclists two options for detour,” Riordan’s email says. “The first, if bicyclists want to remain on the trail, they will be routed a short distance east to connect to the Bear Arroyo trail, which brings them to Osuna. The second will be the use of the temporary 5-foot bike lane on Chappell.”
Just three weeks into the near year, those brand new “no-bicycle signs will be covered.”
Riordan also says that during the six months of trail construction work, he and his staff will attend “GABAC (Greater Albuquerque Bicycling Advisory Committee) meetings to develop a long-term solution.”
As well as start a dialogue that could have, would have, should have prevented this brouhaha in the first place. Riordan ends his email by saying “I apologize again for the lack of communication from the Traffic Engineer and look forward to working with you on this solution.”
But Buntz isn’t busy riding a victory lap. Granted, she’s among the first to point out that the city’s Traffic Code says “operators of bicycles have the same rights as operators of automobiles in the use of streets, highways and roadways within the city.” She’s also among the first to emphasize the responsibility cyclists get with those rights.
“City Traffic Code also says ‘Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be subject to all the duties applicable to the drivers of motor vehicles,’ ” she says. ” ‘Any person operating a bicycle shall obey the instructions of official traffic control signals, signs, and other control devices applicable to vehicles.’ ”
And earlier in the week she sent out an email blast of her own, reminding officials and cyclists alike that along with enforcing speeding and no-cellphone laws for motorists, “educating cyclists and holding them accountable for their mistakes is also part of what it will take to actually improve safety of all road users.”
“I strongly urge the city to reconsider its position on this matter and choose to do something that will actually make a difference.”
Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays and West Siders and Rio Ranchoans on Thursdays. Reach her at 823-3858; email@example.com; P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103; or go to ABQjournal.com/traffic to read previous columns and join in the conversation.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal