Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cerrillos and St. Francis Bike Trap

The New Mexican had an article a few days ago about NM-DoT putting up the bicycle vs. railroad tracks hazard sign (see below) because more than a few cyclists are crashing hard upon crossing the tracks at Cerrillos and St. Francis. This intersection is a huge issue, given that it basically bisects much of Santa Fe and carries a tremendous amount of traffic.

Basically, even under more optimal conditions, you have to maneuver yourself into position in order to cross railroad tracks with your front wheel as close to a right angle to the tracks as you can. That means taking the lane and using it to optimize your approach to the tracks, esp. on Cerrillos. As one commenter, an LCI, alludes below, and I concur, its not even likely that a considerable number of cyclists (most?) can do this maneuver at this intersection, given the angles and heavy traffic. See the comment at the end.

At any rate, take a look at the video.But this is one intersection where I would be wise to advise many cyclists that unless you are pretty sure of yourself, to dismount and use the ped crossings, at least if you are headed Southwest (?)on Cerillos or turning left from Cerrillos to St. Francis headed south. Or, if turning left, delay the left as long as possible to minimize getting your wheel parallel to the tracks.

How to Properly Cross Rail Tracks on your Bike from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Note: Click on the pictures below to see them at full size.

Looking North on St. Francis (sidewalk and road). It doesn't look too bad. The tracks are not parallel, but not a terrible angle.


West on Cerrillos (sidewalk and road) and its bad. The tracks cross at a very high angle to your approach. The two left turn lanes are to the left (in the pic) of the RR crossing X sign. It looks to me like the sidewalk is just as dangerous--you have to veer left to avoid that idiotically placed sign, thus steering close to parallel to the tracks. And I'd bet anyone a beer that the sign planted in the middle of the sidewalk is an ADA violation. Someone needs to call a lawyer.

The new Beware of Death sign.

Although this sign is good as far as it goes, i.e., that it alerts cyclists to use caution, NM DoT needs to do much better. This sign does not show cyclists how to deal with the situation or how hazardous it is. Nor does this treatment take into account that NMDoT and the RailRunner have made cycling through the heart of Santa Fe hazardous. But if you have to ride here, consider dismounting and crossing the worst parts of this intersection as a pedestrian. Or, check out the sign and the technique shown in the video I embedded, courtesy of Streetsfilms and the Cascade Bicycle Club. I doubt their sign is MUTCD compliant, but not sure this sign is either.

Maybe the long and convoluted discussion of a bike-ped specific crossing (see below for examples of discussion) should actually get some serious consideration. The bottom line is that for cyclists, this critical intersection is unsafe at any speed.

 St. Francis-Cerrillos crossing: Too late to do it right?
Plans for Overpass Go Badly

11-17-10 Addition: Comments from Tim Rogers, BPE consultant with the Santa Fe MPO and former NM BPE Coordinator:

1.  Khal: I did not see any comment about the NEW signs blocking the sidewalk, which they do, particularly on approach to the skewed sidewalk crossing. I have commented to Tom Trowbridge of NMDOT on this.

I have stopped many times to watch cyclists use the sidewalk and have seen two go down plus one close call - by someone who had been verbally warned by me. I have seen or heard about ambulances at the spot picking up cyclists more than once. All four members of the "car-free family" have gone down there. I have heard additional testimony to BTAC and anecdotal evidence such as what you have posted. So there is no doubt in my mind that the actual number of persons who have gone down on the sidewalk alone is in the hundreds. There could have been a huge improvement through City's current at-grade trail project by creating a perpindicular link to this sidewalk, but it seems as far as the city is concerned it is NMDOT's problem. I live six blocks from here and unlike the designers, I will have to use whatever is built.

I will make the claim that I know AASHTO bike guidelines and AASHTO and FHWA pedestrian safety design better than anyone in the state. Unlike anyone involved in this project, it is 100% of my professional focus. I have crossed this intersection on foot or bike more than a thousand times. I have visited the intersection with national pedestrian safety and trail design consultants. I asked both the city and the consultant to be part of the design process over a year ago and never heard back until there was a final design for an at-grade trail that does not address this, takes a circuitous route to avoid having to purchase right of way, and includes no improvements at ADA ramps or crosswalk.  Apparently the intention is for cyclists to dismount to cross, which is not an approach support by any guidance.

There is a lot that could be done very easily if the city chose to discuss options. To have been excluded from this process and then see that they have broken ground with this design frankly turns my stomach.

2.  Believe it or not the skewed rail and the overpass/underpass are almost completely unrelated except where this at-grade connection is concerned.  The overpass/underpass is for the Acequia trail to the north, not for ped or bike movements at the nearby intersection which there is no way it can logically serve in any convenient way.  So it only solves skewed rail issue for acequia trail users, who should never really have had to cross the rail in the first place.  The overpass/underpass would never be recommendable if there were no direct trail alignment for it to serve.

That said, the at grade connections to signalized crosswalks at St F and Cerrillos are needed in any case (with or without grade separated trail crossing), which I have always advocated for (with improvements) and that is what the city is building right now (albeit not with any improvements to road crossing.

Skewed rail on sidewalk is an easy fix that city is missing by pursuing the easiest (for them) at-grade trail alignment, which is well north of the tracks where the grade separated alignment should be someday, along acequia and then along St. Francis Dr. itself, which is not only longer than the direct rail line route but longer than the existing hazardous sidewalk route.

If they had thought of this segment as the Rail Trail, which it is, they could have pursued ROW to hug the north side of the rail line, the most direct alignment to the intersection, and then they would have created an easy opportunity to create a pedestrian link directly across rail to sidewalk so people using that sidewalk could cross the rail at a perpindicular angle.  All using the same existing concrete pad that is part of the sidewalk today.  (That reason alone should be enough to simply purchase the ROW which is useless to owner - NMSD - anyway.)  They would be creating a superior alignment to get to the crosswalks from the Railyard Park, with no rail crossing, which is an indirect solution, AND they would be able to directly solve the sidewalk problem for bikes, strollers, wheelchairs etc., for anyone that still happens to use the sidewalk.  This concept has been on our web site since last December (see , Bikeway Planning Presentation, Inset B) all of which I would have been happy to work with city and/or consultant on in the year-plus since I offered my assistance.

OK, then they could eradicate the remaining sidewalk between the rail and the intersection so that there would be no skewed sidewalk crossing anymore.  That in fact MIGHT in turn create some space for pavement along Cerrillos Rd. to create a kind of escape area so that on-road cyclists could cross the rail at a perpendicular angle too, as shown on your blog and in AASHTO guidance on this issue.  That concept is complicated by the impending right turn onto northbound St. Francis but in any case it is well beyond the scope of anything that the city or its consultants might have thought about under the current project.

If possible, that all would at least address two out of three of the skewed rail problems, but especially the worst, the sidewalk.  The third problem, which is harder to address, is for eastbound cyclists on Cerrillos.  Although NMDOT put up a sign on northbound St. Francis Dr. too, the approaches to the rail on St. Francis Dr. and on crosswalks along St Francis Dr. are far less significant because the skew is really not so bad there.  I have not heard of anyone falling because they were riding on or along St. Francis Dr.


cloucycles said...

Khal - I am not an engineer, but in my opinion this intersection needs to be redesigned to accommodate bicyclists. Warning signage is almost a joke.
On a visit to Santa Fe, I fell hard on the tracks at the intersection of Cerillos and St. Francis. I was turning left from southbound-ish Cerillos to eastbound-ish St. Francis. I am an experienced cyclist and a LCI and practice proper track crossing technique. At this intersection, however, it was impossible for me to use proper technique given the angle of the tracks, the width of turn lane (it is a double lane left-turn-only configuration), and the high level of traffic. To use proper position the right most left-turn lane needs to be considerably wider. In my instance, I positioned myself as far right as possible, and the car behind me took my position as permission to pass while in the intersection. As you indicated the cyclist needs the full lane to negotiate the tracks, crossing the lane from right to left to cross the tracks at as close to a right angle as possible AND still these tracks are deadly. To further my poor experience of cycling in Santa Fe - as I lay dazed, confused, and bruised on the pavement, trying to unclip and get out of the intersection, NO MOTORIST STOPPED. The car behind me stopped for a bit, then proceeded to ease by me as I lay on the pavement, as did the car following. As it took me a bit to get up and get to the sidewalk out of the way, the signal changed and cars proceeding through the intersection on St. Francis simply drove around me. All that said, the sign is inadequate: this intersection needs engineered bicycle facilities.

Steve A said...

The bottom photos look like a set of tracks that bent my REAR wheel many years ago. It only took one incident to teach me not to cross tracks at a shallow angle.

The sign needs to let cyclists know they ought to approach the tracks in the left side of the lane and then jog sharply right. If that's not enough, I'd turn pedestrian.

Anonymous said...

Have you talked with Tom Trowbridge about this? I'll send him your blog link. I agree with you!
Bicycle Coalition of NM

Anonymous said...

@cloucycles: Southbound St Francis to eastbound Cerrillos looks like you cross the tracks nearly at a right angle. Perhaps you meant westbound Cerrillos to southbound St Francis? Which sure looks deadly to me. I would use the leftmost left turn lane instead, and avoid the tracks entirely -- breaking the "rightmost lane leading to your destination rule" but with good reason.

The mistake here is placing the tracks right through the center of that intersection! Though I don't see an easy alternative. I'm thinking that maybe the DOT could ban left turns in a couple of directions, and require road users to travel past that intersection and then return via either a jughandle or some kind of cloverleaf arrangement.