Educating Roadway Users: A.R.T. and Everywhere Else

Any mention of “the need for education” on any topic almost always results in a solid collective groan of weary disapproval from just about everybody. I’ve worked in K-12 education for more than two decades.

I know.

So get your groan on this morning, as I mention the need for education when it comes to A.R.T., bike boulevards and any other new-fangled traffic infrastructure. Let’s take a brief look at Central Avenue @ Monroe as an example:


Here’s the wide shot of an intersection with lots of new-fangledom. We’ve got:

  • A bike box in the left northbound lane of Monroe;
  • A white line behind that bike box that I know, as a driver, that I’m not supposed to cross, but I can’t see the traffic on Central very well if I stay behind it, especially if anybody is parked in the lot across Monroe;
  • Some new sign next to the Central Ave. sign across the way (more about that below),
  • No signage telling us whether the left or right lane here on Monroe requires us to turn left, go straight or turn right; and,
  • A bunch of signs on the intersection light arm across Central that we can’t see very well from here.

Now let’s get a bit closer:


Okay, now we can clearly see that sign next to the Central Ave. sign (and yes, I am humming this song while writing this post), and it seems to tell us that “bus only” can turn into one lane, while cars can turn into two, but we can’t seem to remember buses running on Monroe and can’t remember if Central now has two driving lanes in this stretch or just one.

And what’s with that new “18 mph” speed limit sign immediately after that white van turned off Central onto Monroe, the van that’s kinda turning directly into the opposite lane at a speed that very likely already above 18 mph?

There’s a lot going on at what was once the relatively simple intersection of Central @ Monroe. Back in the “good ‘ol days” anybody trying to bike or walk across Central knew you had to wait about five minutes for the light to change after you hit the “beg button.” Just because you did. And then you scrambled across Central trying not to get killed.

No, those were not actually “good ‘ol days,” but in the minds of many these new-fangled changes lead to one of the following reactions:

  1. All this crap is because of A.R.T. and I hate A.R.T., so these changes are bad and blah, blah, blah, this is Albuquerque not X, blah, blah, blah
  2. I have little to no idea what to do here as a motorist, so I’m going to either avoid this intersection or pretty much just keep doing what I was doing in the “good ‘ol days,” especially as I know other drivers have little to no idea what to do here, too; and,
  3. I’m gonna try to “do the right thing,” but I don’t know exactly what that is, and I feel kinda bad about that.

The very proper reaction to all of the viewpoints above is to point out “the need for education,” and I can already hear you groaning out there. Still, in calling for more education, one is not insinuating that :

  1. The intersection of Central @ Monroe is now “bad.”
  2. Drivers and other users are to be faulted for not being educated.

No, instead what I am directly stating is that education is hard. I know, and not just because I’ve done it “professionally” for over twenty years. I know, and you know, because just look around us, particularly at our evolving traffic system.

Implementing new, safer roadway engineering is difficult on many levels, none more so than the difficulty in trying to “educate” users largely only via signage, and a stencil here or there. We all know, traffic engineers included, that signs and stencils are not ideal educational tools. But what else do we have?

Example: There’s been a new-fangled “Copenhagen Left” bike treatment at the dangerous intersection of Broadway @ MLK for a couple of years now. If we could poll all users, (cyclists, motorists, pedestrians, those using transit), my guess is that about 20% could tell a survey researcher what the heck the purpose of the little green box at the northwest corner of Broadway @ MLK.

But how do we move that 20% figure closer to at least 80%? Do we:

  1. Have a person hand little informational brochures to users as they pass by? (Note: This was an actually discussed idea when this treatment was in the planning stage; okay, it wasn’t that seriously discussed);
  2. Start an ABQ “Copenhagen Left” Facebook page and Twitter handle, using Instagram photos of that little green box with local and international celebrities standing in it as informational “clickbait”?
  3. Just not have a little green box at all, citing the fact that nobody will know what it is and that Albuquerque isn’t X, and blah, blah, blah, blah…

No, we’re not going to do any of the above, although the social media idea would be fun to try. We’re not gonna just throw up our hands and not install safer new-fangled infrastructure. We’re instead just gonna have that little green box there, just like we just have those new-fangled signs, green box, etc. at Central @ Monroe.

Please note that this post offers no solution to the dilemma. Better Burque is very, VERY interested in any ideas you have to really solve this dilemma. And we’re not alone, this is a dilemma, to some extent, world-wide.

Education is hard.

6 thoughts on “Educating Roadway Users: A.R.T. and Everywhere Else

    1. Bill- Cars stop before the wide white line before the green box, in which only bicyclists may stop. Driving a car, I got “educated” about this at Washington and Indian School years ago by a cyclist, who made me feel like an idiot. I’ve ridden a bike through that same intersection many times.


  1. Perhaps the bike box should have “ONLY” under the glyph. (Next year, we can add “Don’t stop cars here.”) The bus / car lanes sign has been irritating me since I saw it. Cars / No Cars might make more sense. Why label bus behavior when all the bus drivers should already know? Some things may be helped when all of the BUS ONLY lanes are a different color, though it will be interesting to see the transition needed in intersections like this one (starts as a spot of red that widens into the BUS ONLY lane).


  2. Thanks for the clarification, Mark. I think adding “ONLY” under the glyph would be a good idea, too.

    Sometimes I think I’m the only one at an intersection who knows to stop behind the wide white line and not on top of the crosswalk. Especially frustrating if I’m walking in said crosswalk. Sigh.


  3. Here is my first-hand experience in doing education to change behaviors in the field of public safety. Back in the late 1980’s (when seat belt use was voluntary) multiple outlet media and awareness campaigns were instituted to increase seat belt use. Posters in the schools, TV and radio campaigns, pamphlets, billboards, and other awareness strategies, like me wearing the Vince and Larry Seat Belt Dummies suit (I was Larry, naturally) and a Buckle Bear costume for mall and school visits resulted in a marginal increase in seat belt use in targeted areas.

    Passing a law requiring seat belt use resulted in more than a doubling of seat belt use. I am not advocating for or suggesting a law be passed in this case. I am pointing out the limitations of stand alone education campaigns to change personal behavior, they are expensive and have limited effectiveness in changing behavior. They were effective when used to educate the public about the new law requiring seat belt use and combined with active police enforcement.

    What about cases when passing a law will have little or no impact (lacks enforcement, other police priorities, limited or no resources for awareness campaigns about the law, entrenched human (primate) behavior, etc…). In these cases idiot proofing is required. Good examples of this are; air bags that automatically deploy during accidents, re-engineering cars interiors with shock adsorbing steering wheels and dashboards AND re-engineering roadways with things like banked curves, textured road surfaces that make a loud noise when a driver drifts out of their lane or approaches a stop sign.

    I don’t have a specific solution for the problem posed by this blog but in many instances when addressing issues of traffic or public safety there are other municipalities around the globe that have faced similar problems and have come up with effective solutions. Of course New Mexico is soooo unique (maybe the alien landing created a special vortex) that something that worked elsewhere could not possibly work here.

    Notes on Buckle Bear and Larry the Crash Test Dummy: There was not a cleaning budget for the Buckle Bear outfit. After multiple outings in warm weather Buckle Bear began smelling like a real bear, especially on the inside of the suit.
    I was once in a changing room with Smokey the Bear. Smokey had a vest with ice packs. Smokey was COOL!

    In the case of Larry the Crash Test Dummy, wearing a plastic helmet that fully enclosed the head with only a small opening for breathing is not a suitable job for a person with claustrophobia.


    1. Excellent insights, anonymous, and love the entire story about the Buckle Bear. Very much agree with “idiot proofing” in that successfully implemented changes are best when users can remain passive (air bags and other car re-engineering) or bothered sufficiently (rumble strips). Relying on rational approaches that make humans think and change their behavior is usually a bad idea. Almost always, it would seem.


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