One of the key tools for approaching “vision zero” – reducing transportation fatalities to zero – is the separation of vulnerable transportation system users from big wheeled machines that can cause their death. This is using engineering – in this case transportation system design – to add layers of safety, rather than depending solely on human behavior. Because we’re fallible, and if we design systems, for example, to minimize the times and places pedestrians and cars have to share a space, we’re less likely to have a dead person if a person walking or a person driving is absent-mindedly looking down at their phone.
Which brings us to the fascinating design of Albuquerque’s new “cycle track” on Rancho Seco, a little spur of a street between Central and Lomas. (map here) This new cycle track has been designed to do the exact opposite, with the system directing people riding bicycles heading north into a head-on collision with people driving cars heading south:
That’s the “cycle track” on the left – striped and signed for two-way bicycle traffic up the left (west) side of Rancho Seco. That’s a person driving a car doing exactly what the system design directed her to do – a left turn from the left turn pocket on Lomas that points her directly toward what would have been a head-on collision if I had actually used the cycle track as it was designed. No signs to warn her “Hey, this isn’t a regular street, the right lane you’re used to driving in is actually a cycle track for bicycles heading toward you!”
Luckily it’s more generally a kind of confusing mess around this intersection post-A.R.T. construction, so people are usually going pretty slowly. This has been in general one of the great benefits of A.R.T. construction. The confusion has slowed everyone down, making Central safer. And we’ve been promised that the city’s traffic engineering folks are working on a cycle track fix.