Albuquerque traffic engineering to cyclists: “@#$%&!”

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By John Fleck

The Better Burque Tactical Urbanism Team (BBTUT) needs your help.

The traffic sign above seems to be telling the driver of the big bus on the left,  “At some point in the near future, you’re going to have to slide over into this bicycle lane.”

It seems to be telling the bicyclist trying to use that lane (in this case me), “Fuck off. This street has more important things to do, you’re not supposed to be here.”

But city ordinance and federal regulations say otherwise.

In the parlance of the traffic engineer, what we’ve got here is a “Temporary Traffic Control Zone” (TTC zone). Federal regulations governing what traffic engineers are supposed to do here are pretty clear:

The needs and control of all road users (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians within the highway, or on private roads open to public travel (see definition in Section 1A.13), including persons with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Title II, Paragraph 35.130) through a TTC zone shall be an essential part of highway construction, utility work, maintenance operations, and the management of traffic incidents. (emphasis added)

The verb there is “shall”.

And yet, as we’ll detail with examples below, this basic principle – the needs “of all road users” – are being ignored in TTC zones in Albuquerque. Over and over. And over. And over*n.

We’ll explain this in more detail below – how the rules work, and a bunch of examples. But first, for the tl;dr audience, here’s the help we need:

  • If you are a user of Albuquerque’s SeeClickFix or 311 citizen reporting systems and you see a bicycle lane or sidewalk blocked by signs set up to warn cars of upcoming hazards, file a report. This can feel pretty frustrating (Trust us, we at the BBTUT have experience with this!) because often the city’s pledge to fix things doesn’t result in them actually being fixed, or at least not in a timely fashion. But it does create a record.
  • Come on over to the comments on this post and leave a link to your SCF report, or if you filed through 311 just tell us when and where the problem occurred. We’ll collect ’em all.
  • Or just leave a comment documenting the incident. We’re thinking about some sort of a “blocked sidewalk/bike lane trading card” game, or maybe using them to inform policy discussions.
  • We would of course never encourage you to just move the damn signs yourself so they’re not blocking the bike lane or sidewalk.

The Rules: “MUTCD” and “Temporary Traffic Control Zones”

The regulations for how to go about helping people safely navigate construction zones etc. can be found in an 862-page tome called the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, 2009 edition (including 2012 revisions).

The MUTCD is a bible of sorts (in the non-religious sense of the word) for the standardized signs that populate the modern United States.

It’s explicit about what the word “traffic” in its title means:

Traffic—pedestrians, bicyclists, ridden or herded animals, vehicles, streetcars, and other conveyances either singularly or together while using for purposes of travel any highway or private road open to public travel.

The Critical Mass cyclists’ slogan – “We’re not blocking traffic. We are traffic.”? It’s enshrined in federal regulations, for pedestrians, cyclists and herded animals!

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None of the MUTCD signs actually say “fuck off”.

The MUTCD has a ton of fine sign pictures that you can use as clip art or on your roads. And it has a lengthy section (Part 6) on “Temporary Traffic Control”. This is where we find signs like the one above telling the bus to merge into the bike lane and telling the cyclists to fuck off.

This is where the problem lies, because the MUTCD actually doesn’t tell the sign people to tell the cyclists to fuck off. It directs them to do the opposite:

The needs and control of all road users (motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians within the highway, or on private roads open to public travel (see definition in Section 1A.13), including persons with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), Title II, Paragraph 35.130) through a TTC zone shall be an essential part of highway construction, utility work, maintenance operations, and the management of traffic incidents. (MUTCD Section 6A.01, emphasis added)

That “shall” verb again.

So when a “sidewalk closed sign” blocks access to a bus stop when the nearest actual construction is a quarter mile away?

That violates MUTCD.

Or when a “Road Work Ahead” sign blocks a bike lane with no effort to accommodate the cyclists?

Yup. Violates MUTCD. Repeat after me. “All road users.”

Lather. Rinse. Repeat. (See our list below of a few examples we’ve collected over the past year.)

We’re not just being whiny here. Since last spring, when the Better Burque Tactical Urbanism Team began a systematic haphazard effort to document these problems, we’ve filed 17 reports with the city. That’s just stuff we saw in our normal travels around Albuquerque, and had time to report.

This happens. All. The. Time.

In response to our complaints about the signs above (on Carlisle NE between Constitution and Lomas), the city itself offers an explanation of what should have happened – signs well ahead of the construction zone warning motorists and bicyclists that bicycles would be merging from the bike lane into the car lane (the dreaded “share the road” sign), and moving the “road work ahead sign” out of the bike lane entirely. Which the BBTUT did themselves after the city’s contractors failed to do it.

One of the reasons we here at the BBTUT are so attentive to this issue (beyond the fact that it’s dangerous) is that it’s symptomatic of a problem in the culture of contemporary traffic engineering. Despite the lofty language of Albuquerque’s “Complete Streets” policies – “to efficiently serve all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders and motorists” – we’re seeing here, in practice, a traffic engineering culture that is focused on “motorists” to the exclusion of the rest of the “all the road users” contemplated by the actual written policies.

Every time we see a sign warning motorists of construction ahead slapped down willy-nilly in a bike lane or blocking a sidewalk, ignoring the presence and needs of non-motorist traffic, we’re reminded of how far we have yet to go.

The traffic engineering community’s actions here are speaking louder than the policies’ words.

A bunch of examples from the last year

  • Jan. 23-25, 2020 (see also here for the part where the city pledges to get this fixed which hadn’t happened yet two days later)
  • Jan. 24, 2020
  • Jan. 14, 2020 (Here the city person argues that finding a place for the “road work ahead” sign is hard in this particular stretch of road because blocking the adjacent sidewalk would violate MUTCD. Which is thoughtful, I guess, though we’d be happier if “don’t block sidewalks because it violates MUTCD” became a more generally observed policy, rather than simply being invoked as an excuse for blocking the bike lane instead.)
  • Jan. 6, 2019
  • Dec. 16, 2019
  • Dec. 12, 2019
  • Dec. 3, 2019 (a particularly good bad one – city person responds three days later saying they’ve been moved, reporter returns another three days later noting that they’re still there)
  • Nov. 15, 2019 (A personal favorite for the city’s response that the sign wasn’t really blocking the bike lane. As the person who had to choose at 20 miles per hour on my bike between darting onto the sidewalk or into car traffic to dodge the sign, I would have to disagree.)
  • Nov. 13, 2019 (This one accompanied by a promise from the city to have its contractor move the sign. Which didn’t happen. See Nov. 15 report above and the argument about whether it was or wasn’t blocking the bike lane.)
  • Oct. 4, 2019
  • Sept. 22, 2019
  • Sept. 18, 2019
  • Sept. 7, 2019
  • Aug. 21, 2019
  • Aug. 15, 2019
  • Aug. 9, 2019
  • July 20, 2019
  • July 4, 2019
  • May 4, 2019
  • March 3, 2019

This list is by no means complete. It’s the 17 BBTUT has filed over the last year, based areas of Albuquerque where we ride, plus a few others we found filed in SeeClickFix. If you have more, stick ’em in the comments below.

On Buses and Herded Animals

We’ll set aside for a moment the bus in the picture above encroaching on the bike lane (but if anyone from ABQ Ride is reading, it was southbound on Carlisle, pretty sure the #5, at 9:58 a.m. this morning, Jan. 25, 2020 – I’ve given up on trying to report buses encroaching on bike lanes after this experience).

The really important thing is this bit about herded animals. That seems to be saying that if my cow wanders onto the road, it’s not traffic. But if I herd it there? We’d really love examples of herded animals in Albuquerque as traffic. Leave a note in the comments.

4 thoughts on “Albuquerque traffic engineering to cyclists: “@#$%&!”

  1. Those signs are heavier than they look. As i found out after the contractor placed one on a sidewalk forcing a bunch of 5-11 year olds getting out of school into on coming 60 MPH traffic on Lomas. With no actual construction apparent.

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