Gas is cheaper than it has been since the start of W's second term. Mission accomplished!
And yet…cars don't seem to have the same old charm. Maybe it's the sunny winter days or the death-stink emanating from Detroit, but we're finding other ways to get around. Santa Fe City Councilor Patti Bushee, who chairs the city's Bicycle and Trails Advisory Committee, says she has seen more interest in cycling now than at any time in her 15-year Council career.
In the past, she says, "You could count on a few people showing up in their helmets and with their pants tucked into their socks." This year, Bushee says, roughly 70 people crammed into a small room just to stand through one of her committee meetings. Cycling is "really taking off," she says.
Daily bike commuters report seeing more full bike racks and fellow pedalers on the road. Their sometimes-idiotic behavior—like riding down streets in the wrong direction or at night without lights—is characteristic of newbies.
Nobody's tracking local ridership systematically, but there's evidence that cycling is more than a post-oil-shock fad.
New bike sales at rob and charlie's have entered a seasonal slump, but more people are coming in for repairs, suggesting that the appeal of a cheap ride hasn't fallen along with gas prices.
The city has made some accommodations for cyclists. You probably noticed the "sharrows"—a California import that marks bike-friendly routes—painted on some streets. Several of the Public Works Department's dozen bike-ped projects are nearing completion. And good luck finding a remaining copy of the city's bike trail map, updated at long last this year.
But is the city doing enough? Not according to those who "share the road" on a daily basis.
"Santa Fe's better, but it's got a long ways to go," Dan Baker, an activist with the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico, says. "In any other town—Boulder, Portland, even Chicago—they realize the young, yuppie-biker-professional person is a whole class in itself. Here, they just don't really want 'em. If you're not buying artwork, you don't have enough money."
Baker knows whining can be counterproductive. On the other hand, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. So let's indulge some gripes.
Take the mostly finished Rail Trail. It's a pleasant ride that provides a much-needed out-of-traffic route running north to south. It is not, however, the backbone to a seamless alternative-transportation network envisioned by city planners.
"I think a lot of people are wondering, 'What is the plan, and where will I be able to get on and off the trail?'" Baker says. "In its typical fashion, the city is still missing very inexpensive short connectors to the trail."
The easiest access points are where the trail intersects with major streets. These are few and far between, and can be dicey.
For example, the Rail Trail meets the existing Arroyo De Los Chamisos Trail—which runs south to Rodeo Road—at St. Michael's Drive. Anyone who has attempted the crossing at St. Michael's knows to look both ways—or else.
What can be done about a major highway severing two pedestrian trails? The bureaucratic response is not encouraging.
Leroy Pacheco, the city traffic engineer in charge of trails, says the St. Michael's crossing is the New Mexico Department of Transportation's responsibility. And DOT engineer Paul Lindberg would rather not say whether the crossing is adequate.
"I was building what was in the plans," he says. The plans didn't include pedestrian signals.
Stephen Newhall crosses St. Michael's every day and reports no problems. Newhall, however, is an experienced cyclist who commutes well after rush hour, and he worries less-experienced riders may run into trouble.
Worse yet is the nasty intersection at St. Francis Drive and Cerrillos Road, near the Railyard—which Bushee sees as the possible base for a bike-share program.
The intersection is stressful enough in a car. On two wheels, it feels like auditioning for the role of Street Pizza in an episode of House, MD.
The fix? A long-discussed bike and pedestrian overpass at St. Francis—maybe.
Though the planned Acequia Trail, running west of St. Francis behind the New Mexico School for the Deaf, could be finished by summer, the proposed multimillion-dollar overpass is years away.
Bushee says city engineers are moving ahead too quickly with the overpass. "I think it was a bit premature in letting contracts for design go out," Bushee says. "It's not really clear that that's got 100 percent support in the community."
Judging by a Baca-Sierra Vista Neighborhood Association meeting last week, a vocal minority is opposed to any overpass.
But Councilor Miguel Chavez defends the projects on the grounds that the city has failed to spend enough for cyclists and pedestrians. "Let's not do anything too fast, heaven forbid," Chavez says, mocking Bushee's concerns. "It's either going to be too fast or too slow for Councilor Bushee."
Either way, slow going beats stuck in traffic.
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