Thursday, June 4, 2009

Albuquerque the bike friendly city? New Mexico a bike friendly state?

While surfing “the internets I came across the League of American Bicyclists Bike Friendly States/Community List(s) for 2009.

Depending on how and which list you read, Albuquerque, N.M. is the “third most-friendly bicycle city in its population group, behind Portland, Ore., and Austin.”  On the other hand, if you read the LAB Bike Friendly State List, New Mexico is 46 out of 50. Not so “most-friendly” if you ask me. 

And despite the glowing remarks of Albuquerque Journalist Rosales that “the Duke City is a crown jewel for cyclists,” the LAB notes “While New Mexico has a bicycle advisory council that has meetings scheduled every quarter, the state still has discriminatory mandatory sidepath and mandatory bike lane laws, no bike master plan or accommodation policy, and no League Bike Ed classes have been taught in New Mexico within the last year.”   The LAB, a fine group of folks I’m sure, appear to base their analysis on a review of municipal laws and Bike Ed classes.  A quick review of Bike Coalition of New Mexico’s website or Bike ABQ’s website by LAB would reveal more than the depressing analysis they give for New Mexico’s dismal ratings. Or better yet, LAB could review the quarterly meeting minutes of the New Mexico Department of Transportation Bicyle/Pedestrian/Equestrian Advisory Committeee! 

But then again, LAB would have a heart attack if they quizzed a 505 rider Rosales quotes in his odd column, Mr. Stephen Williamson, “When I first got here, I had bottles thrown at me. I had guns and knives drawn on me,” Williamson said. “That doesn't happen too often anymore. Fifteen, 20 years ago, it was like I was an alien on the street. People would look at me as if I was crazy. I would ride the trails and be the only one out there. Now you can see 50 or 60 riders in one hour.”  And those are “trails,” not Duke City streets. If you’re worried about guns and knives, check out the street scene where soccer moms are armed to the teeth with over sized SUV’s and bent on making the yellow light no matter what while talking on her cell phone and eating a breakfast burrito. Nowhere in Rosales’s column are the deplorable driving skills of Albuquerque drivers noted.  My experience these few weeks in the saddle makes me think that guns and knives are more preferable than the Albuquerque driver passing within three feet of me going 20 to 30 miles per hour over the speed limit. At least you see the knife or the gun.

But, to be fair, I agree with Rosales’s angle: Albuquerque is a good biking community, sort of.  I differ with his cheery opinion that the Duke City is the “Third-most bicycle friendly city.”  Yes, there are bike paths littered throughout the city, some connected, others illogically ending only to be taken over by signs with a bicycle and an arrow directing you to “go this way” to the next bike path that, amazingly, pops up out of no where miles away.  The moral: trust the signs and ye shall arrive. And I also agree with Mr. Stephenson.  While I haven’t had a knife fight or gun battle while biking, I’ve had a driver throw a beer bottle at me.  Which makes me wonder, whether LAB’s bike friendly state/community analysis considers drunk-driving data.  It doesn’t appear LAB does, I just checked.  If they did… New Mexico’s bike friendly stature may suffer a blow, or perhaps be elevated.  Who knows?  If the drunk driving data was included, how do we explain Rhode Island’s #35 bike friendly state ranking when that state is #1 in drunk driving fatalities? New Mexico is ranked #11.  This according to the rankings provided by Mother’s Against Drunk Driving. 

Perhaps, the quandary is in the way LAB ranks states:

All 50 states will be ranked annually by the League of American Bicyclists staff based on their responses to the ranking questionnaire.

In addition to the annual rankings, States can also apply for further recognition through the BFS award program. Applications are reviewed and scored by a committee of experts, League staff, and local cyclists in the state.

One problem right off the bat is that LAB Staff rankings appear to be the primary basis upon which the BFS/C list is established.  And if they’re based in Washington, DC and not in the South Valley of Albuquerque, New Mexico, just how much faith are we to put in their remote viewing skills?  I couldn’t find a list of the “committee of experts” nor of local cyclists they consult.  If the “committee of experts” is LAB’s National Advisory Group, it appears none are from New Mexico, based on the information provided at LAB’s website.  However, LAB listed Mr. Tim Rogers of Santa Fe in a congratulatory mention for assistance provided.  Mr. Rogers was the New Mexico State Bicycle/Pedestrian/Equestrian Coordinator based in New Mexico’s dusty version of Palm Springs: Santa Fe. FYI: Mr. Tom Trowbridge is the new state bike/walk/horse coordinator and a member of the board of directors for Bike Coalition of New Mexico, along with Mr. Rogers.

I’m seeing some mysterious holes in the LAB ranking system, like the one that flattened my tire yesterday afternoon.  Albuquerque has some awesome bike/trail paths. Don’t get me wrong.  The problem is that they pop up here and there with no apparent order. And, when you really need them, like a best friend who is an alcoholic, they are not there. You have to go extraordinary lengths just to reach them.  Accident and driving records and DUI data should be a part of the ranking system because these contribute to biking safety.  New Mexico is notorious for drunk-divers even though the state’s drunk-driving laws have been revamped.  There are still too many drunk drivers.  Add the notorious driving habits of Albuquerque drivers and we have much to be desired. 

My point after all this sardonic rambling: more work can be done to make biking in New Mexico an even better and safer experience.  The good work that has been done to make biking more enjoyable and safer should be recognized by LAB through more interaction with local riders.  And, an accurate analysis of bike friendly measures, including all pertinent data should be used to accurately rank states.  This would help us all be better bike advocates, and perhaps better columnists.    

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