Devolder: Bicycle Safety

Los Alamos

Los Alamos County/Public Works has requested input to a POLCO survey on bicycles. 

As a long-time motor vehicle driver in Los Alamos County, you could never pay me enough to ride a bicycle in Los Alamos County.

The following are a variety of vehicular issues which affect bicycle safety:

  1. It is a poor driving decision to pull into an oncoming traffic lane in order to pass a bicycle.
  2. Many minivan drivers are typically distracted with cell phones or disciplining kids in the back seat.  The driver’s focus may not be on bicycle traffic.
  3. Los Alamos County drivers are notorious for their inability to drive in their own traffic lane – particularly on sections of roads that are curved (for example, the area between the Speedway Station and the Baptist Church in Los Alamos). They have a tendency to wander from the slow lane into the fast lane or the bike lane. This is not so much an issue related to distracted driving. It is an issue of sloppy driving. (Note: Cement mixer drivers seem to be very good at staying in the middle of their own lane. I like those guys.)
  4. Some drivers tailgate other drivers. A bicycle could get hit while a driver is trying to avoid a rear-end collision. 
  5. Vehicle speeding present serious hazards for bicycles.  If a driver is not able to control their vehicle, a collision with a bicycle may occur. Los Alamos County drivers often speed going to or leaving work.
  6. Areas with narrow roads (for example, Western Area) or curved roads (with parked cars) present visibility problems. A bicycle has a narrow profile and may be difficult to see. 
  7. Some drivers have developed the habit of parking on the wrong side of the street (convenient but dangerous). This means that they may pull out in front of a bicycle. Some drivers who park on the correct side of the street may also pull out without looking in their rearview mirror. Bicycles have a narrow profile and move very quickly.
  8. Contractors are a big problem. They may talk on their cell phones or talk with their helpers while driving. Some have trouble staying in their own traffic lane.  As a result of poor transport practices, landscaping debris and other materials/tools may fall out of their vehicles. Various debris which fall out of vehicles can become road hazards.
  9. Substance abuse (that is, alcohol and drug use) while driving presents huge risks to bicycles.
  10. I dislike when dogs are passengers in motor vehicles with open windows. A barking dog could inadvertently scare a bicycle operator and cause an accident. Similarly, loud radios and loud vehicles can inadvertently scare a bicycle operator.
  11. Throwing trash out of vehicle is a poor practice. Debris could hit a bicycle operator or create a road hazard.

The following are bicycle-related issues:

  1. It bothers me when bicycle riders decide to travel in traffic lanes instead of the bicycle lane. This puts the rider and vehicle operators at risk. This is a problem on roads which are poorly maintained by the State of New Mexico (for example, locations in the Jemez Mountains). Shoulders are in poor condition and/or non-existent. 
  2. Young bicycle operators may wander around in the bike lane. Most of the time I see younger bicycle operators accompanied by an adult.
  3. I really appreciate bicycle operators who utilized flashing lights on their bicycles or red reflectors on their bicycle wheels so that they are visible art dawn, dusk and night time.  
  4. It is suicide for bicycle operators to use vehicle lanes on the Los Alamos Bridge during rush hour.  It could also create a chain-reaction collision if a bicycle falls down in a traffic lane.
  5. In some cases, bicycle operators need to share the sidewalks with pedestrians.  Extra care may be needed when bicycles utilize crosswalks where pedestrians may be present. 

The following are infrastructure issues: 

  1. There is a rotten (missing) section of curbing on the west side of Spruce Street. If a bicycle falls into the hole in that area, it may kill the operator. The curbing has been in poor condition for 10 years or more.
  2. Bicycle lanes are not of a uniform width. There is probably little that can be done about that issue. 
  3. Gravel, water, ice, ice-melting material, motor oil, glass from liquor bottles, trash/landscaping debris, animals and poor road conditions are hazards to bicycle operators. Extra care is needed to prevent the loss of control of a bicycle. Los Alamos County sweeps the roads which helps.
  4. Deep depressions or potholes present risks to bicycle operators.  


  1. If there is oncoming motor vehicle traffic, it is best to wait until that traffic has passed before pulling into the oncoming traffic lane in order to pass a bicycle. This is not too difficult, but does require some patience. 
  2. Bicycle riders and vehicle operators on State of New Mexico-maintained roads need to work at sharing the road in an equitable manner – particularly in the Jemez Mountains. 
  3. Motor vehicle operators need to avoid tailgating and rear-end vehicle collisions by following the 4-second spacing rule. Avoiding the distractions (that is, cell phone use while driving, substance abuse) and speeding are of great importance. If a driver hits a bicycle, it can become a $5 million law suit. Personally, I like to avoid bicycles whenever possible. I am particularly attentive to bicycles with baby trailers.
  4. It would help to mill depressions in white-line locations which define bike lanes – particularly around curves. This might help drivers to remain in their own traffic lane.
  5. I asked a motorcycle operator how he is able to stay alive on New Mexico highways. He told me that he is always looking at motor vehicle drives and he works to anticipate what they are going to do. He is constantly vigilant.  
  6. Helmet use to prevent head injuries during a fall or collision is a good practice.
  7. Remain vigilant for deer and other animals. They can quickly run out in front of bicycles, motorcycles, and motor vehicles.
  8. Please don’t ride next to another bicycle operator in the bike lane.
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