Tijeras Canyon Study

For the upcoming Greater Albuquerque Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting I was asked to document the New Mexico Dept. of Transportation repaving project on old route 66 from the Albuquerque city limits extending east for five miles towards the village of Tijeras.   We hope to foster constructive dialogue and set a positive example for a successful project in terms of balancing safety and access for all road users that we can cite in upcoming NMDOT long range planning processes.

What is it and why is it important:
* Tijeras Canyon Road, aka NM 333 or Rt. 66, is a local road that parallels Interstate 40 and provides access to the rural communities of Carnuel, Monticello, and Tijeras.
* Preserves and celebrates what is unique and cherished about New Mexico and encourages exploration via sustainable, healthy, and intimate modes of travel.
* Provides easily accessible active transportation route for residents and visitors from the front door of home or the hotel.  Powerful asset for promoting livability and active lifestyles.
* Nationally renowned tourist travel corridor including a designated route by Adventure Cycling facilitating interregional connectivity for adventure travelers.
* Exceptional bike and pedestrian route interconnecting metro area with premier road cycling, mountain biking and hiking routes in East Mountains, facilitating enjoyment of the best of both worlds for residents and visitors on either side of the Sandia and Manzano Mountains.
* Connects to State Bike Routes 12 (Manzano Mountains, NM 337 South, aka 14 South) and 14 (Turquoise Trail, including optional spur to Sandia Crest), and Albuquerque bikeways including the I-40 multiuse trail and the very popular Tramway Blvd NE in Albuquerque.
* Makes bicycling between Albuquerque and Santa Fe feasible via the Turquoise Trail without having to utilize any interstates.
* Provides low impact travel access to Albuquerque Open Space resources in East Mountains.
* Strengthens Albuquerque’s reputation as a great place to live and visit for people who love the outdoors.

What we are looking at: The primary focus is on the underpass of Interstate 40 where a center barrier and guard rails create a confined space on the roadway.  Here are some photos:
2014.12.8 East Mountains Loop 010
2014.11.24 Gutierrez Canyon 025
2014.11.24 Gutierrez Canyon 030
2014.11.24 Gutierrez Canyon 037
2014.11.24 Gutierrez Canyon 040
Questions and considerations that have come up so far:
* Could the guardrail be placed further toward the roadway edge to provide more clearance for bicyclists and pedestrians who are utilizing the road shoulder for travel?  The eastbound guardrail is tighter (ie has less shoulder space) than the westbound side.
* Will the final pavement surfacing layer, which District 3 engineering said is forthcoming and will “provide more friction on the surface”, be suitable for bicyclists riding on the shoulder?
* Will this confined stretch deter safety sensitive and beginning bicyclists from taking advantage of this facility?
* How will factors such as wind blast–which is prominent in this canyon–and debris, ice and snow, sand and dirt, impact the ride-ability of the shoulder?
* Is this facility providing sufficient clearance for wider bicycles such as hand cycles, racing wheelchairs, travel bicycles with panniers and trailers, and groups of bicyclists?
* What will the speed limit be through the underpass?
* Will there be road signs installed to alert road users to the presence of bicyclists and pedestrians in this underpass area?
* Will there be any special lighting considerations given the shadows created by the underpass?
* Will the “singing road”–the grooved pavement section designed to play America the Beautiful as automobile tires pass over it–bring cars into close proximity w/ bicycle and pedestrian traffic?
Further Considerations:
* Speed limit–currently most of the road is capped at 55mph.  Would 45mph be better?  Factors to consider include: There are many intersecting driveways and side roads on Tijeras Canyon.  There are mailboxes and school bus stops.  There are wildlife corridors including deer crossings.  Past mile marker 4 there are limited sight distances over undulating terrain.  The “singing road” section has a recommended speed of 45mph.  Most of the roads users are either locals, tourists who are unfamiliar with the road, and bicyclists, and Interstate 40 provides an excellent higher speed alternative for through traffic.  At the underpass area, what would an appropriate speed limit be?  The road curves through this section limiting sight distances.  30mph?
* Consider how utility port (“manhole”) covers impact rideability of shoulder
* Consider netting/stabilizing rock ledges on the road cuts to limit falling rocks accumulating on roadway and shoulder
* Plan for maintenance of entire roadway edge to edge to provide service to all road users
* Consider branding this special route given its cultural, historical, and recreational significance in the course of local, regional, and national affairs.  Let’s throw a party and celebrate this awesome resource!
UPDATE January 7, 2015
On a recent ride during winter conditions I made new observations and snapped a few more photographs (below) to document winter conditions.  The first general observation is that there is not a reduced speed limit going into the underpass.  Traveling westbound there is a curve warning sign with a recommended speed limit of 30mph.  Traveling eastbound there is no  warning sign that there is a curve with limited sight distances, nor are there even any signs recommending a reduced speed below the limit 55mph. This must be addressed.  In my estimation this is a 25 mph section, 35mph absolute maximum, just to simply keep one’s stopping distance greater than the limited sight distance around the curves.  Second, there are no warning signs to watch for people (pedestrians, pulled over vehicles, bicyclists) in the underpass.  Installing signage (perhaps a “smart” flashing type that senses road users) to alert motorists to expect the presence of human beings may save lives, including motorists and passengers due to heightened concentration and more cautious driving through this section.  This is after all nicknamed “deadman’s curve”!  Reducing speed to be careful of bicyclists and pedestrians makes it safer for everyone.Winter wise as you can see from the pictures, the guard rail and bridge overpass structure create zones of permanent shadows causing snow and ice accumulation.  This necessitates that the general travel lane be shared between bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.  Depending on where the pedestrian and bicyclist are able to safely position themselves without subjecting themselves to dangerous right edge hazards such as accumulated debris, snow and ice, there may or may not be enough room for the lane to be shared side by side.  Motorists will have to use good judgment to slow down and decide when it is safe to pass.  On the westbound side the center barrier creates permanent shadow and subsequent snow and ice accumulation in the general travel lane.  So the general traffic pattern is necessarily utilizing the shoulder as part of their normal travel path.  This creates a situation where again the motorists will have to slow down and use good judgment to decide if they have sufficient room to pass any slower moving or stopped traffic, or wait until they have exited the underpass area to make a pass.
entering deadman's curve eastbound on Tijeras Old Route 66 on January 4, 2015

entering deadman’s curve eastbound on Tijeras Old Route 66 on January 4, 2015

2015.1.4 Heartbreak Hill and Foothills Walk 003

2015.1.4 Heartbreak Hill and Foothills Walk 007

One thing to look at here may be a “smart” road that uses thermal surfaces to combat freeze and thaw patterns that can create dangerous ice hazards for all kinds of traffic.  Specific maintenance techniques such as total snow removal on the road surface and shoulder in this area may be appropriate as well.  This is probably a road segment worthy of special treatment.


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