New Mexico a leader in great outdoors

If passed by legislators, the Outdoor Equity Fund would also be created–the only fund of its kind in the nation that would be designed to spur the development of New Mexico’s next generation of conservationists. –Angelica Rubio and Stephanie Garcia Richard, on the proposed Office of Outdoor Recreation, in “Op-Ed: Access to the Outdoors is a Basic Human Right

A group ride on the Paseo de la Mesa trail on Albuquerque’s West Side (author’s photo)

It’s been a busy year in New Mexico watching our newly elected officials take office.  Representative Angelica Rubio rode her bicycle 300 miles from Las Cruces to Santa Fe to kick off the legislative session!  The Legislature and Governor have been working in concert to introduce and discuss landmark legislation, including Senate Bill 462 to create the New Mexico Outdoor Recreation Division in the Economic Development Department.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham with New Mexico Zia symbol on jersey (from Governor’s facebook)

In addition to the proposed Outdoor Recreation office, there have been a series of bills and memorials designed to leverage our State’s bountiful natural beauty and resources.  House Memorial 10 recognizes the “importance of bikepacking to cultural resources, physical activities, conservation, and tourism”, while pointing out the importance of road and trail connectivity.  House Bill 192 creates a uniform rule for safe passing of bicyclists, while also protecting motorists by including guidelines for not passing slower traffic when there is oncoming traffic in the adjacent lane.  This is good for everyone, as it is widely acknowledged in the transportation profession that interventions protecting “the most vulnerable road users will benefit all road users” (National Transportation Safety Board SS1701, Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes).

Puerticito road off the Turquoise Trail, NM 14 (author’s photo)

There’s more good news!  New Mexico recently published its first Statewide Bicycle Plan, and House Bill 192 will boost its implementation process.  The NM Bike Plan “includes the goal of making bicycling a more comfortable and attractive mode of transportation”.  Creating educational campaigns with instructions for safe passing is an important part of the “implementation of driver education strategies as a means to improve bicyclists safety” (from NMDOT – Traffic Safety Divison, NMBOT Bill Analsyis, HB 192).  There are many organizations in New Mexico already teaching transportation safety.  By joining our efforts together and with a concerted focus on promoting access to our natural environment, things are looking up for using the simple bicycle as an accessible, economical, and super fun way of getting people outdoors!

A mural in Albuquerque, NM with my bike (author’s photo)

This is a good video by Austin’s PD with instructions on safe passing.  In New Mexico, the required minimum passing distance will be 5 feet, up from Austin’s 3 feet, providing even more protection

References and Resources:
The lead quote is from this article in Outside Online, a magazine based in Santa Fe
https://www.outsideonline.com/2389421/new-mexico-outdoor-equity-fund-op-ed-rubio-richard

Outdoor culture is good for our spirits, and putting our economies in synch with quality of life initiatives
https://headwaterseconomics.org/economic-development/trends-performance/recreation-counties-attract/

The National Park has a guidebook to develop bicycle and pedestrian access.  Webinars are available
https://www.nps.gov/subjects/transportation/bikeped.htm includes NPS Active Transportation Guidebook

Albuquerque Journal published a story on the Outdoor Recreation office proposal
https://www.abqjournal.com/1277104/governor-lawmakers-propose-new-office-to-promote-outdoors.html

This study by the National Transportation Safety Board is a pivotal reference for traffic safety for all https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Pages/SS1701.aspx

Albuquerque itself is a city with one of the best open space systems in the nation
https://www.kunm.org/post/using-historical-photos-explore-albuquerques-future

2018 NM Bike Plan http://dot.state.nm.us/content/dam/nmdot/BPE/NM_Bike_Plan.pdf

Wheels of life

Skill, in the best sense, is the enactment or the acknowledgement or signature of responsibility to other lives; it is the practical understanding of value.  –Wendell Berry, “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture”

Cycling up the Sandia Crest in Fall 2018 above Albuquerque

Eating and moving our bodies are everyday acts that connect us to the source of life.   In Wendell Berry’s book “Culture and Agriculture” the author discusses the relationships between technology, responsibility and skill.  I am impressed with the parallel’s between Berry’s observations on agriculture and the dynamics of human movement, or transportation.

In the sixth chapter, the use of energy, Berry notices that introducing machines in agriculture complicates our relationship with the life-giving soil.  In particular machines bring more power and consequence, but do not impose restraints or moral limits on the exercise of their power.  So humans have to bring responsibility commensurate with these mechanical powers that increase our impact and consequences on the soil. To complicate things, machines speed up our work, “but as speed increases, care declines…We know that there is a limit to the capacity of attention and that the faster we go the less we see” (Berry p. 93).  So being responsible for our machine-aided work becomes even harder, and necessitates greater foresight and moral restraint on the part of human beings.

Cranes flying in at Bosque del Apache, November 2018

Skill is the connection between life and tools, or life and machines.  —Berry, p. 91

Driving skills are based on our knowledge of the machines we are operating, the driving environment and conditions, and the potential consequences on our own life and the life surrounding us.  When I went to commercial driving school at age 21 to learn how to drive 18-wheelers, I had an instructor named Jim.  He made a moral argument.  Jim had driven trucks over a million miles, and he’d seen a lot.  Jim said that as truck drivers, we are the most powerful on the road and therefore must be the most responsible.  He had a certain authority based on care and experience that stuck with me.  Five days a week for three months, Jim and a team of instructors trained me and my classmates on the skills we needed to be the most responsible users of public roads.  We learned how to manage our speed and adjust it so it was appropriate for conditions.  We inspected our vehicles before every trip to ensure proper maintenance, and practiced turning, backing up, and negotiating in traffic to protect all human life around us.  The skills we developed had nothing to do with always going slow, rather knowing when to go slow for safety, and how to modulate our speed, which effectively makes the whole transportation system work so much better, and enacts our fundamental values  of safety first.  Driver training for me was not only about mastering and controlling my vehicle, but also about mastering myself.

In the traffic safety field, there is an overwhelming body of evidence that suggests we need to increase driving skills to have a safer transportation world.  The National Transportation Safety Board noted in a recent report that although “Speeding—exceeding a speed limit or driving too fast for conditions—is one of the most common factors in motor vehicle crashes in the United States”, there is no national program to communicate the dangers of speeding like there is for other crash factors such as drinking and driving (NTSB SS1701).  All drivers need training to understand and follow the basic speed law, which “requires drivers to operate at a speed that is reasonable and prudent, taking into account weather, road conditions, traffic, visibility, and other environmental conditions” (NTSB SS1701).  We can do a better job of providing specific education and guidance on how to anticipate and take into account the dynamic conditions of the road, the most important being the presence of people.

A group ride in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico

A complimentary action we can take is encouraging citizens to engage in activities such as bicycling and walking.  Bicycling in particular is a kind of technology that deepens and enhances our engagement with our local communities and the greater world.  It is what Scott Slovic calls a “technology of contact”, one that enables us to “connect with the world and think more deeply about our relationship to the world” (p. 358 Literature).  I think in part cycling works so well to engage our senses because we are supplying our own biological energy.  Going so far on our own energy is one of the magical things about cycling, and makes it such a rewarding technology to use, not to mention, cycling is almost completely renewable.  Cycling reminds me of organic farming.  It allows biological energy to flow at a sustainable scale and it gives us exactly what we need to be well and productive.  It’s about quality more than quantity.  Cycling does justice to what it means to be human pursuing happiness.

In this age of technology, it is not a question of always abstaining, but a question of wise and respectful use.  It is a matter of education, public training, and living within our biological limits.  To me, this is a beautiful challenge, or what Rachel Carlson called “a shining opportunity”.  Carlson wrote: “Your generation must come to terms with the environment.  Your generation must face realities instead of taking refuge in ignorance and evasion of truth.  Yours is a grave and a sobering responsibility, but it is also a shining opportunity.  You go out into a world where mankind is challenged, as it has never been challenged before, to prove its maturity and its mastery–not of nature, but of itself.  Therin lies our hope and our destiny.  ‘In today already walks tomorrow'”.

A Fall walk in the Manzano Mountains

Resources:

Wendell Berry wrote “The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture” in 1977 and still enacts his values on his small Kentucky farm

Scott Slovic’s Literature chapter appears in the “Routledge Handbook of Religion and Ecology

NTSB SS1701 is a landmark safety study.  Produced by the National Transportation Safety Board, the working title is “Reducing Speeding-Related Crashes Involving Passenger Vehicles

The Rachel Carlson quote is from her 1962 address to Scripps Institute.  She was influenced by Albert Schweitzer’s “reverence for life” philosophy.  The address is called “On Man and the Stream of Time” and appears in the book “Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature and Culture”. 

Creating a national bicycling policy

Here is my superstition: When you focus on creating more good things, you get more good things;  When you focus on solving problems, you get more problems.  —Jing Zhang, May ITE Journal, “member to member”

As we develop a national bicycle policy promoting the most sustainable form of transportation imaginable, we’ll do well listening to experienced cyclists and educators.  It is tempting to fit new knowledge around what we think we already know.   With cycling it helps to see things directly from the cycling perspective, and this changes our outlook.

References and Resources:
The video is from CyclingSavvy, founders of the American Bicycling Education Association (ABEA).  Subscribe for free to their newsletter for “empowerment for unlimited travel”.  https://cyclingsavvy.org/cycling-law/
Here is a guide for improving the conditions for walking and cycling, published and recently updated by transportation leaders from our government and private sector:  https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/ped_bike/ped_focus/docs/fhwasa17050.pdf
For more specific measures to improve mobility safety, see https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/
Traffic safety involves complex causality, but speed is a primary factor.  This study by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) includes recommendations for planners, engineers and various government agencies.  https://www.ntsb.gov/safety/safety-studies/Pages/SS1701.aspx
May’s ITE (Institute of Transportation Engineers) Journal is dedicated to “Making Active Transportation Safe” http://www.nxtbook.com/ygsreprints/ITE/G93877_ITE_May2018/

Always leave enough time in your life to do something that makes you happy, satisfied, even joyous.  That has more of an effect on economic well-being than any other single factor.  —Paul Hawken quoted in “The Artist’s Way”, by Julia Cameron