Story by Merge staff

Biking has become a popular commuting alternative in Las Cruces. (Photo by Eduardo Romero)

With gas prices as high as they are and the nightmare that we call parking here at New Mexico State University, more and more students are riding their bicycles to campus.

Commuting by bike is a good idea, and it makes sense for several different reasons. First it is a good workout and can help to keep you healthy. Bicycles are one of our most efficient inventions, making them the least expensive way of getting where you need to be.

Students rely on their bikes to get around campus and around town. (Photo by Eduardo Romero)

If you don’t have to go far, then riding your bike will often get you to where you need to be a lot faster than if you drive.

If you are thinking green, then a bicycle is the way to go; bicycles are the cleanest form of transportation because they don’t pollute the air. Also, riding your bicycle is fun and can be a great form of recreation even if you don’t have anywhere to be.

Is it safe?

We have all heard horror stories about an accident between a vehicle, and a bike and this leaves us asking the question – is it safe? We all know that bicyclists and motorists must share the road, but this relationship can become deadly.

The first automobile accident in the United States ever, occurred in New York City in 1896, when a motor vehicle collided with a bicyclist, killing the bicyclist. According to the Washington Post, in 2008 there were 688 fatalities resulting from collisions between car and bicycle.

John Forester, a cycling activist and author who has been deemed “the father of vehicular cycling,” has worked his entire life to make cycling safer. In Forester’s book “Effective Cycling,” he states: “Cyclists fare best when they are treated as regular traffic.”

Riders are encouraged to stay along bike lanes all over Las Cruces. (Photo by Sarah Lewis)

Las Cruces Police officer and avid cyclist Wallace Downs said that he thinks it is becoming safer and safer for bicyclists in Las Cruces.

“In order to be safe, bicyclists need to be predictable to motorists; they can do this by following the rules of the road. Bicyclists need to ride as far to the right of the roadway as possible and be sure to ride in the correct direction,” says Downs.

Improvements

NMSU has a pretty good bicycle infrastructure with bike lanes and bike racks. The city of Las Cruces has been working hard to accommodate bicyclists and make commuting by bicycle safer for everyone.

Several years ago, the city of Las Cruces won an honorable mention award from the League of American Bicyclists.

Since then the city has been investing in making the city more bicycle friendly. Several streets have been put on what’s known as a “road diet,” where the streets are reduced from four lanes to two lanes to accommodate a bicycle lane on either side.

And bicycle and foot traffic-specific trails, like the one along Triviz Drive, are being put in. The newest phase of this project is called the “Outfall Channel Trail”; this long section of paved trail is going to connect the Triviz Trail with the La Llorona trail along the Rio Grande.

Pedaling to class is a great way to ensure a good parking space. (Photo by Eduardo Romero)

With all the improvements going on in the city, in 2011 the League of American Bicyclists named Las Cruces a Bronze level Bicycle Friendly Community.

A safe biking environment is key to being able to fully grasp the joy of riding.

“I think they (bikers) need to be more careful and should try to stay on separate paths. More than once have I felt like I was going to be run over by a biker who rode by really fast,” said NMSU freshman Shay Harris. By having information available online and on campus, riders and pedestrians can coexist more safely.

Not only are improvements for bicyclists being made in Las Cruces, but also for all forms of transportation by implementing complete-streets, which improve the safety on the road by creating lanes for pedestrians, pull off roads for busses and lanes for bikes.

Rules for safe bicycle riding

  • Always wear a bicycle helmet. For cyclists under the age of 18, wearing a helmet is the law in New Mexico
  • Ride on the right side of the road – in the same direction as if you were driving a car
  • Obey all traffic signs and traffic lights
  • Ride as far to the right in the driving lane as practicable
  • Signal your intent to change lanes or to make a turn.

A copy of the “Mesilla Valley Bicycling Suitability Map” is available at your local bike shop. These maps show which streets are most suitable for bicycling and are very useful when planning your route.

The slogan “Ride right, ride bright” encourages riders to make themselves more visible to motor vehicles by wearing bright clothing and making them more obvious. One of the most frequent reasons for a motor vehicle hitting a rider is due to visibility issues as well as inadequate space for riders and vehicles to share the road.

Biking in Las Cruces

The Mesilla Valley Bicycle Coalition has dedicated its time fulfilling this goal. The education, encouragement and advocacy the coalition promotes have helped the Dona Ana region become more and more biker friendly.

Coalition members include residents of Las Cruces, Mesilla, El Paso and other Dona Ana regions. Biking clubs involved in the Coalition include the Bike and Chowder Club, which meets and eats on a regular basis, the R.O.Y.A.L.S. club, which is all female and also enjoys brunching before or after rides, and the Zia Velo, which meets regularly on Saturdays for rides. If NMSU students feel the need to ride they can locate the NMSU Bicycle Racing club on campus, which has started a Facebook where students can more easily access information about the club. The Bicycle Safety Committee also meets on campus and provides information during meetings as well as online to help educate and inspire riding in Las Cruces.

New Mexico riding provides a newsletter called the New Mexico Bicyclist, which holds tips for safe and fun riding all over the New Mexico area.

 

According to New Mexico MVD Drivers Manual, bicycle drivers on roads have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers of cars. Motor vehicle drivers sharing the road with bicycles are required to keep a safe distance when passing a bicyclist, trying for at least five feet, and passing them only when safe and legal to do so.

Stephen Lopez from New Mexico Sate University Campus Police also gave us some useful bicycling tips. Bicyclists may ride on the roadway, as far to the right as possible, preferably in the designated bicycle lanes where they exist.

– Sarah Lewis, Eduardo Romero, Bradley Fuller and Matthew Nesbitt contributed to this story.