The NDOT project to add a third lane northbound to Hwy 395 between Jacks Valley Rd and Lupin Dr is a danger to bicyclists. At a public meeting on December 9, 2009, the NDOT project engineer Ken Mammen promised to Tim Rowe and others that bicyclists would be accommodated during construction of the project. That has not occurred. Part of the project, from Jacks Valley to Topsy, has a narrowed shoulder. A “Watch for Bicycles” sign is right in the middle of the shoulder, which would cause bicyclists to have to veer around it, and the sign is so small (much smaller than the other construction signs) that it is unlikely to be noticed by motorists. Things get worse north of Topsy, where the shoulder is now as narrow as six inches, up against a concrete barrier, and where it widens the pavement has rumble strips. The “Watch for Bicyclists” signs were not added until after the project was underway.
Yesterday I rode this section to see how bad it was, and I was nearly blown into the concrete barrier by a semi-truck. If I hadn’t been able to correct, I’d have either been thrown over the barrier or back into traffic and under a vehicle. Though there is a construction speed limit posted (I’m not sure what it is because the speed limit sign is hidden behind a construction barrel and I couldn’t catch it as I rode past), the traffic was moving at its usual 55 to 65 mph. Though I’m as strong a proponent of “take the lane” as anyone, it is not reasonable to assume that bicyclists will take the lane when the traffic is moving at 55 mph or more.
There are a number of commuters who use this roadway on a daily basis, and it is on the route for both local and touring recreational bicyclists going to and from Jacks Valley Rd and points further south. There are no other options. We asked NDOT to create a path along the alignment of Vista Grande Blvd as an alternative to Hwy 395 both during construction and afterwards, but they scoffed at us.
This project was fast tracked by NDOT so that they could get the ARRA funds. I’ve not talked to anyone who thinks this project is even necessary. I have talked to a number of people who are very, very angry that NDOT has ignored the safety needs of bicyclists.
Now that the project is underway, what are the solutions? I’d suggest that the speed limit be lowered to 35 mph for the duration of the project, and that it be actively enforced by the Highway Patrol. Another option is to narrow the motor vehicle lanes to one for the duration of the project, and make the right hand lane into a bicycle-only lane. Both of these might seem extreme, but this is a problem that NDOT created and is responsible for solving.
The project engineer for this project is Ken Mammen. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and phone is 775-888-7680.
Additional photos are at http://www.flickr.com/photos/allisondan/sets/72157624227947568/.