bicycle

At about 11:30 a.m. Monday, an unknown cyclist was struck and killed by a Rail Runner train heading northbound toward St. Michael's Drive. The cyclist was taken to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. Luke E. Montavon/The New Mexican

Santa Fe police say a bicyclist riding along a St. Michael’s Drive sidewalk was hit and killed Monday morning by a New Mexico Rail Runner Express train, the second time in two months that a bicyclist in the city was fatally struck by a passenger train at a railroad crossing.

The man, who has not yet been identified, was pronounced dead at Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center.

Police department spokeswoman Celina Espinoza said the man wasn’t carrying any identification, so investigators likely would have to use fingerprints and dental imprints in an effort to identify him. She also said it’s unclear if he was wearing a helmet.

The bicyclist was pedaling west along the north side of St. Michael’s Drive prior to the collision a little before 11:30 a.m. Safety bars had lowered across the road to block vehicular traffic, signal lights were flashing, and warning bells were ringing at time of the incident, Espinoza said. However, as with other such railroad crossings, no safety arms block the adjacent walkways.

Rail Runner spokeswoman Augusta Meyers said the train was traveling about 25 mph when it struck the cyclist. Meyers said the engineer activated the train’s horn and brakes, to no avail. Meyers previously has said it takes the train between a quarter of a mile and half a mile to stop.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation and Santa Fe fatality investigation teams were on scene throughout the day, and crime technicians snapped photos of the crumpled mountain bike in the middle of the train tracks. Police closed the Santa Fe Rail Trail on the northern side of St. Michael’s Drive and detoured bicyclists and pedestrians to alternative routes.

Meyers said the train was carrying about 225 passengers, who had to be bused to the Santa Fe Depot and South Capitol train stations.

According to passengers on board, the same train previously had hit a horse near Santo Domingo Pueblo, also known as Kewa Pueblo. Meyers confirmed that the train had struck an animal, which disconnected one of the air hoses on the train’s undercarriage. Passenger Tony Martinez said it felt “like an axle fell off” in that incident. But he said he hardly noticed when the train hit the bicyclist.

“It felt like someone threw a rock at the train,” Martinez said.

Passenger Jeremiah Valdez said following the collision that train operators wouldn’t tell the passengers what had happened. “It just stopped all of sudden,” Valdez said.

He estimated he was stuck on the train for about 90 minutes. Valdez said he didn’t see or hear the collision.

Other passengers echoed his remarks, saying they didn’t see the collision and didn’t learn what happened until much later.

Passengers trying to catch the afternoon southbound train were bused to the train station on N.M. 599 and transported south from that location.

Local bicycling safety expert Tim Rogers said most cycling groups tell bicyclists to avoid riding on a sidewalk if possible.

“Sidewalks have a lot more conflicts than people realize,” Rogers said. “If you want to ride on the sidewalk, you’re a fast-moving pedestrian.”

Had the bicyclist been riding on the roadway, he would have been blocked by the rail crossing’s safety gates, Rogers said. He added that a busy major street with no bicycle lane and fast-moving vehicles, like St. Michael’s Drive and St. Francis Drive, can make some bicyclists feel safer riding on the sidewalk.

In April, 60-year-old Suzanne LeBeau died after she was hit by the Rail Runner train at the Zia Road crossing just west of St. Francis Drive. In that case, LeBeau rode into the oncoming southbound train after crossing St. Francis Drive.

LeBeau’s family said they would petition the state to install a safety gate across the bike trail at that crossing to prevent another bicyclist or pedestrian from suffering LeBeau’s fate. Rogers said the lack of a dedicated crossing gate at the sidewalk on St. Michael’s Drive will likely revive the discussion surrounding the need for safety gates at rail crossings throughout the city.

“It’s hard to believe something like this happened again,” Rogers said.

The New Mexico Department of Transportation said officials are still reviewing the LeBeau incident and haven’t yet decided if pedestrian gates are necessary at such crossings.

“Police continue to collect data and investigate the scene,” state Transportation Secretary Tom Church said of Monday’s incident. “To our knowledge, all of the flashing lights and safety devices were operable. This is a tragic accident. We will continue our work on public awareness about safety along railroad tracks.”

Meyers said the train engineer has the option of taking three days off following such an incident.

Contact Chris Quintana at 986-3093 or cquintana@sfnewmexican.com

(41) comments

Kiki Martinez

My first question is: why is the New Mexican showing us a picture of this guy on the tracks? - Is that the guy that got hit and they're hoping someone can identify from the picture, because if not, I don't see the point of showing this guys picture relating it to this article.
Secondly, I wonder if MOST bicyclists realize how careless they are - in my experience as a vehicle driver on a daily basis I see cycleists that run red lights, run stop signs, weave in and out of traffic trying to "beat" the cars, weave in and out of lanes "just for fun", etc., etc., etc.. Seriously, most bike riders I see are doing foolish things and are in fact putting vehicle drivers (and others) at risk!!

Khal Spencer

"...I wonder if MOST motorists realize how careless they are - in my experience as a vehicle and bicycle driver on a daily basis I see motorists that run red lights, run stop signs, weave in and out of traffic trying make up a few seconds, weave in and out of lanes in order to speed., etc., etc.. Seriously, most motorists I see are doing foolish things and are in fact putting other people at risk!!..."

yada yada blather blather, etc, etc

Pat Shackleford

I don't see a picture of "the guy that got hit". I see a picture of his bicycle that got hit. As to whether a bicyclist runs a stop sign or red light; it doesn't bother me if they do, as long as they stay out of my way (when I, as a motorist, have the right-of-way), and otherwise do not cause an accident or frightening near-miss etc. It's hard work pedaling across town, and I don't begrudge a bicyclist running stop signs and red lights (to maximize their energy and effort), when done in a responsible manner.

Michael Grimler

It seems these folks who are getting run over by trains are suffering from the lack of something I teach in my concealed carry classes -- the concept of situational awareness.

When we are awake, it's incumbent upon each of us to be aware of what is going on in our immediate surroundings -- whether we are walking, driving a vehicle, or riding a bicycle. This needs to be practiced every minute of every hour of every day we are awake.

To not be aware of our surroundings at all times is inviting danger into our lives - danger that can come from any direction at any time.

We owe the commitment of personal situational awareness to ourselves, our families, our loved ones, and society in general.

Khal Spencer

[thumbup]

Gregorio Ambrosini

Bicyclists need to be insured, licensed and Registered. That's how they will take their toy seriously. The body is an internal combustion engine. Fuel in, pollution out.

James Donohue

Bicycle is a piece of sporting equipment, Not a toy. Properly lit with decent electric lights, it becomes a Vehicle.

That being said; * Anyone * who goes around the lowered gates of a railroad crossing, whether on foot, on a bike, or driving a car , bus, or tanker truck, is an Idiot.

Khal Spencer

There are no gates on the sidewalk crossings. The cyclist did not have to go around one. Bicycles used at night are required to have lights and reflectors by law. This happened in broad daylight.

Steven Salemi

Bicyclists should be licensed, insured, registered? Oh please, spare us. As if! The automobile drivers around here -- well, most of them, ha-ha -- are licensed, insured, and registered, and if those requirements have improved their driving skills, I haven't noticed it. But perhaps, ha-ha again, I'm just lacking situational awareness...

Khal Spencer

Insurance is for liability purposes, and cyclists, like pedestrians, are considered low risk of damage to others. Not that it is unheard of. Agree that licensing, registration, and insurance coverage applies to those who obey the law.

Warren Farrell

My response to all the people here who have commented negatively about cyclists: Do not judge until you yourself have commuted in this city, or any city, via bicycle. Aside from the obvious with regard to rail crossings, cyclists are ignored and feel like targets while riding in traffic.

Paula Lozar

I agree that more needs to be done to protect cyclists. However: In the past month I encountered 3 cyclists who (respectively) ran a red light, darted across a busy street without regard for traffic speed, and blew through a stop sign without even slowing down. (I'm talking to you, lady on Garcia Street.) Cyclists seem to assume that drivers will watch out for them -- and these 3 are fortunate that I'm a careful driver and my car has good brakes. But not all drivers are that careful, and, in an encounter between a bicycle and a car (or a train), gravity and momentum are not on the cyclist's side. Everyone needs to obey traffic signals and stop signs; cyclists are not exempt from the rules.

Steven Salemi

Perhaps some cycling advice and recommendations are in order here, some taken from the world of motorcycling:

1. DRIVE AS IF YOU ARE INVISIBLE. Read that a few times (actually, as many times as needed) until you "GET IT."

2. Expect ZERO mercy, awareness, tolerance, courtesy, or attention from motorists. In other words, see #1.

3. On reflection, #1 isn't strong enough. Try this: DRIVE AS IF MOTORISTS RECEIVE GENEROUS CASH REWARDS IF THEY RUN YOU DOWN AND KILL YOU. There, that'll do it.

4. As for trains, I don't understand the problem. They are GIGANTIC and NOISY -- absolutely IMPOSSIBLE TO MISS. So I feel very sorry for the recently-deceased, but as far as threats go, the Railrunner trains can hardly be called "stealth predators."

Khal Spencer

We can go on speculating pending more information from the investigation. Another possibility that has not been ruled out, that I know of, is a mechanical. When was the last time that bicycle had its brakes checked?

Pat Shackleford

"When was the last time that bicycle had its brakes checked?'

Don't most bike riders "check" their brakes every time they need to slow down or come to a stop? Maybe both brakes failed shortly before contact, or maybe the steering broke too. Regardless that, let's spare no expense making public spaces safe for everyone who's too busy to pay attention to where they're going.

Steven Salemi

"Let's spare no expense making public spaces safe for everyone who's too busy to pay attention to where they're going?" Excuse me! Please take your hands out of my pocket and your hands off my wallet!

Pat Shackleford

Excuse my redundancy, but I was being facetiously flippant, which is possibly inappropriate in this deadly thread, but a point I nonetheless feel is worth making. I hope that any death or injury I incur due to my own inattention or bad-timing will be thoroughly examined by the general public for their benefit, or amusement if they so choose.


Khal Spencer

Pat, I've rejected folks from the League of American Bicyclists Traffic Skills 101 course for unsafe equipment, including brakes that were virtually non-operational. One can get away with lousy brakes if one only has to slow gradually. Emergency stops require both good equipment and good technique.

Annette Vigil

This is the second death due to a bicyclist ignoring the extremely loud train whistle and the dinging alarms that sound in conjunction with the lowering traffic arms. I too can't help but think that these were suicides. Anyone who has been around the Railrunner trains when their whistle go off, realizes how incredibly loud they are, to the point of hurting one's ears.

It's been pointed out that no arms come down on the sidewalks that the bicyclists were riding on. Even if there'd been arms on the sidewalks, the riders would simply crash into them and be propelled over the arms and into the path of the train.

If a person wants to take his or her own life, no barriers will stop them. I'm sorry for their families and friends who've lost a loved one. I don't think we should continue villify the Railrunner for these deaths.

Joey Wilson

I think folks need to remember that when someone is killed tragiclly like this man was, it can be VERY painful for family members to hear people speculating about suicide so cavalierly. Suzanne LeBeau was a friend of mine (and MANY others) so I saw first hand how painful it was for friends and family members who knew her to hear that online. It certainly was not true in her case but I didn't hear anyone apologise to her family for their accusations. Imagine if this was your brother or your father for a moment, how that might feel.

And, just so you know, the train DOES NOT blow the horn going thru this intersection. It a "quite zone" which is part of the problem. Also, as a cyclist I can tell you that if you're wearing a helmet, and it is fairly windy, your hearing can be quite impaired. I know this having spent weeks trying to understand what happened to our friend Suzanne. A gate on the sidewalk/bike path is a standard feature in other cities for reason. If it saves the life of one person isn't that worth it?

Jim Matthews

Thank you, Joey, for your thoughtful comments re these accidents. It's unfortunate that Annette Vigil would make such an uninformed comment . EVERYONE who has seen the video of Suzanne's final moments and read the eyewitness account realizes it was a horrible UNINTENTIONAL ACCIDENT. While the details of yesterday's tragedy are not yet known, it is clear, beyond a doubt, what happened in Suzanne's case. She was focused on crossing St. Francis on a green light and it was not until she reached the sidewalk and looked to her right that she saw the RailRunner. She braked and fishtailed but realizing she couldn't stop tried to continue on. She didn't make it. If there were either a barrier or flashing lights DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF HER this would not have happened. The "supposition" that "if there'd been arms on the sidewalks the riders would simply crash into them and be propelled over the arms and into the path of the train"... is ludicrous. In the words of the most credible eye witness, "The look of surprise on her face that a train was coming was something I will never forget. She was totally caught offguard." The BOTTOM LINE: NOTHING. should be allowed to cross the tracks when the train is passing

Leo Ortiz

Stay off the tracks....how hard is that to do.

Khal Spencer

Thanks for removing Mr. Spraitz's comment, and I apologize for losing my temper.

Steve Salazar

Gates for ped railroad crossings have been around for a while. But, since $Bill decided to build on the cheap, people are now dying. Good job, $Bill!

John McAndrew

Seriously? You want to blame a particular accident, the details of which are sketchy, on the former governor? You might want to look up the term "proximate cause." You might, with as much merit, blame designers of roadways for not building in protected bike lanes, or designers of sidewalks for not building in lighted warnings for when trains are approaching, or bike manufacturers for not installing proximity alarms and automatic brakes. It would make as much sense to blame the current governor for the deaths of children in CYFD. You should take a nice walk and chill a bit. Not every bad thing that happens is the fault of an officeholder, current or former, of the opposing party.

Comment deleted.
Karen Peterson

Steve Spraitz, you should be ashamed. When Suzanne LeBeau was hit, your nasty comments were removed, as should be the case this time!

Khal Spencer

From the article: "...Had the bicyclist been riding on the roadway, he would have been blocked by the rail crossing’s safety gates, Rogers confirmed. He added that a busy major street with no bicycle lane and fast-moving vehicles, like St. Michael’s Drive and St. Francis Drive, can make some bicyclists feel safer riding on the sidewalk...."

Its long been known that roads like St. Michaels and St. Francis are incredibly intimidating to cyclists due to heavy traffic, high speeds, and their basic bicycle-grumpy design, which was purpose-built to maximize motor vehicle level of service. So its no surprise that cyclists would take to the sidewalks. Hence the need to treat sidewalks like the multiuser facilities they have de-facto become. Dr. Gail Ryba, former President of the Bicycle Coalition of New Mexico, fought NMDOT tooth and nail on these bad designs because its not safe, as Tim says, to be a sidewalk cyclist unless you pay attention to the hazards of sidewalk riding.

Damned if you do, and damned if you don't.

Khal Spencer

Actually, Tim didn't say it is unsafe. I did.

christopher quintana

Unfortunate. We bicyclists need to obey traffic control devices and ride in our lane, on the roadway.

John McAndrew

Agreed. That said, Santa Fe could do more to make roadways bike safe and friendly.

Glen Post

My condolences to the family for their loss.

That doesn't change my feelings that cyclists in this country are taking advantage of the fact that the police do nothing to them when they violate traffic laws. It instills a sense of complacency in them and in SF it has resulted in 2 tragic losses recently.

Families will blame the RR, other drivers, and poor terrain when they lose someone, but too often I see the cyclist as the problem. Twice this year I had to make an emergency maneuver to avoid a cyclist that ran through a stop sign and stop light without looking.

To the police: PLEASE enforce the traffic laws equally and ticket the bicycle riders with the same laws that car, motorcycle, and truck drivers are forced to and expected to obey.

To the cyclists that obey the laws: THANK YOU! I welcome you on the roads that we share.

Elizabeth Pettus

according to two passengers with who me we spoke, the train hit two horses on this same journey...

Carlo Best

The train is on tracks that are set firm in the ground. They do not deviate from those tracks. If you come to a set of tracks whether walking, riding, driving whether there are lights, bars or not, it is wise to look both ways. Complacency kills.

Jeff E Green

In response to this 2nd terrible fatality in 2 months, I delivered this letter today to each member of the local government's Finance Committee -- City Councilors Carmichael Dominguez, Chris Rivera, Joseph Maestas, Ron Trujillo and Singe Lindell.

Dear Councilor,

Another bicyclist was killed today in Santa Fe.

This needless tragedy should be seen as underscoring the importance of government funding for bicycle safety.

Unfortunately, SFe City Council's recent decision to raid the bonds for the Acequia Trail underpass in favor of paving city streets and other capital improvement (CI) projects sent the wrong message that our local government believes bicycle safety is unimportant!

Please restore funding for the Acequia Trail and focus on improving bicyle safety across the city so we can better avoid these tragic deaths.

Sincerely,
Jeff E. Green

Sam Atakra

Really, this just reinforces my personal opinion that most people who ride bicycles in this town (everywhere really) are self-absorbed and don't pay any attention to anything except themselves until it is too late.

John McAndrew

It's remarkable that it has that effect on you, since two cyclists have been killed, while hundreds or thousands traverse these roads and crossings every day. It says to me that these are tragic, exceptional occurrences. Your opinion seems to be unsupported by statistics. Having been cut off on Airport road once, by one driver, I could come to the conclusion that all drivers in Santa Fe are self-absorbed and careless of the safety of bicyclists. But I would be mistaken.

Comment deleted.
Khal Spencer

Ugh. You mean those lights could have been left broken for days on a heavily used arterial??? Broken lights are worse than no lights. We depend on them---perhaps a little too much?

Khal Spencer

Wow. Again. Are there sidewalk gates or lights at this crossing? When Susan LeBeau was hit, that was an obvious question that came up.

I guess we can either let natural selection sort this out, or provide cyclists and pedestrians using sidewalks or sidepaths the same visual and audible protection we do motorists. I've always worried that sidewalk cyclists are more oblivious to traffic than their occasionally more streetwise vehicular cyclist cousins.

Not sure how many times to say it or in how many languages, but STOP, LOOK, AND LISTEN. Also not sure how many times to say this or in how many languages, but when is the state and city going to take cycling seriously? NMDOTs treatment of cyclists in this state doesn't even rise to the level of atrocious.

Khal Spencer

From what I can see on Google Maps and zooming in, there are no gates across the sidewalks but the flashing lights are right in front of you if you are westbound on the north sidewalk (eastbound, one would not see the lights?). Also, there look to be clear sight lines in all directions up the tracks. I don't understand this.

Lisa Rothrock

Seems to me that one major problem here is in not having a dedicated bike lane. Granted, bicyclists are responsible for themselves when they ride at a crossing, regardless, but if the problem is exacerbated by having to ride on the sidewalk, maybe the solution is to keep bicyclists on the road and off the sidewalks in the first place?

Khal Spencer

Bike lanes would probably be an improvement. I say that with some hesitation because it depends on the whole design of the roadway. A bike lane that crosses numerous busy intersections, side streets, and curbcuts (i.e., parking lot entrances, etc) can impose its own significant hazards. That is something Tim Rogers can address better than I, as he has worked extensively on Santa Fe infrastructure, whereas I worked quite a bit on the planning up here in Los Alamos when I was Chair of the Los Alamos County Transportation Board.

Good planning is very important. That said, nothing takes the place of careful, alert riding. A cyclist cannot put too much of the onus of safety on others.

Welcome to the discussion.

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