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Commissioners hear presentations from BAG and LL-L

The Grant County Commission at its work session Tuesday morning, Nov. 6, heard presentations from the Bicycle Advocacy Group and Literacy Link-Leamos.

Michele Giese of BAG thanked the county for installing sharrows, which are symbols that indicate the road should be shared with bicyclists.  "They do not designate a bike lane," she explained, "but alert motorists to share the roadway."

She said the group is interested in working with the county to install sharrows on county roads near city limits.

Rebecca Summer of BAG said bike lanes and sharrows are especially good to ensure children's safety when they are on bicycles.

Jamie Thomson said the group is identifying high-risk areas first. "The first priority is to address the transitional county to city roads," he said.

He explained the sharrows and bicycle education in general is not designed for the "Lycra crowd. We know how to ride, but to ensure the safety of children who are naïve about traffic laws."

Thomson said the best approach to encourage bicycling and walking is "to increase the cost of gas, but we can't do that. Another way is to create incentives for adults to ride bikes or walk."  The group is identifying organizations with the most employees to target them with education. "The biggest issue is congestion around schools," Thomson alleged.

County Planner Anthony Gutierrez said he is doing right-of-way research on roads to include bike lanes. "I don't want to get into a situation where we are increasing the danger when we're trying to redesign our roads to make them safer. I would like to work with you on the specifics on how to redesign roads."

"We're a great resource," Thomson said. "We've seen good intentions that made things more dangerous."

County Manager Jon Paul Saari suggested the group look at getting the Legislature to adopt guidelines, so all the communities are using the same design.

Thomson said several bills were put forth last session.  "We need to balance federal regulations with where the risk areas are." Summer pointed out that Santa Fe has a bicycle and pedestrian plan that the area could use as a template.

The group offered a copy of an ordinance proposed for the Dallas City Council for the County Attorney Abigail Robinson to look at.

Sheriff Raul Villanueva said he and his department are happy to see the effort, "so we can have training for children and adults. We do get calls on bicyclists in the middle of the road. This will be a help to us."

According to state statute, Chapter 66 Motor Vehicles, Article 3, Section 66-3-702, "Traffic laws apply to persons riding bicycles. Every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway shall be granted all of the rights and shall be subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of a vehicle, except as to the special regulations within Sections 66-3-701 through 66-3-707 NMSA 1978."

Marguerite Bellringer of BAG said she understands there have been objections to the sharrows because they allow bicyclists to ride in the road. "We are following state code." She also pointed out that safer roads would provide economic benefit with teams training for the Tour of the Gila.

The next presentation was by Wendy Wagner, the new Literacy Link-Leamos coordinator.

She talked about the volunteer program at the Grant County Detention Center. One of the LL-L members, Ed Greenberg, was concerned about the lack of education at the jail. "The idea was met with enthusiasm," Wagner reported. "Our current program began in September. We have five educational instructors, four days a week."

The classes are held Monday through Thursday, with Sandra Hicks teaching parenting on Mondays. The program helps parents keep connected with their kids. Tuesday's class, Get That Job and Keep It, is taught by Thelma Sordyl, who teaches two classes that day.

Wednesday  is Math Skills, taught by Robert Cwik, and on Thursday, Ed Greenberg and Elizabeth Selva teach Life Skills.

LL-L also provides a DVD program, where an inmate can read a book to his or her child,which is recorded, and the DVD and the book are sent to the child. Women's programs are also part of the volunteer effort.

"Since 2011, two individuals have gotten the GED after they left jail," Wagner reported. "Future plans are for a library at the facility. Computers have been donated. The 2014 GED test will be only on computer, so it will help inmates with typing and computer skills."

She said the group has a few concerns, including that the camera in the program room, which covers only about one-third of the room, although volunteers are given a panic button and radio, "in case of an incident."

"Our goal is to provide solid skills, so when inmates leave, they will hopefully not return," Wagner said. "Hopefully, they will heal themselves and their families and take ownership of what they have done and move past it."

She is constantly impressed by "the folks who come together in Grant County." She continued that Detention Center Administrator Joe Andazola and his deputy Gilbert Garcia have a vision for the future. Other organizations are partnering with the LL-L and other detention centers are looking at the jail as a model.

Andazola said he was looking to expand the program. "Literacy Link-Leamos is a wonderful organization that works in the Detention Center and the community. It's all done on a volunteer basis. We want to build the inmates up for the release program, with housing, a job and education. If we can help them with life skills, we can help them be active and positive community members."

He said the camera issue was being addressed with a possible new camera.

"The inmates are positive about the program," Andazola said. "It gives them a sense of pride and hope. The Re-entry Project will surround them with people to help them and give them a second chance."

The next article(s) will address the review of the Regular Meeting Agenda and county reports.

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