6 Positive Projects from 2016 & A Look Ahead

Written and Edited By Members of the UrbanABQ Collective and Better Burque

Check out BetterBurque.org for in-depth, Albuquerque-focused articles about bicycle and pedestrian safety, infrastructure and more! 

MLK looking east at the Edith intersection. Though there are still issues with some of the intersections along the corridor, the changes have overall created a vastly improved cycling environment.
MLK looking east at the Edith intersection. Though there are still issues with some of the intersections along the corridor, the changes have overall created a vastly improved cycling environment.

A Series of Predictions

In late 2014, we wrote an article called “A Great 2014 + The 2015 Forecast,” which can be found HEREThat piece covered positive changes that happened over the previous year and investigated some things we wanted to see happen in 2015.

Much of what we wanted to see in 2015 didn’t happen … until this year, 2016. In fact, most of the items on that list have become a reality in the last couple of months! So, we decided it was time for an update on the update:

Recent Positive Happenings:

Grand Opening of the Silver Street Market in the Imperial Building

The recently completed Imperial Building contains a grocery store, a brewery, restaurants, affordable housing, a rooftop garden and many other amenities
The recently completed Imperial Building contains a grocery store, a brewery, restaurants, affordable housing, a rooftop garden and many other amenities

We could not be more excited about the grand opening of the Silver Street Market in the Imperial Building at Second and Silver. Though some have complained that the grocery store has not fulfilled their highest of hopes and dreams, it’s a game changer in terms of livability in the Downtown core. The ability to buy essentials such as eggs, lettuce, and a bottle of wine just a block from the Alvarado Transit Center has already impacted the daily lives of many Downtown residents. It makes a stronger case for anyone who has been thinking about moving to or developing residential units in the heart of the city. 

A.R.T.—Albuquerque Rapid Transit Begins Construction

Albuquerque Rapid Transit construction in Historic Hunning Highlands / East Downtown. When complete this segment will feature widened sidewalks, and uphill bike lane, a bi-directional bus lane and one general traffic lane in each direction. For more info, visit the project website: http://www.brtabq.com/.
Albuquerque Rapid Transit construction in Historic Huning Highlands/East Downtown or EDo. When complete this segment will feature widened sidewalks, an uphill bike lane, a bi-directional bus lane and one general traffic lane in each direction. For more info, visit the project website: http://www.brtabq.com/

When we initially wrote about the A.R.T. project three years ago, we could not imagine the uproar and controversy it would eventually cause. On the plus side, it is exciting to see the citizens of Albuquerque so engaged around public transit, an important topic which typically falls to the wayside.

Unfortunately, much misinformation has been spread about the project, a problem that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. For example, no matter how hard anyone works to communicate otherwise, many people think the money for the project could be used to fund other things such as APD, that the project will eliminate all left turns on Central, or that stations in the median will be more dangerous and harder to access than curbside stations—none of which is the least bit true.

Just as we have from the beginning of this project, we stand behind A.R.T.  True, it’s a project with faults and we wrote about some of them in our 2015 forecast article. But overall, it’s an incredibly positive project that will forge major transit improvements—especially in some of the poorest, most transit-dependent parts of the city—and lead to major pedestrian safety improvements on the deadliest street in the city.

The Zuni Road Diet

The Zuni Road Diet is perhaps 2016’s most exciting and badly needed project from the perspective of road safety. It’s been in the works for years, yet continued to hit roadblocks, so to speak.

This section of Zuni, between Washington and San Mateo, went from 3 lanes in each direction to 2 lanes in each direction + wide, buffered bike lanes. The majority of the corridor, from San Mateo to Central, went from 2 lanes in each direction to 1 lane in each direction + a center turn lane + bike lanes on each side.
This section of Zuni, between Washington and San Mateo, went from 3 lanes in each direction to 2 lanes in each direction + wide, buffered bike lanes. The majority of the corridor, from San Mateo to Central, went from 2 lanes in each direction to 1 lane in each direction + a center turn lane + bike lanes on each side.

The original plans called for major physical changes to the corridor, including the addition of mid-block crossings, sidewalk widening, and other elements to calm traffic and dramatically improve safety. Unfortunately, the funding proposed for this project is tied up.

To make a long story short, recently elected City Councilor Pat Davis, using his discretionary funding, teamed up with Bernalillo County to get a low cost repave and restripe on Zuni. This was only possible due to the extensive groundwork laid by his predecessor, Councilor Rey Garduño. It’s an inspiring story of agencies and departments working together to make positive change happen, but the fact that this relatively cheap project was so hard-won says a lot about how local and national transportation infrastructure is financed and prioritized.

Fortunately, the results have been exceptional, despite being derived from only paint. Narrowed automobile lanes, based on Albuquerque’s recently-passed Complete Streets Ordinance (more on that below), allowed for wider bike lanes and (hopefully) lower automobile speeds. For the cost of paint and with political will, many lives will likely be saved this year and beyond on Zuni Road.

Implementation of the Albuquerque Complete Streets Ordinance

As predicted, this happened in early 2015, but only recently have we seen the physical results of the legislation, which was led by city councilor Issac Benton. Across the city, repaving projects like Zuni are leading to the creation of narrower traffic lanes, wider buffers for sidewalks, wider bike lanes and increased safety for cyclists. The Complete Streets Ordinance is a small but significant step in the direction of a safer more resilient Albuquerque.

Implementation of the Downtown Walkability Plan

This study has now become legally-binding policy, and we’ve seen recent implementation of some of these recommendations, including:

The addition of parking on these previously
The addition of parking on these previously “naked” curbs helps to slow down traffic, buffer the sidewalk from moving vehicles and increase automobile access to Downtown retailers
  • Painted buffers added to the Lead and Coal bike lanes between I-25 and Second Street
  • Addition of parking meters to previously arbitrarily marked yellow and red curbs “naked” curbs, covered in-depth on pages 20, 79, 99 of the walkability study and also covered in other pages in the study
  • Reconfiguration of First Street and Copper into a traditional four-way intersection
  • Painted buffers added to widened bike lanes on MLK Jr. Blvd.
  • Conversion of signals into stop signs at low traffic intersections in Downtown along Silver and Eighth Street (this is still under study and this may or may not become permanent) 

Still, we’re a long way from finished regarding the implementation of the other recommendations. Some of these, such as removing portions of Tijeras, will require more money and time to implement. That said, it’s great to see some of the aforementioned light, quick, and cheap ideas being implemented where possible, contributing immediately to a better Downtown ABQ.

Groundbreaking at Innovate ABQ

“The Rainforest” is quickly rising out of the ground on the corner of Broadway and Central

Work has begun at the former First Baptist Church site with the inaugural development now under construction. Called “The Rainforest,” this mixed-use building will include dorm residences, a business incubation center, a Nusenda Credit Union branch, some food establishments, and more. The addition of these new residents and businesses will likely stimulate the growth of more restaurants and retail Downtown. 

Uber and Lyft

In our 2015 Forecast, we mentioned that Uber and Lyft had recently begun operating in New Mexico. Shortly after this post, both firms experienced legal trouble with the State of New Mexico and began operating in a legal gray area. Lyft left the state shortly after it arrived due to these legal concerns

These legal issues have since been resolved and Lyft is back. Both Uber and Lyft are now operating legally in New Mexico so if you haven’t yet, give them a try!

Other Things We Would Like to See Happen:

More Parquitos

Images of the destroyed parquito. These images could also be a commentary about driver behavior in Albuquerque in general.
Images of the destroyed parquito. These images could also be commentary about driver behavior in Albuquerque in general.

The Bad News: After we crowdfunded the first parquito in Albuquerque, it was quickly built in front of the Zendo Coffee. The bad news is that on one late night in early 2016 someone driving a large vehicle destroyed it. This means that there are currently no parquitos in Albuquerque.

The Good News: However, the area around the first parquito has now become a vital node, with not only Zendo Coffee, but also Sidetrack Brewing Co., A Good Sign and SCA Contemporary at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory, a collaborative art space and gallery.

A whimsical
A whimsical “silly walking” sign was recently installed by A Good Sign on the corner of Lead and 2nd

The Great News: A successful 2016 (Park)ing Day, on September 16th, was the kickoff of what will soon be a permanent parquito in front of Deep Space Coffee. We have heard that it will be constructed in Spring of 2017 so stay tuned!

The temporary parquito in front of Deep Space Coffee on (Park)ing Day 2016
The temporary parquito in front of Deep Space Coffee on (Park)ing Day 2016

A Comprehensive Approach to Homelessness, Poverty, and Mental Health…

This wasn’t mentioned in the 2015 forecast, and definitely needs to be said: The homelessness and poverty challenges in Downtown and across Albuquerque pose a huge threat to our city’s success. Though there have been efforts on the part of the City and other organizations, including a program employing panhandlers which has gained national attention, the massive needs here aren’t being adequately addressed.

One possible solution could be a tent city. Las Cruces has developed a successful tent city model, which could be replicated here.  

Crime is on the rise in Albuquerque and in many other cities across the nation. It is especially obvious at the Alvarado Transit Center and Robinson Park, locations where petty crime and drug dealing can be observed happening in broad daylight.

and a Better Way to Release Prisoners

Buried in the Downtown Walkability Study, there is a fantastic idea that most people seem to have missed:

Reportedly, when prisoners are released from jail, they are dropped off at the Regional Correctional Center and told that their wristband entitles them to a free ride from the Transportation Center to anywhere its buses go. This misinformation apparently contributes to the large number of homeless at that facility. Much better outcomes would result from these prisoners being dropped off instead at the transit facility at Central and Unser, with a bus ticket. It would seem well worth the limited cost of these tickets for the City to underwrite such a program.

Apparently, this program used to exist but somehow, the partnership between the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County dissolved over time. This would be an easy, common sense solution to two large problems: a Downtown filled with recently released prisoners with no means to go anywhere; and providing a way for them to return to their home, or at least get closer to a location with resources or support.

This is one of a thousand simple, small-scale solutions that could lead to large-scale change. As with many public policy problems, the first step is recognizing this is a huge problem that requires the collaboration of many different stakeholders.

On the Way Up With A Long Way To Go

Overall, there are many good things happening. On top of all the things mentioned above, some other positives include:

The improvements on MLK included many innovative features including loop detectors, which sense the presence of a bike and change the signals more rapidly.
The improvements on MLK included many innovative features including loop detectors, which sense the presence of a bike and change the signals more rapidly.

In light of the fact that community participation played a role in so many of the aforementioned successes, it’s clear that even more engagement has the potential to effect even more positive change.

We invite everyone to attend our meetings and speaker sessions to learn more about these initiatives. Follow us on Facebook for details about future happenings!

Our next “UrbanABQ Presents” speaker series event will be on the evening of Thursday, December 1st at the Hotel Andaluz. Find all the details on the Facebook event, here! 

TAKE ACTION: Email Your City Councilor and/or Speak at City Council on Monday

– By Leila Salim, Michael Vos, Dan Majewski and other members of the UrbanABQ team

March 17, 2016

yes art now single template

On Monday, March 21, beginning at 5 PM, there will be a City Council vote on Albuquerque Rapid Transit. 

We have been told that this could be the vote that makes or breaks the project. We have also been told that City Council has been receiving primarily negative feedback on the project.

This is our deciding moment.

Have you been sitting on the sidelines? Have you been unable to attend meetings or unable to articulate your support for the project?

Make your voice heard!

Below is a letter we have created that you can COPY + PASTE + SEND to your city councilor.
Below the letter, we have included a map of Albuquerque City Council districts and email addresses for each of the councilors. Don’t live in the City? That’s ok! Pick the district closest to where you live and send something to that councilor.

Please share this with your friends and thanks for your support!

_________________________________________________________________

Dear Councilors,

I am writing to let you know that I strongly support the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit (A.R.T.) project.

Albuquerque is a growing metropolis on the verge of reaching a million people. While it may seem tolerable for now, if we do nothing, our sprawling growth and car-centered design will soon catch up to us, both environmentally and economically. A.R.T. can begin a shift in our city to a more flexible and equitable transportation system that brings more choices between modes and opportunities for getting around.

  • Bus Rapid Transit is a comparable, affordable, and proven alternative to light rail with added flexibility of buses. Lane and station infrastructure can even be adapted for light rail in the future.
  • Central Ave is the best street for this project because it has existing ridership, important destinations, housing, and jobs along it. This is not true of other roads suggested such as Lomas Blvd, which is not eligible for the federal funding. A.R.T. will provide better connections to these employment and activity centers and increase pedestrian activity.
  • Improving transit along Central will have a ripple effect creating a more consistent and efficient system. Increased frequency will shorten transfer times for 32 crossing routes, and by replacing the existing Rapid Ride, some buses may be utilized on other existing or new routes.
  • Putting the bus in the middle is the correct speed hierarchy. The fast-moving bus is ideal in the middle, with medium-paced traffic in the right lane and on-street parking protecting the sidewalk. Center median stations mean building one station instead of two, riders only have to cross one half of the street and pedestrians have a safe middle island to wait in when crossing.
  • Central Avenue is the most dangerous pedestrian corridor in a state with the second highest rate of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. Slower traffic from reduced lanes and wider sidewalks will be a major improvement to the pedestrian environment.
  • The projected increase in automobile traffic onto Lead, Coal, and Lomas will serve to slow speeds, resulting in safer pedestrian and bicycling environments on those streets as well.

Despite the vocal opposition to A.R.T., there are many of us who support this project. Investing in better transit and pedestrian friendly spaces will make Central Avenue more attractive for new businesses and residents. To be able to accomplish this with significant help from the Federal government is tremendous, and the opportunity to bring $4.30 back to Albuquerque for every dollar of local investment in this project is something we must not pass up.

I urge you to authorize the funding and construction of A.R.T.

Sincerely,

_________________________________________________________________

Albuquerque City Council District Map

CityCouncil districts ABQ jpeg

Below are email addresses for councilors and their policy analysts. We recommend you email both the councilor and their policy analyst.

Districts with * are districts on or along Central Avenue. For more information about council, here is a link to their full website.

Contact information for Councilors:

*District 1 – Ken Sanchez: kensanchez@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst – Elaine Romero: eromero@cabq.gov

*District 2 –  Isaac Benton: ibenton@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst – Diane Dolan: ddolan@cabq.gov

*District 3 – Klarissa Peña: kpena@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst – Nancy Montaño: nancymontano@cabq.gov

District 4 – Brad Winter: bwinter@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst – Rebekka Burt: rburt@cabq.gov

District 5 – Dan Lewis: danlewis@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst – Rachel Miller: rrmiller@cabq.gov

*District 6 – Pat Davis: patdavis@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst – Sean Foran: seanforan@cabq.gov

District 7 – Diane Gibson: dgibson@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst – Chris Sylvan: csylvan@cabq.gov

District 8 – Trudy Jones: trudyjones@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst Aziza Chavez: azizachavez@cabq.gov

*District 9 – Don Harris: dharris@cabq.gov
Policy Analyst – Dawn Marie Emillio: <a href="mailto:dmemillio@cabq.gov"dmemillio@cabq.gov

 

Thank you!

In Defense of ART – A Response to Save Route 66 Central’s Open Letter

By Dan Majewski

Edited by Jessica Carr, Chad Gruber, Leila Salim, Michael Vos and other UrbanABQ team members

February 21, 2016

Preface

 As of Tuesday, February 9, the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, otherwise known as ART, was approved for $69 million in federal funding from President Obama’s annual budget. This budget has not yet been approved by Congress so the funding is not guaranteed. However, there is a very good chance this funding will be approved and allocated, based on similar projects being approved in the past.

Regarding opinions in the community around this project, attendees were surveyed at a recent public meeting. The results were split in three ways with “38 percent of [the] 134 citizens who were polled — out of 247 who packed the rehearsal hall for the meeting — [saying] they don’t support the project, compared to 30 percent who said they do ‘very much’ and 57 percent who said they desire improved mass transit in the corridor.”

An Open Letter from Concerned Citizens

At the end of January Save Route 66 Central, the foremost antagonist in the effort to bring bus rapid transit to Albuquerque, published a critique of the city’s newest plan for the project. The entire letter can be found at this link.  

save rt 66 webpage
Click here to read the entire letter pictured above

We would like to say, in short, that this letter is well-thought-out. It is filled with ideas that could be successful if implemented in conjunction with the ART project. Unfortunately, the letter is also filled with misinformation and other data taken out of context.

Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) will be a positive project for the City of Albuquerque. This project will feature widened sidewalks, which will create major improvements to the pedestrian environment. Central Avenue is notorious for being the most dangerous pedestrian corridor in a city that is dangerous for pedestrians and the ART project will go a long ways towards improving this. The reduced speeds which will result from this project will create a more nurturing environment for retail, specifically for small businesses. Of course, the greatest strength of this project will be the creation of an frequent, reliable and consistent transit spine for the City of Albuquerque. It will allow Albuquerque to develop a transit culture and set the stage for the creation of other high capacity transit corridors throughout the city.

pedestrian fatality map abq
This map from a recently released study shows pedestrian involved crashes from 2009-2013. Central is the most dangerous street in the city for people on foot. Click here to read the entire report.

The first objection to the ART proposal from the open letter is below, emphasis ours:

Overall, our analysis concludes that in the Build Condition (of A.R.T.), the operational performance at several intersections would be deteriorated [compared with No Build]. Several segments would have diminished operational performance, thereby increasing queuing and congestion along the Central Avenue corridor. This can clearly be attributed to the reduction in capacity of the general purpose lanes along the majority of the corridor.

This is the essence of automobile oriented language. This type of wording is used to create fear around projects that could, in any way, reduce the ability for people to drive fast. Increasing queuing and congestion should be the goal of any vibrant, urban retail corridor. If this sounds crazy, please bear with me.

Driving Slow Allows Retail to Grow

Let’s assume that once the ART project is complete, the same number of cars will be driving on Central. After all fewer, narrower lanes in each direction will actually be able to accommodate the same number of cars as the lanes today, just at slower, safer speeds. For most of the day, speeds will likely be close to what they are today. It is primarily during rush hour that average speeds may decrease.  

Nob Hill Main Street recently hired Robert Gibbs Planning Group to do a retail health analysis of the Nob Hill retail district and the Central corridor in that area.  When discussing problems with the corridor, the first statement from the report, linked here, states that “Central Avenue needs to be slowed down. The noise, nuisance, and threat to safety are a major impediment.”

Other notable aspects of the report included the portion stating that “walk-ability, both as an index and as experienced by most shoppers, is poor; sidewalks are narrow and cluttered, street crossing is difficult and dangerous.”

ped fatalities central
If you don’t like seeing these headlines, you should support ART

Recommended strategies to fix these stated problems include “slow Central Avenue to 25 mph” andreplace parking kiosks with modern ‘smart’ parking meters at each space.”

Recommended structural changes from the report included “wider sidewalks, more pedestrian crossings, more traffic lights, and public spaces” and “reduce traffic to one lane each way.”

The ART project will accomplish all of these goals.

Overall, ART will greatly improve the retail environment on Central Avenue. If I were a Nob Hill merchant, I would be working closely with the city to improve the parking situation in Nob Hill. This doesn’t necessarily mean Nob Hill needs MORE parking. Nob Hill needs parking that is that is easier to find and priced appropriately.

Lessons from Houston

The letter includes a section which recommends creating a transit line that “connect[s] properly to the grid network of N/S arterials, following the example of what Houston is currently doing.”

On the contrary, careful analysis of transit infrastructure in Houston supports the construction of a high capacity, high frequency “spine.” For those who aren’t familiar, Houston recently redesigned its entire bus transit network to be more efficient and effective . The city did it without spending a single additional cent. So far it has been a huge success and ridership has already risen. Transit planner Jarrett Walker of Human Transit led the redesign. The premise of the redesign was to build a high frequency grid—generally, high frequency means at least every 15 minutes—with the grid allowing easy transfer between the routes.

houston bus networks both
These maps compare Houston’s “frequent network” before and after the changes, with red lines representing transit corridors where you catch a bus or a train every 15 minutes or more. It is important to note that these changes launched at the same time that two new light rail lines opened.

Start Where You Are

There are many reasons why the Houston project was successful. The most important fact is that Houston is home to the busiest light rail line in the country, the Red Line. Houston has built a successful transit culture because it first invested over $300 million into a high frequency, high capacity spine similar to Central Avenue in Albuquerque. You have to start somewhere and Houston’s new high frequency transit grid is built around this and other high capacity light rail lines.

The ART on Central will serve the same purpose, setting the stage for transit improvements system wide. The fact that Houston used light rail and Albuquerque is using buses doesn’t matter. The ART project will have many of the same design elements as the Houston light rail line such as dedicated transit lanes, level boarding, pre-board fare payment, the ability to roll bikes onto the vehicle, frequent service and more.

Houston is the fourth largest city in America. It experiences soul-crushing traffic and major parking challenges. Albuquerque does not experience much of this but if we continue to grow without building better mass transit, we could easily end up like Houston. Building ART is a step in the right direction towards building a city where one does not have to drive to every destination.

Building Upon Our Strong Transit Grid

The open letter notes that the ART project “appears to ignore the potential to realign the multiple, existing bus routes (many of which also use Central Ave) into a ‘grid network’ that would greatly increase connections, serve more people, and enhance ridership without increasing fleet size.”

Below is a portion of the current ABQ Ride bus route system map with an emphasis on routes that interact with East Central:

abq ride system map
ABQ Ride routes on the east side of Albuquerque

As you can see, much of the ABQ transit network is already a grid. In fact, this is one of the greatest strengths of our existing transit network! The weakness of our current transit network is the low frequency of our buses, or the fact that they don’t drive by a given stop often enough. As Walker often says, “frequency is freedom.”

To amplify the strength of our grid network, we should increase the frequency of our buses to at least every 15 minutes. Currently, most ABQ Ride routes only run a bus every 30 minutes or less. However, there are no $80 million federal grants available to pay for more frequent buses. This is something we have to finance ourselves, and we should!

The Ripple Effect of ART

The letter also notes that ABQ Ride and the ART planning process “does not view the entire metro transit system comprehensively.” Since the planning process for this project began in 2011, the scope of the project was always Central Avenue. However, 32 ABQ Ride routes intersect with Central Avenue, many of which can be seen in the map above  .

Increasing the quality of service on Central has a ripple effect on the entire system. In fact, the Mid-Region Council of Governments conducted its own study on this idea. It found that completing the ART project would lead to a 61 percent increase in jobs accessible within 45 minutes via transit in Albuquerque.

Screen Shot 2016-02-21 at 9.10.57 PM
A map from the report showing the ripple effect of improved transit service on Central Avenue

Regarding North / South Connections and Improvements

The ART project is about Central. That is the reality. However, there are plans in the works for a North / South BRT line, starting at the Airport and ending in Rio Rancho. Below is an image of the proposal and here is a link to the project website .

planned-brt-corridors-abq-lg
The green and yellow lines represent a proposed regional north / south BRT line

Regarding the “N/S grid network”, ABQ already has a great transit grid; it just needs to be more frequent.

When it comes to the ABQ Ride network, we should build upon our existing grid and strengthen it by making it more frequent.

Recognizing Special Interests

There is an odd statement in the letter if you read it carefully. It mentions that “a primary feature of the [proposed alternative] system described above is that the buses run in the outside lanes, adjacent to and serving an enhanced sidewalk … discharging directly onto the sidewalk, thereby INCREASING accessibility to businesses, rather than buses traveling in dedicated center lanes with ‘island stations’…”

The statement above is filled with language that reeks of special interests, especially the statement about “INCREASING accessibility to businesses”. Walker warns against this type of language in the transit planning process. He writes:

When our elected leaders make decisions about transit, they face a noisy mix of competing interests. A senior citizen had trouble walking to a bus stop, so wants the stops placed closer together. Others want the bus stops farther apart, so that the buses run faster. A merchant wants the bus to deviate into his shopping center, to bring customers. Another merchant wants the bus out of his shopping center, because it’s bringing ‘undesirable’ people.

cornell station
A rendering of a median station in the UNM area. See all the different station configurations and design details on the ART website: http://www.brtabq.com/Map

The letter goes on to say that “this approach would allow buses to move nearly as quickly as with the dedicated lane system…”

This simply is not true.

Putting the bus in the middle is the correct speed hierarchy. The correct speed hierarchy means faster moving traffic should be in the middle and as you get closer to the edges of the street, the speeds should go down.

The right lane is always slower because drivers are turning right onto streets, into businesses and trying to parallel park. Transit on Central will be far more successful if you put it in middle of the street. Put the fast moving bus in the middle, the medium paced traffic in the right lane and allow the on-street parking to protect the sidewalk.

Remember that statement earlier about the project being “economically feasible”? Center running stations are the essence of economic feasibility because you only have to build one station instead of two stations. Instead of one station on either side of the street, there’s one station in the middle. It cuts the cost of building stations in half.

Knowing The Project

The open letter asks “what if Albuquerque developed a transit system that became a primary attraction for citizens and tourists alike due to its’ innovation and its attractiveness, in addition to being highly functional, safe, economically feasible, and just plain fun to ride?”

The ART project actually fills much of this criteria!

Bus rapid transit (BRT) is becoming popular across the globe partially because it is an “economically feasible” high capacity transit system. BRT is flexible, versatile and very economical.

No one selects transportation based on the fact that it is “just plain fun”. Transportation should be functional, intuitive and safe and the ART is also designed to fill this criteria.

As Walker points out, transit quality and therefore usage is dictated by elements such as dedicated lanes, prepaid boarding, frequency of service and quantity of stops.

emx eugene
BRT systems across the world are both “innovative and attractive”, as shown by this BRT system in Eugene, Oregon

Regarding the project being innovative, Albuquerque resident and frequent transit rider Bob Tilley says it best:

I know plenty of people in Nob Hill … who are looking forward to the improved transit along the Central Corridor and beyond. If you think Albuquerque is 20 years behind, not building ART will do nothing to improve that. Perhaps you think Chicago is 20 years behind also – since they just opened their first BRT. Or maybe Boston is 20 years behind since starting their Silver Line BRT (2002), or Los Angeles’ Orange Line BRT (2005). BRT has become the 21st Century choice for many cities, big and small, to improve transit at a more affordable cost.

Learn More About Transit Planning

To conclude this defense of ART, we would like to recommend the book “Human Transit” by Jarrett Walker. It’s an easy to read image filled guide to transit planning theory and if it is something you are interested in, there is no better place to start. In the meantime, you can get a quick intro to Jarrett’s work on his blog, Human Transit

Road to Nowhere — Why We Need No New Roads

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 1.18.30 AM

“Paseo del Volcan plan hailed as future of the west

Full steam ahead on ‘active’ Paseo del Volcan project”

“DOT considers proposals to ease traffic on U.S. 550”

The headlines always sound so romantic, don’t they?

Though these are all real headlines from the Albuquerque Journal about real projects, they’re selling a myth. This is part of the discussion within the #NoNewRoads campaign by our friends over at Strong Townsan education and advocacy nonprofit working to create resilient communities through better development models. #NoNewRoads strives to transform the national transportation conversation through a nontraditional campaign (emphasis ours):

This week at Strong Towns we are going to focus our attention on the embarrassing mess that is the American system of transportation finance. Our premise here at Strong Towns has been, for some time now, #NoNewRoads, a rejection of any proposal to spend more money on this system until we undertake dramatic reform.

That position puts us at odds with advocates on the left of our political spectrum as well as those on the right. So be it. The current political paradigm is bankrupting this country … . It’s time to create a new paradigm.

Click here to read more about the premise of #NoNewRoads 

The Band-Aid Approach

Everyone loves a ribbon cutting for a new road project, but maintaining the infrastructure once it has been built is not quite as fun or exciting. Our current financing system emphasizes new construction without accounting for long term maintenance costs.

New and widened roads are subject to an economic rule known as “induced demand.” It works like this:

  • Road is built
  • Road becomes congested with traffic
  • Road is expanded
  • Once expanded, road fills up and becomes congested again
  • The Sisyphean cycle continues

New road space encourages more drivers to drive more often. In the meantime, lanes are expanded by sacrificing bike lane width, sidewalk width and, ultimately, quality of life on or around the road.

Don’t believe in induced demand? Click this link to read about the notorious Katy Highway in Houston. In summary, the Texas Department of Transportation recently finished widening the highway—and commute times in the corridor actually increased. The Katy Freeway is currently 23 lanes wide.

highway traffic
Maybe if we just add one more lane…

America has been shaped by transportation. Canals, railroads and highways have all shaped the cities and towns we live in today. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 allowed the government to begin paving new roads with the goal of creating a network of national highways. In 1992 the Interstate Highway System was declared complete. Since that prolific era of roadway development there has been little focus on the maintenance and care for these roads. We are now a nation of potholes. Almost 300 bridges in the state of New Mexico alone are rated “Structurally Deficient” and many more bridges do not meet current design standards. We have all experienced cracked pavement, potholes and unsafe roadway designs. However, we continue to develop new roads with the mentality that our transportation culture and travel preferences have not changed since 1956.

One important conclusion to all of this is that, contrary to popular belief, you can’t build your way out of traffic. Expanding a road will never “ease traffic,” at least not in the long run. It will only move the traffic down the road another few miles. It’s a system that leads to increasingly diminishing returns. Highway expansion isn’t fundamentally wrong but it is unethical to say that a highway expansion paid for with taxpayer dollars will ease traffic when the data says otherwise.

Where It’s Happening in ABQ

The best example of a massive new highway project in the Albuquerque metro area is Paseo del Volcan. This planned freeway is so notorious that it recently made a national list titled “12 of America’s Biggest Highway Boondoggles” (it’s #10).

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Overview of the Paseo del Volcan corridor

If you look at the plan for Paseo del Volcan, linked here, and if you read the headlines from the beginning of this article, you would assume only positive can come of the project. From the city’s Paseo del Volcan website, emphasis ours:

“Paseo del Volcan is an essential long-range need for our region. Preparing for this road now will encourage good quality, well-planned development for the west side of the region in the future. This will open up the possibility of future employers and in turn address the jobs/housing imbalance and congestion. It’s time to move this project from the back burner to the front burner.”

What exactly is good quality development and how do you define that term? It depends on who you ask. For example, what does “good quality development” look like in terms of ROI, or return on investment?

Traditional Urbanism vs. Auto-Oriented Development

Strong Towns has studied this exact question in a piece titled “The Cost of Auto Orientation”. We strongly encourage you to read the whole article but, in short, Strong Towns found that:

“…the old and blighted traditional commercial block still outperforms the new, auto-oriented development by 41 percent.”

When the folks at Strong Towns say “auto oriented,” they are talking about places like big box stores and drive-thru restaurants, such as the abundance of new Starbucks or Chick-fil-A’s we’re seeing pop up all over Albuquerque. When they say “traditional commercial block,” they are talking about areas like Central Avenue from Downtown through Nob Hill. The word “outperforms” refers to tax revenue for the respective city or town where you find these developments.

chic fil a
An example of auto oriented development

An  important point is that  just because the local daily and the city use lofty language—e.g. “future,” “ease,” “essential,” “quality,” and “possibility”—to hype a project, that doesn’t necessarily mean the project in mind is the best possible solution to the given problems. All the studies about Paseo del Volcan are technically right: constructing and widening roads will always create temporary jobs and when the land around the road is developed, this creates tax revenue. However, it’s still a huge waste of resources.

Building new housing subdivisions around new roads in the desert is one way to develop a city but it is extremely inefficient. Beyond that, we never allocate enough resources to maintain all of our new roads. If we did, all that new sprawl out in the desert would never be “affordable.”

Our Recommendations

urban-sprawl-creeps-out-into-the-desert-taylor-s-kennedy
We don’t recommend this

Across the country and the world, there is a growing understanding that building outward forever in a suburban, automobile dependent manner is eventually unworkable. At a certain point “drive till you qualify” is a three-hour commute in each direction.

Here in Albuquerque we continue to spread out across the desert. As we grow outwards our resources are spread thinner. Our ability to invest in maintaining infrastructure is diminished. Furthermore, our local economies are diluted. Instead of building vital, dense neighborhoods we have instead designed for suburban lifestyles. This is inherently unethical, as automobile dependency forces the young, the old, the poor and many others into a lifestyle of solitude or dependency.  

Instead of feeding more growth, let’s improve what we have. Let’s build a high frequency transit network and fill the gaps in our bicycle network. That way, people from the ages of 8 to 80 can safely and easily move across the entire city.

Until this is the funding and financing priority, we advocate for building #NoNewRoads.

Join us for #BlackFridayParking – Paying Tribute to Wasted Space

murica parking lot
America, the Beautiful

As Thanksgiving approaches, we at UrbanABQ are looking back at 2015. We are thankful for the exciting changes we have seen in Albuquerque this past year. From the launch of the Bici bike share system to another successful ABQ CiQlovia to the unexpected appearance of a buffered bike lane on Lead (missed PR opportunity much?), 2015 has been filled with plenty of joy. However, with Thanksgiving on the horizon we can’t ignore an unwanted cultural phenomenon that comes with it:

Black Friday.

On Friday, November 27, Black Friday will be upon us again. In reality, the shopping frenzy will begin on Thanksgiving itself, as thousands of big box retailers open before folks have finished chewing their turkey.

The chaos of Black Friday and the culture that it breeds is intertwined with our culture of suburban sprawl and automobile dependent development. After all, it’s a bit harder to go on a shopping binge at WalMart if you do not have a car. Without an automobile, you need to be more conscious about how much you buy at one time… or buy everything online.  

Over the past few years, there has been a growing backlash against the concept of Black Friday. The consumerism, strikes, stampedes and violence mark a stark contrast to the previous day’s feasts and gratitude. This has led to the development of alternative celebrations such as Buy Nothing Day built around sharing and community. This coming Black Friday, even REI is closing its stores while encouraging their employees to #OptOutside and paying their employees to do so!

A new aspect of this criticism is parking. For the past two years, the good folks over at Strong Towns have led a campaign called #BlackFridayParking. Here is the description of the event:

Black Friday Parking is a nationwide event drawing attention to the harmful nature of minimum parking requirements, which create a barrier for new local businesses and fill up our cities with empty parking spaces that don’t add value to our places. On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, people all across North America will snap photos of the (hardly full) parking lots in their community to demonstrate how unnecessary these massive lots are. Participants will then upload those photos to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #blackfridayparking.

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Are you familiar with the concept of parking minimums? In summary, every development is required by law to provide a certain amount of parking per square foot of developed space. How much? The answer: it’s arbitrary.

Extensive research, led by the knowledgeable Donald Shoup, has determined that most parking rules require far more parking than needed. Typically, the excessive requirements are justified by this statement: “we’ll need all this parking on Black Friday!” Hence, #blackfridayparking.

There you have it!

Assuming you are out and about on Black Friday, please snap some photos and share them with us, Strong Towns and the Internet in general! 

Share them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the #blackfridayparking hashtag. Also, feel free to post them on the UrbanABQ Facebook page. If you’re inclined, use the #blackfridayparkingabq hashtag as well so we can see how many of you are out there contributing.

Let’s prove that you DON’T need huge parking lots, even on the busiest shopping day of the year.

Let’s replace our shinning seas of asphalt with majestic mixed use development.

Thanks for joining us and Happy Thanksgiving!

Where are the Jobs in Albuquerque?

– Kristen Woods

Where are the Jobs?
Click for a larger view.
This Map shows nearly every job in Albuquerque mapped as a dot. It was developed by a Harvard Ph.D. students named Robert Manduca and is discussed in the Washington Post. The map is in an interactive format that spans the whole United States. It is based on Census Data.

The map is important because it shows us numerous ways that the location of job development can effect Albuquerque.  Most of the jobs are placed along major transportation corridors and in the expected neighborhoods like Uptown, Downtown and the Journal Center. It is also obvious that Central Avenue is a major corridor for Retail/Hospitality and Healthcare/ Education employment. There is quite a lot of separation of job types, but there are some areas that are purple (Manufacturing/Trade mixed with Professional Services).

If we see where jobs are being established we can make informed development decisions. If we focus, for example, on the fact that Central Avenue is employing primarily Retail/Hospitality and Healthcare/ Education sector individuals we can plan for housing and transportation that will meet their needs. Those needs will be very different from the needs of the Journal Center, which works primarily in Professional Services and Manufacturing, because they work at different times of day and under different conditions.

We can also see how our work lives are being affected by development related decisions (like zoning codes). There is a lot of separation of uses in Albuquerque. There are also a lot of areas of Albuquerque where there are no jobs. This is economically isolating and doesn’t promote a lot of principles that are important to the vitality of cities, like walkability, bike-ability and neighborhood diversity. Neighborhoods with jobs and a mix of land uses have a larger diversity and more vitality in the economy.

City Council Passes Bicycling Plan: Carpe Diem Albuquerque

Another great post from Bike Yogi, this time about the City of Albuquerque Bike Plan. Read about all the details below!

Bike Yogi

Albuquerque City Council unanimously adopted the Bikeways and Trails Facility Plan on May 18, 2015.  This plan builds on many years of hard work and specifies next steps in the progression for increasing bicycling friendliness.  The plan’s champion Councilor Isaac Benton said this was a long time coming and took a multi department effort that was boosted by advocacy from the entire community.  Bicycling is generating an atmosphere of excitement in Albuquerque, NM.

I’m including a link to the actual City Council proceedings because it tells a tremendous story.  This was a community moment where the long struggle to realize a vision of better bicycling was recognized.  The prevailing sense is that bicycling connects people together, and better bicycling advances all of humanity.   People really want this, and are doing the work to make it happen. There was a pause to take stock and celebrate all the hard work it has taken to get the plan this far.  It hasn’t been easy, but challenges…

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A diverse collective advocating for a better live/work/play, healthy and equitable city for everyone!