Central Avenue: The Necessity of a Strong Vision, Community Champions and Street Trees

UPDATE 2/4/16: Last night, the City of Albuquerque hosted a meeting about this BRT project on Central, now called ART. See the project website here! Many new and updated features of the project were unveiled at the meeting including pedestrian scale lighting along the entire project corridor and FREE high speed WiFi!

We will be learning if ABQ receives the federal grant for this project in less than 1 WEEK, on February 9th!

Many people believe project has been “fast tracked” without any public input. Part of why we’re reposting this article from 2013 is to disprove that point. Also, many of the concerns voiced in this article have been addressed including:

Bikes and Silver: The City has planned and begun allocating funding for improvements to Silver. This does not mean that Silver will extend past the freeway. However, the city is also going to be making major improvements to bike facilities on MLK, already a heavily used bicycle corridor that connects UNM to Downtown. We still believe that there are unanswered questions about bikes on Central but overall, many improvements to the plan have been made.

Medians vs. Wider Sidewalks: The folks in Nob Hill came to an agreement with the project planners and there will be wider sidewalks through Nob Hill instead of medians, a huge improvement for the business district. In fact, sidewalks will be widened and improved throughout much of the corridor and pedestrian scale lighting will be added throughout the entire corridor!

Marketing, Outreach and Champions: This project has found a champion in the form of Mayor Berry.

However, outreach and marketing by the City on behalf of this project has been too little, too late. Unfortunately, outside sources have spread misinformation about the project. Independent from those outside sources, there has been resistance to the project for a variety of reasons. In addition, it is not always easy to communicate the benefits of this project, the construction process, the potential impacts and other aspects of this proposal.

The people running this project, as of very recently, finally starting using a Facebook page to communicate information. The City needs to do better promotion and outreach for these types of projects to get ahead of any possible pushback or misinformation campaigns. It’s not an easy thing to do but it can be done.

There’s plenty more to be said about this project and we will continue discussing it on our Facebook page.

The original article, in it’s unaltered form, is below:

“Central Avenue: The Necessity of a Strong Vision, Community Champions and Street Trees”

-Dan Majewski, May 2013

BRT meeting, ABQ Museum

During the month of May in 2013, the City of Albuquerque held six public meetings about a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for Central Avenue. Every meeting was held in a different location and focused on a different segment of the proposed project.

The format of the meeting was as follows:

  • 15 minute power point presentation about BRT + benefits of the project + why it should be built
  • 30 minute collaborative work session: we broke into small groups and conversed with consultants about what we like on the corridor, what we don’t like, what type of project alignment we would like to see, etc.
  • 15 closing presentations by each of the small groups

The collaborative element was useful. It allowed us to effectively express our opinons and hash out a vision for the corridor. It was also an opportunity to air grievances without having to interrupt the larger group presentation.

Bus Rapid What?

BRT Rendering

I attended two of these meeting and came away with mixed feelings.  BRT could be a great solution to the current transportation problems currently found on Central Avenue but it must be marketed correctly and executed properly.  Scroll to the bottom of the article for my full reaction.

Sorry, No Bicycles Allowed

For rapid transit systems to work, they must attract people from a wide geographic area.  To accomplish this, bicycles can be a great tool.  When asked about bicycles at this meeting, many of the consultants or city leaders implied that bicycles do not belong on Central Avenue.  “Why not the Silver Bicycle Boulevard?  Or MLK?  Or Lead/Coal?” they would say.  My response:

  1. Silver is great… until it dead ends at I-25.  It does not connect the University of New Mexico to Downtown, Old Town or the Bosque Trail.

    As you can see, the Silver Avenue Bicycle Boulevard ends at the interstate.
    The blue line on this map is the Silver Avenue Bicycle Boulevard. As you can see, it currently ends at the interstate freeway on the left side of this image.
  2. Most of the desired destinations are located on Central.  I may use Silver for 90% of my trip.  However, since my end destination is located on Central, I need to bike on Central for at least a block or two.  This means riding on the sidewalk (dangerous/illegal) or in the street (terrifying).
  3. Whether you like it or not, there is already a lot of bicycle traffic on Central.  It will only increase over time as this corridor becomes more dense.
  4. Accommodating bicycles does not necessarily mean 6 foot bike lanes in each direction.  It simply means providing infrastructure where possible.  This is an example of what bicycle accommodation could look like in the narrow segment between University Boulevard and I-25:

central

The Nob Hill No

The Nob Hill Neighborhood is the most organized and wealthy stakeholder group on this corridor.  They are also the most frustrated and angry about this proposal.  From their perspective, CABQ is trying to take away something (the medians) which presently provide safe pedestrian refuge.

True BRT = one general traffic lane in each direction.  This would lead to slower traffic speeds, creating a safer pedestrian environment and reducing the need for median pedestrian refugees.  However, the city has not adequately demonstrated the exchange of the medians for a world class rapid transit system.  The project leaders have not clarified how many crossings for people on foot would exist along the segment.  Also, it appears to Nob Hillers that this system will simply be going through the neighborhood without stopping (as the current alignment exists).  CABQ and ABQ Ride are not effectively selling the system to the neighborhood.

The city should explain that instead of the medians, Nob Hill could get wider sidewalks or bicycle lanes.

Using Streetmix, here’s how the Nob Hill segment currently looks:

Streetmix: nob hill current

Here’s how this segment could look with bicycle lanes:

Nob Hill, bike lane option

It could also look like this, replacing bicycle lanes with wider sidewalks:

Nob Hill; BRT + street trees

There are many potential positive possibilities.

Lessons from Ft. Collins, CO

On February 21st, the ULI (Urban Land Institute) hosted a full day conference about BRT in Albuquerque called Transit and Place: First Steps.  The day was filled with fantastic presentations from transit providers and developers nationwide.

Kurt Ravenschlag from Ft. Collins, CO delivered a wonderful presentation about the Mason Street Corridor BRT Project.  Initially, the project did not go over well in this mid sized college town.   It was rejected by the business community because the city was not emphasizing the economic benefits of the project, such as increased values around the station areas.   The transit provider was forced to go back to the drawing board.  The re-marketing of the proposal was successful and the project is now being constructed with major local support.

The City of Ft. Collins did not change the project!  They only changed the sales pitch.

All Together Now

The City of Albuquerque is currently working on a Complete Streets Plan for Central Avenue between 1st St. and Girard.  Isolated from the BRT project, this plan has its own webpage, a separate set of public meetings and different group of consultants.

This needs to change.

The BRT plan and the Complete Streets plan are the same thing!  They both have the same vision: increased economic development and a safer more beautiful street for people moving throughout the corridor.  Why are there two separate plans?

Mr. Ravenschlag from Ft. Collins emphasized the importance of first laying out a vision for the corridor.  Streetscaping should be the first conversation, followed by zoning overlays and bicycle/pedestrian access.  After all of that, transit should be discussed.

Reframing the Conversation

Central Avenue is in desperate need of a solution.

Half of all transit trips in the city are on this corridor.

It is Albuquerque’s main street but it is marked by vacant lots, visible poverty, fast moving automobile traffic, high pedestrian fatality rates, unsafe intersections and a lack of cohesiveness.

Rapid transit will be a part of the solution but it can not come at the expense of all the other elements.  Wide shaded sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, rezoning of the corridor, reduction of parking minimums and safe pedestrian crossings at every intersection are all more important to the long term success of Central Avenue.

This project needs a stronger emphasis on the complete streets and economic development elements of the project.

ABQ Ride and the City of Albuquerque need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to sell BRT as a larger part of the revitalization of the Central Avenue corridor.

The sales pitch could be something like this:

IMAGINE… an improved Central Avenue, Albuquerque’s Main Street.  Envision wide, smooth, safe sidewalks shaded with large native street trees.  Think of slow moving vehicle traffic and narrow, easy to cross intersections.  Visualize vacant lots disappearing, then filled with shops next to the sidewalk and apartments above.  Feel the warm summer air as you leave your apartment and walk a few steps away to a rapid transit station.  The station has shade, real time arrival information and other amenities.  However, you barely have time to look at all of it since a transit vehicle arrives every five minutes.  The successful vibrant Albuquerque of the future is linked to this critical corridor.

Can you see it?  I sure can.  For it to manifest, it will take strong local champions and a chorus of voices demanding a safer, more prosperous and more beautiful Albuquerque, a city for PEOPLE, where motor vehicles are guests.

It’s a difficult challenge but it’s our best hope for long term economic vitality.

Get involved!

Please comment below if you have questions or comments about this post.

For more information on the Central Avenue BRT project, click this link.

For more information on the Central Avenue Complete Street Plan, click this link.

Like the Complete Streets in New Mexico Facebook page for more news and information.

Like UrbanABQ on Facebook for more news and information.

10 thoughts on “Central Avenue: The Necessity of a Strong Vision, Community Champions and Street Trees”

  1. I’m honestly not entirely sold about BRT on Central…there is already a *lot* going on there – including at least 3 separate bus lines – and BRT would seemingly add a fair bit of additional infrastructure with a lot of potential to disrupt the corridor’s existing amenities: attractive, well-vegetated medians, relatively abundant pedestrian crossings, etc. And the roles in which BRT has been successful elsewhere don’t really seem particularly well-suited to the Central corridor either. As someone who spends a lot of time in the Nob Hill and UNM neighborhoods, I have a lot of trouble looking at the current BRT plans and seeing something which improves the area as a hub for pedestrians, cyclists, and small businesses, Breaking up pedestrian access along Central and removing its healthy medians in favor of a system of fast-moving buses really makes no sense to me.

    On the other hand, the BRT plans for Paseo make a lot of sense…on the whole BRT seems a lot better suited as a component of a high-speed, large-scale traffic system, where a dedicated ROW can be easily set aside. In such a context, BRT is inserting pedestrian-oriented transit options into a car-focused environment, not shoehorning a high-speed transit system into an area that’s already relatively (by ABQ standards at least) pedestrian-oriented.

    Plans for the Central corridor should encourage *less*, slower traffic and vehicular activity, not more. Why not run a BRT line down Lomas, which is close enough to the Central corridor for pedestrian and bus connections to be easily made but lacks much pedestrian life of its own? A dedicated BRT corridor could be inserted much more easily than on Central, and this would expand reliable pedestrian options to another route through the urban core instead of continuing the current exclusive focus on Central. ABQ Ride has improved transit service along the Central corridor to a degree I think few of us would have predicted 10 years ago, but now it’s time to expand that success beyond a single corridor. Continuing to pile up more and more routes (and transit infrastructure) along the Central corridor is a mistake.

  2. You say it best here: “Rapid transit will be a part of the solution but it can not come at the expense of all the other elements. Wide shaded sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, rezoning of the corridor, reduction of parking minimums and safe pedestrian crossings at every intersection are all more important to the long term success of Central Avenue.” Let’s see some of this vision first…we can decide later if BRT along Central makes sense as part of the puzzle, or if one of the many parallel corridors nearby would be a better place for it. (Even Campus Boulevard might make sense!)

  3. Couldn’t they get a little more creative instead of using up two full lanes for the BRT they could make the system work a bit more like what it’s trying to simulate and time them out going both directions on one lane like a train. It’s also the same way they do it on interstates for traffic relief. This may provide the needed room for a protected bike lane and protected street crossing medians.

    1. Kemper,
      Local champions are pushing for one lane in each direction for some of the segments, specifically between Broadway and I-25 (EDo) and possibly between I-25 and University where the right of way (ROW) is quite narrow.

      The drawback to this alignment is frequency limitations. If it takes five minutes for a bus to run through the segment, this means that the whole system is limited to five minute frequency. This may be frequent enough for todays ridership but ten years down the road it may not be. If we’re going to make the investment, we must allow for the possibility of increased frequency in the future.

      Thanks for your insight!

  4. Full-heartedly supporting this system and sending my best thoughts toward it being approved for federal funding! For those of us that have followed the project since 2011, it is frustrating to see how ignorant those against the project have been, particularly in saying it is being built without enough input. When it is all built out, I’m sure they’ll be singing a different tune

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