Jeff Speck + Jefferson Middle School: Improving a Problematic Proposal

– Dan Majewski

Click this image to visit
Click this image to visit

NOTE: Jefferson Middle School may soon fall to the bulldozers and a loop road will be constructed around the school. This proposal has been pushed through without any public process. If you have an interest in learning more about this issue or preventing it from happening, click the image above to visit

On the evening of August 14, the renowned urbanist and author Jeff Speck lectured at the Hotel Parq Central. The attendees were a diverse mix of community members including city planners, developers and other interested citizens. Mr. Speck’s ability to speak candidly about the issues facing Americas urban communities was refreshing and helpful. His new book, Walkable City, outlines in detail many of the themes highlighted in his presentation. If you are interested in making Albuquerque or any city more economically sustainable and physically healthier, I strongly recommend this book. It is light on the jargon yet it clearly highlights the ingredients necessary to create cities for people.

Mr. Speck Goes to Jefferson
The next morning, I joined Jeff Speck and a couple of other community members on a tour of Jefferson Middle School. The discussion topic was a proposed loop road around the perimeter of the school. I previously wrote an article about this issue titled Why Don’t Children Walk to School Anymore? Crisis and Opportunity at Jefferson Middle School.

We arrived at the school around 8:10 AM during the peak of the morning parent drop-off rush. It was relatively tame on Girard: slow speeds, minor congestion and relatively fluid movement. Once we entered the adjacent neighborhood, the issues became more visible with high volumes of parent drop-off traffic observed. This created potentially dangerous situations for the many students and residents walking or biking on these streets.

We parked and entered the school grounds from one of the three walking paths which connect the neighborhood to the school. The loop road plan was briefly explained to Jeff and as we walked he began to draw.

Mr. Speck observed that there was very little traffic on Lomas considering it was the peak of morning rush hour. Sure enough, the traffic counts show that this segment of Lomas is overcapacity and does not need three lanes in each direction.

Lomas could easily lose a lane between Carlisle and Girard
Lomas could easily lose a lane between Carlisle and Girard

For comparison in the image above, observe that Central, highlighted on the bottom of the image with a black rectangle, handles almost twice the amount of traffic (31,200 cars/day) between Girard and University with only two lanes in each direction. I encourage you to play with the large full version of the traffic count map in the image above: 2011 Traffic Flows for the Greater Albuquerque Area.

In just 45 minutes, Mr. Speck quickly sketched out three alternatives to the loop road which were far superior to anything presented by APS. They are as follows, beginning with least expensive/physically easy and ending with most expensive/physically difficult:

Click to enlarge!  This image illustrates the conversion of the existing right lane into a pick-up / drop-off lane
Click to enlarge! This image illustrates conversion of right lane into a pick-up / drop-off lane

OPTION A: Blub-Out on Lomas = Traffic Calming, Lower Speeds
This plan would be both incredibly cheap and physically easy to implement. Regarding physical infrastructure, it would only require a bulb-out (COST: ~$20,000; source) and pavement markings instructing vehicles where to stack, where to turn, etc. Compare this to the cost of the proposed loop road at $572,000. The graphic above explains Option A in detail. As written in the graphic, this segment of Lomas only averages 17,400 cars/day! This volume of traffic could easily be managed with only two lanes vs. the existing three lanes.

A major side benefit of this plan would be reduced speeds and traffic calming. One less traffic lane would give vehicles one less opportunity to pass aggressively, making it safer and easier for people to cross the street.

Click to enlarge!  Speck's sketch of Options A and B
Click to enlarge! The J. Speck sketch of Options A and B
Click to enlarge!  This image shows the space available to enlarge the existing bus drop off area
Click to enlarge! This image shows the space available to enlarge the existing bus drop off area

OPTION B: Extended Bus Drop-off Lane
According to neighborhood residents, Lomas is only serviced by four school buses. However, the bus lane is wide and if extended, could easily handle the existing four buses as well as a significant percentage of the parent pick-up/drop-off traffic. The graphic above explains this alternative in more detail. Since this option would involve extending something that already exists, the cost to build it would be much lower than the proposed loop road.

Click to enlarge!  In my rough illustration, the red rectangles represent the enhanced crossings proposed by Jeff Speck.  A tree lined sidewalk skirts the outer edge of the project area
Click to enlarge! In my rough illustration, the red rectangles represent the enhanced crossings proposed by Jeff Speck. A tree lined sidewalk skirts the outer edge of the project area

OPTION C: Tree Buffered Loop Road + Enhanced Crossings + Narrowed Pavement
This option, pictured above, would require the least amount of deviation to the existing plan. However, the enhancements discussed here would lead to a much higher quality project.

The image below was drawn by Mr. Speck. In his drawing, the proposed 24 ft. road has been transformed. Mr. Speck proposed:

12 ft driving lane +
8 ft. gravel parking lane +
6 ft. tree buffer +
6 ft. sidewalk +
6 ft. tree buffer

Click to enlarge!  The right side of this image, drawn by Speck, details proposed new alignment
Click to enlarge! The right side of this sketch by Speck details the proposed new alignment

A 12 ft. driving lane plus an 8 ft. parking lane vs. the proposed 24 feet of pavement would mean lower speeds plus less storm water drainage issues.

The tree lined sidewalk would both reduce the heat island effect of the new road and provide a pleasant walking environment for the significant percentage of students who walk to school.

Another critical element of the Speck plan is raised crosswalks at all three of the neighborhood pedestrian cut throughs plus the two ends of the road. Below is an illustration of a raised crosswalk:

A hybrid crosswalk and speed table, raised crosswalks are a great way to slow down traffic and provide safe crossings
A hybrid crosswalk and speed table, raised crosswalks are a great way to slow down traffic and provide safe crossings

Creating Places for People
Jeff Speck saw the issues at Jefferson Middle School and quickly found cheap, easy and reasonable solutions to the current problem. Regarding Option A, Jeff Speck made this point:

If we think in isolated boxes, we are fixing a school drop off problem by creating a traffic problem. If we think synthetically, we are fixing two problems at once: school drop off and an unsafe sidewalk against speeding traffic.

This project is interesting because of the larger context. APS is one of the most influential organizations in the City of Albuquerque. If they do not have an interest in encouraging walkable environments around their schools, the whole city loses. Regarding walkability, schools and children are the lowest hanging fruit. By design, most student live in close proximity to their school, especially if it is a middle school or an elementary school. Encouraging walkability is simply good economics: parking lots and loop roads are a lot more expensive than crosswalks and bike lanes.

Jefferson Middle School has a history of students walking and biking to school. Though a significant percentage of students are now attending from outside the district, there is still plenty of opportunity to encourage walking and biking.

Since APS does not have to answer to any higher authority, they are acting in a disrespectful manner. They refuse to acknowledge all of the better options that could be used to solve the parent drop-off/pick-up problem. They want the project to be completed and for the neighbors to get out of the way.

The city has not yet granted the curb cut that Jefferson/APS needs in order to complete the road but the writing is on the wall. Within the past couple days, fences and other infrastructure have been placed, suggesting an imminent start to this project.

It is unfortunate that APS does not want to build a good relationship with its neighbors. It is a missed opportunity and it will leave behind bad blood in the neighborhood for years to come.

Come to the Albuquerque City Council meeting tonight (August 19) at 5 PM and speak up for progressive walkable urbanism in Albuquerque!

Six Steps Towards a Better Burque for Bike Enthusiasts

– Dan Majewski
NOTE: This article was published in the Local IQ Magazine on July 30, 2013. The link to the article on their website can be found here: Six steps toward a better Burque for bike enthusiasts. Please visit their website and pick up the print edition. This months issue is chock full of bicycle related articles as well as the usual cultural fare. Support them! The article below is exactly the same except for a couple of hyperlinks and a graphic. Enjoy!

Graphic interpretation of cycling on city streets in ABQ by local artist Trevor Lucero
Graphic interpretation of cycling on city streets in ABQ by local artist Trevor Lucero

Albuquerque has historically performed well in the game of “top American cycling cities.” Our multi-use path network is the envy of municipalities across the nation: 50-plus miles of paved path, completely separated from automobiles. Add other lanes and routes to the total and we have 400-plus miles of bicycle infrastructure! City leaders have worked hard to accomplish this and they should be commended.
However, the development of cycling infrastructure in Albuquerque is stagnating. This may come as a surprise to many residents. After all, new paths open annually and visible improvements to our network are constantly being made, though many major American cities are evolving at a more rapid pace than the Duke City. The key to keeping up? Get more people riding. Below is a list of six ideas for how the City of Albuquerque can do that:
1. Fill The Gaps
Cycling in Albuquerque is 90 percent heaven and 10 percent hell. The weakness of the city’s existing network is found in the gaps between the paths, lanes and routes. Some of these dangerous gaps have been the site of fatal cycling collisions. Many of them exist near interstate on/off ramps.
Properly filling these gaps would be expensive and could require taking away space from motor vehicles, which is never easy politically. Yet, until the city understands the vital importance of utility cycling (using bicycles for transportation), Albuquerque will stagnate. Filling these dangerous gaps must be a primary focus.
2. Connect the Dots 
Our bicycle path network is a great idea: build facilities that are separated from vehicles. This prevents any possibility of conflict between motorists and cyclists, creating a safe, quiet and relaxing environment. However, to access the paths, one must ride on streets that do not accommodate cyclists.
The trails do not directly connect with any place that one needs to go: the grocery store, the bike shop, etc. Businesses can be accessed from the trail but there is no relationship between the destination and the trail. The trails have been designed specifically for recreation. Besides the Bosque Trail, they are not pleasant public spaces. Citizens are currently leading a movement called BIZ (Bike-in Zoning) that would allow small businesses to open up along the trail, activating the space. Connecting the existing network to popular destinations is vital.
3. Don’t Forget About the Bus
To be a top cycling city, we need to be a good walking and transit city. New York is quickly transitioning to a bicycle-friendly place because many people do not own cars. A quality cycling city cannot be dependent on cars. It is no accident that Albuquerque’s Central Avenue corridor has a high percentage of people cycling for transportation. Filling the gaps in our transit and sidewalk network is crucial. To make this a reality, citizens must push government officials to take the difficult steps required for this transformation.
4. Capture Low Hanging Fruit
The UNM area and Downtown are already filled with residents who do not own cars and primarily cycle or walk. Making these areas more bike-friendly first would be the best value. Other cities are building protected bicycle infrastructure in their downtowns or their universities. This is a natural next step for Albuquerque.
Bicycle boulevards like Silver Avenue are relatively quick and cheap to build. Creating a network of these around UNM would lead to an increased rate of cycling.
Many of our streets are over capacity. This means that they have more vehicle lanes than necessary to accommodate the amount of traffic. Re-striping certain streets in Albuquerque could happen tomorrow for minimal cost. It has already been done on some streets; there is no reason to stop now.
5. Education and Encouragement

This graphic is the result of a study done at Portland State University
This graphic is the result of a study done at Portland State University

A recent study done in Portland, Ore. found that 60 percent of the population there is “interested yet concerned” about cycling for a number of reasons, primarily safety. The results of the study are displayed in the image above.
Converting “interested but concerned” residents into bicycle riders requires a massive amount of education and encouragement. Well-advertised and frequently scheduled classes that educate people how to safely ride in the streets is essential to the growth of bicycles as a mode of transportation. This is already being done. However, to increase the number of people cycling, this must be more integrated.
6. Strengthen Staff Numbers
The City of Albuquerque has one bicycle coordinator. They do not have a single pedestrian coordinator. And we wonder why our city looks the way it does…
To accomplish anything from this article, there must be an increase in staff dedicated to making our city more people friendly. Adding a single staff person dedicated to cycling in our city would double the amount of work we could accomplish annually.
Albuquerque is on the cusp of a cultural transition. Hundreds of residential units are being developed downtown, microbreweries and food trucks are appearing everywhere and the awareness and importance of building community around active transportation and small local businesses is growing. Central Avenue is our spine and there are active community conversations occurring about the future of it. Bus rapid transit? Bike lanes?
We need a cohesive direction. A bicycle-friendly city is part of a larger vision. It includes more density, better transit and other elements that some long-time residents are uncomfortable with. Engaging the community is an important next step.
It is time for us to retake the lead. It will not be easy but it is our best opportunity to rebuild our broken economy. Building a more bike-friendly Albuquerque will not be difficult. Finding the funding and political support will be.

Follow for more information on how to get involved.