– 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!
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
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 urbanabq.com for more information on how to get involved.