The Necessity of Transforming Indian School Road

A typical view of Indian School: wide and empty
A typical view of Indian School: wide and empty

-Dan Majewski

Indian School Road is a typical Albuquerque road: wide and, for most of the day, empty.

In fact, Indian School is more empty than the typical overbuilt Albuquerque road.

Let’s take a look at the data.

Plenty of Space to Speed

According to the most recent MRCOG Traffic Count Data, Indian School between San Pedro and Broadway handles an average of 10,000 cars/day.  The most traffic heavy segment has 14,700 cars/day while the least trafficked segment receives a paltry 7,500 cars/day.   This is a five lane road + bike lanes + narrow sidewalks (only 3 feet in some places) / portions with no sidewalks.

For my average, I included data not seen on this traffic count map segment.
For my average, I included data not seen on this traffic count map segment.

To put that into perspective, San Pedro between Kathryn and Zuni (illustrated below), which currently has a single vehicle lane in each direction + center turn lane + bike lanes in each direction, currently handles 10,000 cars/day without any problem.

The black rectangle outlines the portion of San Pedro between Gibson and Zuni where there is a single traffic lane in each direction.
The black rectangle outlines the portion of San Pedro between Gibson and Zuni where there is a single traffic lane in each direction.

Zuni averages 18,000 cars/day and only one lane in each direction, which will soon be the case, will not be a problem.  Central Ave. between Downtown and Lomas handles 11,500 cars/day.  It recently received lane reductions and most of the day, it is still quite empty.  The main difference?  Bicycles now fill the new bike lanes where previously it was impossible to ride.

Why Should I Care?

Low traffic + many lanes = high speeds.

Just think about it.  You roll up to the red light.  You switch out of the left lane into the empty right lane, queueing up next to the car in the other lane.  You look at each other.  The light turns green; it’s a race!  You both accelerate, trying to get ahead of each other.


You pull up to the red light behind the car in front of you.  The light turns green.  You both proceed, one after the other, going the speed limit.

High speeds kill.  They kill people in cars, on foot and on bicycles.  They kill the possibility for active and vibrant street life.  They kill peoples desire to bike or walk, feeding a culture of fear, obesity and car dependancy.

We Already Have Bike Lanes and Sidewalks!  What Would We Do With an Extra Lane in Each Direction?

This is how most of Indian School looks today though some segments have even narrower sidewalks.
This is how most of Indian School looks today though some segments have even narrower sidewalks.

As of today, Indian School is technically a “complete street“.  It has a bus route…. which runs only 4 times per weekday.  It has bike lanes… narrow and right next to two lanes of fast moving traffic.  It has sidewalks… extremely narrow, disconnected and lacking shade or buffer from the fast moving traffic.

If a lane in each direction was removed, Indian School could become the premier road revamp in the country.


Imagine: wide, buffered cycletracks on each side of the street, painted bright green.  Wide, landscape buffered sidewalks.  A planted median and landscape buffered sidewalk filled with native plants and bioswales that drain the paved surfaces when it rains.  Multiple well marked mid-block crosswalks.  A safe, well lit, signage filled vibrant connection between:

  • Downtown
  • Albuquerque High School
  • University Blvd. (location of a proposed world class BRT line)
  • the North Diversion Channel Trail (extremely popular multi-use trail)
  • Girard (soon to be a premier complete street)
  • Whole Foods Grocery
  • Carlisle (and the popular #5 bus)
  • Washington St. (popular bicycle route)
  • San Mateo, a top city transit corridor
  • Uptown
  • and more!

The neighborhoods streets surrounding this segment of Indian School Rd. are already well used by bicycles due to proximity to the University.

Using Streetmix, an incredible online street visioning tool, I have designed the potential outcome of this project.


This could be done tomorrow with paint.
This could be done tomorrow with paint.

For just 1/169th of the cost of the Paseo del Norte project or $135,000 (Source: Wichita Planning Dept), tomorrow, the city could re-stripe the right lane in both directions, slowing down speeds and creating a wide, buffered cycling facility on this four mile stretch.  It would be a massive regional mobility improvement for cyclists and pedestrians.  The success of this “pilot project” could drive support for the more comprehensive rebuild of the road.

Below is a picture of 8th Avenue in New York City which recently received a similar treatment to the one proposed for this corridor.

Click on the image to read about all of the positive impacts of the realignment of this street.
Click on the image to read about all of the positive impacts of the realignment of this street.

This will be a long expensive process but there are many strong arguments for transforming Indian School.  The strongest argument, in my option, is economic competitiveness.




Beautiful isn't it?
Beautiful isn’t it?

Every local politician and city leader is obsessed with bringing more jobs to Albuquerque.  This is understandable; one could argue that the recession never ended in Albuquerque.  Another problem is the retention of young people.  Austin, Denver, Ft. Collins, Portland and other cities in the region are drawing young people away from Albuquerque.  They are growing, creating opportunities which do not exist here.  A major attraction of these urban areas is their vibrant urban cores.

What if the city decided tomorrow to do a massive revamp of Indian School?  If marketed correctly, the project would gain attention from national websites and news blogs such as Streetsblog and Atlantic Cities.  Branding Albuquerque as a national center of walkable progressive street design would be hugely beneficial to our economic standing.

Will a green painted buffered bike lane single-handedly save Albuquerque?  Absolutely not.  However, there is growing evidence that young people and old people and even middle aged people are suddenly more interested in living in communities where walking and cycling are normal, comfortable and rational.

The Indian School corridor is already so close to being one of these complete communities.  It is surrounded by bikeable and walkable neighborhoods, transit corridors and unique small businesses.

The cost to do this project is priceless.  We can not, as a community, afford to continue to let motor vehicles rule our roads.

Why not finish it right?  It can only help our community which so desperately could use it.

17 thoughts on “The Necessity of Transforming Indian School Road”

  1. Wouldn’t having on street parking be a better long term solution? I’ve never been to Albuqurque but looking at the picture there is plenty of room for development. How would/could it work with having on street parking that would double as the buffer for the bike lane?

    1. Mckillio,

      This corridor is primarily residential. In order to get the neighborhoods around this corridor to support this project, I don’t think increased development would be a good sell. There are small, isolated segments where this would be a good idea but I think that could be best hashed out in the “ideal” long term solution vs. the “quick fix”. There is definitely development potential on small chunks of the corridor and I agree that on-street parking would work well in some areas.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. This discussion is a good start, but what you don’t mention is the critical nature of intersection design. Buffered bike lanes, cycletracks, or whatever you call them have one glaring weakness: As John Schubert has said, they separate cyclists until the point of impact at intersections and curbcuts, where they suddenly have conflicts with motor vehicles. Whether an Indian School Rd. with fewer lanes, lower speeds, and cycletracks is significantly better for cyclists might hinge on whether you get the details right.

    Meanwhile, bicycle boulevards like Silver continue to be a good idea.

    As someone who has been spending ever more time down the the Duke City, I wish you luck, as long as you remember that the devils are in the details.

    1. Khal,

      You make a very good point. My cost estimates do not include the cost of revamping the intersections which, as you said, are critical. However, this is a more pressing issue with two-way cycletracks vs. my proposed single direction cycletracks. Essentially, though, you are correct: in order to attract more cyclists to this facility, the intersections are the elephant in the room.

      I couldn’t agree more about the bicycle boulevards. They are the lowest hanging fruit considering the low cost of implementation.

      Thank you for the luck and commenting!

  3. Yes!

    In the same vein, I was coming back from downtown yesterday, and going over the Coal Street bridge over the freeway. Yuch! There is a pedestrian protected lane on one side — but what do they expect the cyclists to do??

    I am a VERY experienced cyclist. I guess I don’t expect to ACTUALLY get hit, but it makes me uncomfortable.

    And I KNOW that every time I talk to folks who like the idea of riding a bike, and haven’t been, their deal is always, “it seems so dangerous, what with all those cars.”

    Pisses me off.

    Why can’t they provide some protection for the cyclists, from the yahoos? I mean, there are so many places on that route downtown and back that feel DOWNRIGHT uncomfortable, if not QUITE literally unsafe (not sure…).

    More to the point, Dan:

    * What do we do? What can reasonably be done?

    I will say, that when I lived in San Francisco in the mid-90’s, the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition (SFBC) was really gaining their voice. And, in the succeeding years, they became a serious player. They made real headway, and significant changes in bike-friendliness throughout the city. And, when you go to SF now, it’s teeming with cyclists.

    Of course, this is a car culture, overwhelmingly. I am an outsider here.

    What is our course of action?

    1. Chris,

      I could not agree more about Coal. It is absolutely absurd that there are four lanes on that bridge. Apparently, the reason they won’t add a bike lane there because if they ever need to evacuate Downtown in the event of a disaster, they need all four lanes.

      Obviously, this is outrageous, idiotic and ridiculous. Apparently, that lane will only be created if there is an administration change at city hall.

      What can we do?

      That’s a great question. Educating our fellow citizens seems to be the best long-term strategy at this point. This is my focus right now.

      In the short term, BikeABQ is a pretty good bicycle advocacy group. They meet monthly and have a certain level of influence on local policy.

      Beyond that, I’m not sure. Some sort of radical action may be a good course at some point.

  4. Not sure what happened to my earlier post, but here is the gist of it. A critical part of any buffered bike lane/cycletrack design is how you treat intersections and curbcuts. The fatals that I have read about happen when a cyclist moving from a cycletrack into an intersection is not seen by a motorist (and vice versa) during turning and crossing motions. One needs protected light cycles or extreme cyclist situational awareness in those situations.

    I think narrowing and calming some of the arterials in Albuquerque is a good idea. The major arterials are by and large very bicycle and ped unfriendly. Bottom line though, is our culture rewards bad driving and speeding. That is a deeper issue.

  5. While I am in agreement with the goals of the article, and in general agreement with the methods, I disagree that the problem of high speeds on roads like Indian School comes from the urge to race adjacent cars after stopping for the traffic lights. This is much too simplistic, and doesn’t match my observations. I have observed the traffic at Indian School and University, and at Indian School and Carlisle, on hundreds of occasions, with car/cycle interactions in mind. I’ve monitored other intersections on Indian School a smaller number of times. I have seen very few races between drivers. This may be more common at the brief periods when the high school is letting out.

    Most of the traffic on Indian School, as on most Albuquerque arterials, moves away from the traffic lights at a brisk but controlled acceleration, attains the posted speed limit, and keeps on accelerating. The average pace on the sections between traffic lights is ten to fifteen mph over the posted speed limit, and the farther it is from the last stop, the higher the average speed. Decreasing the number of lanes would help this problem, but getting drivers to obey the speed limits is a very challenging problem.

    1. Vere,

      “Racing” is an exaggeration of the exact situation you are describing. Creating one lane vs. two lanes would literally force people to follow the speed limit. In a one lane situation, the prudent driver sets the speed.

      I could go into more detail but Dan Burden, a livable neighborhood expert, is better at explaining this phenomenon than me. Click this link and watch the video to see how a lane reduction would solve most of the speeding problems on Indian School Rd:

  6. Nice post. It’s easy to destroy a good conceptual idea while searching for the perfect. We seem to have a habit of that here in ABQ. Single lane and some rejiggering of roadway layout would certainly be beneficial on Indian School and might reduce some of the really high speeds we see near bicycle facilities. Getting on the N. Diversion Trail approaching from the West is always dicey as oncoming traffic visibility is poor and cars approach way too fast. Safety issues at Edith, AHS and University are apparent for anyone that has ridden it in either direction.

    Good point that numbers don’t support the road design and there is significant room for improvement. I think buffered bike lanes would be huge and much safer than anything we have in the area, especially the bike boulevards. Any one wondering how they might work needs to simply look at what NMDOT has done on Coors North of St. Josephs (St. Pius). That roadway used to be a nightmare for cyclists and pedestrians. It’s not perfect now, but with the proper signage and lane stripping, it’s about as safe as we are going to get with local driving behavior.

    One minor niggle for my young friend. Dude, even the middle aged…….?

    1. Scott,

      Thanks! That crossing at the North Diversion Channel Trail was what originally motivated me to begin research for this post. It is such a terrible crossing, especially considering it is one of the most popular bicycle corridors in the city.

      I will have to check out that segment of Coors. I’ll need to find some excuse to cross the river haha…

      Regarding the “middle aged” segment: much of the focus of the walkable community conversation focuses on the Millennials and the Boomers. Middle aged people with families are frequently left out of this conversation especially since the lagging indicator in restoring urban neighborhoods is frequently quality school districts. My comment was meant to be inclusive but I should have framed it better.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  7. A roundabout makover to ponder
    Poynton regenerated, England 26,000 vehicle movements per day
    using the concept of shared space

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