A Great 2014 + The 2015 Forecast

– Dan Majewski

Some festive folks enjoying the new parquito at Zendo.
Some festive folks enjoying the new parquito at Zendo.

Cheers to a successful and momentous year!  Ending the year with the first parquito in New Mexico, now available in front of Zendo Cafe, couldn’t have been better.  Seeing the streets filled with people for our first ever ABQ CiQlovía this fall was incredible and inspiring.  Whether it was the Railyards Market, tactical crosswalk painting in Nob Hill, the CNM STEMulus Center or the completion of the Silver Moon Lodge, it has been exciting to see so many initiatives manifest or finish to completion this year.

Below is a list of 2014 highlights (feel free to add more in the comments section!) as well as some expectations and desires for 2015.

Highlights of 2014

Completion of the First Parquito

Over the course of nearly two years, members of UrbanABQ have been in talks with the City and area business to build the state’s first parklet, or as we call it, a parquito. After a significant amount of discourse with the city, Zendo Coffee and Art Bar was given to the green light to build a pilot that would be tested for 60-days.  Burqueno’s banded together and helped to the fund the mini public park through a crowdfunding campaign on IndieGoGo. Unfortunately the permitting process took much longer than anticipated but the result is a handsome parquito in the heart of downtown! Area businesses now have a framework for creating their very own.

The Railyards Market on Mothers Day, 2014
The Railyards Market on Mothers Day, 2014

The Railyards Market

We were inspired by the weekly Sunday market which took place at our beautiful, now officially historic, Railyards.  Organized by passionate burqueño and burqueña volunteers, the market quickly transitioned from idea to reality.  The market recently ended a very successful first season, but their continued success is being threatened by the City of Albuquerque.  The most recent compromise for the coming 2015 season includes three out of four Sundays per month + one day during the week.  For those who don’t feel this is good enough, there is a petition you can sign by clicking on this text.   As of this writing, there are over 700 signatures.  For more info on the market, follow them on Facebook.

Image from the event taken by our photo contest winner Rocío Rodríguez.
Image from the event taken by our photo contest winner Rocío Rodríguez.

ABQ CiQlovía

We couldn’t have been more impressed and inspired by the community support we received for ABQ CiQlovía.  On September 21, over 4,700 people took the streets for the Carnuel Parade, to walk, to bike, to play and to simply enjoy the perfect weather.  If you haven’t seen it yet, click here to see the amazing aerial video from the event.  The Planning Committee is finalizing a report with a brief overview and synopsis of CiQlovía results and findings.  It will include recommendations for the 2015 event.  The process of selecting a route for 2015 is beginning as well.  Keep an eye on our website and our Facebook page for more details.

An image from the Innovate ABQ plan, linked below.  Dark red = underutilized opportunity areas, primarily surface parking lots.
An image from the Innovate ABQ plan, linked below. Dark red = underutilized opportunity areas, primarily surface parking lots.

Innovate ABQ

What started as an idea a couple of year ago is becoming a reality.  An initial master plan has been developed and the land for the keystone project has been purchased.  What was once the First Baptist Church on Broadway and Central will become a regional center for innovation, creativity, technology and knowledge exchange.  A partnership between the City, the County, UNM, CNM and many others, Innovate ABQ will tie together existing centers and innovation hubs along the Central corridor.  It is being integrated with the proposed Central Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, improvements to bicycle lanes on MLK Jr. Blvd and other projects.  Work has already begun and hopefully portions of the First Baptist site will be operational by the end of 2015.  One aspect of the Innovation District, however, is already up and running…

An image from the grand opening of the CNM STEMulus Center, Sept. 2014.
An image from the grand opening of the CNM STEMulus Center, Sept. 2014.

CNM STEMulus Center

Last year, the announcement about the Gap leaving the Galleria building Downtown came as a heavy hit.  With the announcement this year that CNM would be taking its place, it appears that Downtown received the better end of the deal.  With hundreds of students projected, the CNM STEMulus Center will transform what was once an office building in a huge technology and idea incubator.  With a wide variety of classes and programs being offered, the STEMulus Center (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is complementary to many of the other exciting projects happening Downtown.

One of the many unique objects being fabricated and designed at the Levitated Toy Factory.
One of the many unique objects being fabricated and designed at the Levitated Toy Factory.

Levitated Toy Factory + Downtown 2030 District –

Arguably the most exciting and intriguing new development in Downtown Albuquerque this year was the Levitated Toy Factory.  Jared and Laurie Tarbell continue to inspire with each new idea and proposal.  Their efforts have received national attention, leading to a wonderful article in CityLab as well as in the Local iQ.  As their vision for Downtown and the digital fabrication industry continues to manifest, we look forward to seeing the already exciting results expand.  Their overall vision for a vibrant and more sustainable Downtown is manifesting through their work with the Downtown MainStreet Team.  The 2030 District is a proposed sustainability district for Downtown.  The idea behind 2030 is “net zero”, or creating a district which produces more energy than it consumes by the year 2030.  The Levitated Factory is already net zero.  It is now up to the rest of the Downtown property owners to catch up.  Join us in January for the first forum about the 2030 District.

A rendering of the new hotel being constructed in Old Town.
A rendering of the new hotel being constructed in Old Town.

Ground Broken on Hotel Chaco in Old Town + Athena @ the Granite on 4th Street –

Some exciting new projects from are just getting started.  A new Old Town hotel will help to fill the gap between Sawmill and Old Town.  Athena @ the Granite will include a taproom, market, wine, coffee and other essentials.  Most importantly, it will be right on the edge of Downtown in the emerging Warehouse District (NoLo anyone?).

The renovated Convention Center is already attracting new event programming.  Pictured here is the Day of the Tread, a massive local running and biking event, which in previous years was located at a different venue.
The renovated Convention Center is already attracting new programming. Pictured here is the Day of the Tread, a massive local running and biking event which occurs in late October.

Completion of 3rd Street and Renovations at the Convention Center –

If you haven’t been inside the new Convention Center, go check it out.  Walk into the lobby and relax on the comfy chairs surrounding the cozy new fireplace.  Enjoy some of the fastest WiFi in the city surrounded by well lit airy spaces and fresh furnishings.  The rehab of 3rd Street in front of the Convention Center was, in itself, a much needed improvement.  There is now a cohesive connection between Civic Plaza and the Convention Center, strengthening the case for an improved Civic Plaza.

The completed 4th Street renovation, looking north from Central Avenue.
The completed 4th Street renovation, looking north from Central Avenue.

Completion of 4th Street Rebuild

We were not happy with the final redesign of 4th Street but alas, what has been done is done.  Overall, it looks good.  On street parking and two traffic lanes have replaced what was once a shady green oasis in the heart of Downtown.  Now that the fences are gone, businesses will begin moving into the many vacant spaces along the corridor.

One of the iconic new signs found within the newly designated district.
One of the iconic new signs found within the newly designated district.

The Mile-Hi District

What started as a neighborhood driven vision just four years ago is now becoming a reality.  It began when the Fair Heights and Mark Twain neighborhood associations took a look at Nob Hill and wondered “Why can’t we have a vibrant walkable mixed use district in our neighborhood?”  The corridor in question was San Pedro between Lomas and I-40, right on the edge of Uptown.  San Pedro was already home to many unique and successful local businesses but something was…. lacking.  There were also a growing number of vacancies along the corridor.  After much research, it was decided that two critical changes were required to improve the corridor.

1) It needed to be branded… actually, rebranded.  Due to the elevation of the retail strip at exactly 5,280 feet above sea level, it was originally known as the Mile-Hi District.  With this knowledge, the neighborhood led a branding effort which led to the beautiful iconic signs seen on the corridor today.

2) San Pedro needed to be redesigned.  Today, San Pedro has four traffic lanes and narrow sidewalks.  This causes a variety of problems including high automobile speeds, difficulty turning into and out of businesses and very difficult crossings for bicycles and pedestrians.  The proposed redesign, which will be constructed next year, will be a basic 4 to 3 “road diet”.  Bike lanes, a center turn lane and an automobile through lane in each direction will be striped onto the corridor.  More information on this subject can be found in a detailed UrbanABQ article, linked here.  Part of the redesign process included a visit from a famous livability and walkability consultant…

Community building through active participation: a "human traffic circle", created during a walking audit with Dan Burden
Community building through active participation: a “human traffic circle”, created during a walking audit with Dan Burden.    – Image by Valerie Hermanson

A Visit from Dan Burden and the WALC Institute

This year, the White House recognized Dan Burden as a Champion of Change for his efforts to make places more walkable.  This year, Mr. Burden also visited Albuquerque.  Thanks to generous funding from multiple sources, especially the local AARP chapter, Dan engaged the community through “walking audits”, outdoor meetings with demonstrations about how to make roads more useful for all citizens.  A detailed UrbanABQ article about his visit can be found at this link.  In summary, Dan engaged local leaders, citizens, planners and engineers in a constructive conversation about building community through better infrastructure.

The City of Albuquerque Complete Streets Ordinance

Late in 2014, the Albuquerque City Council began moving complete streets legislation through committee.  This was due, in part, to the work being done by the Complete Streets in New Mexico Leadership Team.  For those who are not familiar, “complete streets” are streets which are designed to accommodate all users, not just automobiles.  According to the city website, the ordinance will provide some simple solutions for two typical situations:

  • Major Reconstruction or Construction of New Streets – The City will consider all users when designing new roads or major rehabilitation projects, and will design infrastructure appropriate to those users and the surrounding development.
  • Minor Maintenance, Resurfacing, or Rehabilitation Projects – The City will identify how Complete Streets approaches can be incorporated into more modest existing projects.  Sometimes this may be as simple as changing the way a road is striped. It would also include closing unused curb cuts and narrowing overly-wide traffic lanes to provide right-of-way for sidewalks, bicycle lanes, on-street parking, or pedestrian buffers.

In essence, when the city is doing work on an existing road, they will identify if it is possible or logical to make changes to the existing design.  These changes could come in the form of bike lanes, improved intersection crossings, sidewalks and much more.  Read all about the proposed ordinance at this link.  So far, the ordinance has received nothing but massive support.  The ordinance will go before city council in early 2015.

uber-lyft

Launch of Lyft and Uber in Albuquerque

Sure, they are controversial and they have their faults.  However, if you’ve ever used one of these peer-to-peer on-demand taxi services, you know how useful they can be.  Real time information, a two way rating system, information about your driver and their vehicle… let’s just say that they are a huge improvement over the existing cab service found in Albuquerque.  Most importantly, these services make a car-free or a car-lite lifestyle even more viable.  If you haven’t yet, give them a try.

What to Expect in 2015

A rendering of the Imperial Building, looking west from the corner of 2nd and Silver.
A rendering of the Imperial Building, looking west from the corner of 2nd and Silver.

Groundbreaking For a Grocery Store in the Heart of Downtown

Some would argue that Downtown already has a grocery store.  In fact, UrbanABQ started with a group of people living Downtown wanting a grocery store.  Through hard work and constant push from people in the surrounding neighborhood, the Lowes grocery store at Lomas and 11th was transformed from a dingy corner store into a comfortable neighborhood grocery store.  However, for someone living in the core of Downtown, it is a lengthy walk to Lowes.  The Imperial Building will change all of that.

The Imperial Building will contain 74 residential units and a 12,000 square foot grocery store just a block away from the largest transit center in the state.  This may be the critical project that Downtown needs to kickstart large scale residential growth.  The Imperial will not be your average mixed use building either: there will be a fully functional large scale rooftop garden!  The groundbreaking itself will happen in January and everything will be open for business by 2016.

A rendering from the most recent plans for ART.  This image is from the segment between Yale and Columbia, in front of UNM.
A rendering from the plans for ART. This image is from the segment between Yale and Columbia, in front of UNM.

The ABQ Rapid Transit (ART) Central Avenue Final Plan

This project could be a huge catalyst for high quality walkable urban development along our most important corridor, old Route 66.  In summary, ART will provide designated lanes, stations in the median, high frequency and extensive hours of service everyday.  It will be “light rail on rubber tires”.  No matter how it turns out, the ART project will lead to improvements for people using bicycles or their feet for transportation.  After all, if it encourages more dense development, which is one of the goals of the project, there will be more demand for services along the Central corridor.  This means more grocery stores and drug stores and less of a need to use an automobile for basic services.

However, there are some design issues with the current iteration of the plan including a lack of mid-block crossings on much of the route.  For example, there are no crossings for people on foot proposed between Presbyterian Hospital and University Boulevard.

This cross section through EDo features extremely wide auto and bus lanes.  If these lanes were narrowed, an uphill bike lane + a shared downhill auto / bike lane could be added.
This cross section through EDo features extremely wide auto and bus lanes. If these lanes were narrowed, an uphill bike lane + a shared downhill auto / bike lane could be added.

There are few proposed bicycle facilities and some of the proposed lane widths will encourage high speeds, discouraging the type of development we want to see along this corridor.  The narrow right of way, or ROW, makes this project very challenging.  However, proper facilities for people on foot and on bicycle could have a major impact on the success or failure of this project.

Keep an eye out for another round of public meetings and PLEASE show up and comment on the plan.  You can visit the project website and comment on the plan right now by clicking this text!

San Pedro will soon be redesigned with this configuration.
San Pedro will soon be redesigned with this configuration.

The San Pedro Road Diet

This exciting project, led by City Councilor Diane Gibson and the neighborhoods along the San Pedro corridor, will have a positive impact on an emerging walkable business district.  The Mile Hi District now has a logo, signage and a brand.  The road diet will bring lower automobile speeds, increased property values and vastly improved bicycle access to San Pedro.

A typical section of the redesigned Zuni Road.  It will be very similar to the rebuild of San Pedro.
A typical section of the redesigned Zuni Road. It will be very similar to the rebuild of San Pedro.

The Zuni Road Diet

This project has been in the works for a few years and it is entering final design.  The Zuni Road project will have a major positive impact on some of the Albuquerque neighborhoods most in need.   Bike lanes, wider sidewalks and improved crossings will be added to a road which is currently known for its high accident rate and dangerous speeding.  It will be a continuation of the Lead/Coal improvements into the International District.  The bike lanes on Zuni will fill a major gap in the existing bicycle network, connecting the Nob Hill area with the neighborhoods on the east side of the Fairgrounds.  Construction will be integrated with the 50 Mile Loop, which will be routed onto Zuni for a short segment.  The project is currently in final design, so ground will be broken in 2015 or 2016.

A bike share station in Denver.
A bike share station in Denver.

Bike Share

Did you know that Albuquerque almost had one of the first large scale bike share systems in the country?  In 2008, the recession led to the death of this advertiser funded project, but the detailed plans are still available  They are in need of some updates, but they are essentially ready to go.  This year was marked by a massive increase in local interest of bike share due in no small part to bike share rapidly popping up all over the world.  Regarding actual implementation, a group of Downtown stakeholders received a grant this year, which will allow a very small scale bike share system to launch sometime in 2015.  Regarding a larger regional system, a few local governing entities and major private sector players are currently in talks to make bike share a reality.  Keep following UrbanABQ for updates on this exciting project.

Families enjoying the slightly smaller than expected ice skating rink on Civic Plaza.
Families enjoying the slightly smaller than expected ice skating rink on Civic Plaza.

Continued Improvements to Civic Plaza

This year, the completion of the Convention Center was only one aspect of the improvements to Civic Plaza.  Another exciting development was the takeover of Civic Plaza management by the Convention Center.  The City of Albuquerque historically managed the plaza but now the Convention Center has control.  This is good for a number of reasons.  Essentially, the Convention Center is in the business of event programming which is exactly the kind of management needed for this type of space.  A mixture of Downtown stakeholders are currently working on some exciting plans for the plaza.  Stay tuned for more information later this year!

What We Would Like to See in 2015

“Test, Don’t Study” + Implementation of Jeff Speck’s recommendations

This year, nationally renowned walkability consultant Jeff Speck was hired by the city of Albuquerque to do an analysis of the walking environment in and around Downtown Albuquerque.  His analysis, linked here, essentially looked at what was working, what wasn’t and how to connect it all together.  His analysis focused on projects which would achieve the largest “bang for the buck” impact.

According to Mr. Speck, this image features the most walkable corridors Downtown and the "missing teeth" along those corridors.  According to the report, these should be the highest priority development sites.
According to Mr. Speck, this image features the most walkable corridors Downtown and the “missing teeth” along those corridors. According to the report, these should be the highest priority development sites.

Much of his recommendations come in the form of simple restriping and they center around narrowing lanes, adding on-street parking and striping bike lanes.  City council will be drafting legislation this year to facilitate implementation of his easier and cheaper recommendations.  We look forward to seeing this plan move towards implementation as quickly as possible.

A conceptual image of the Downtown focused Innovation District.   - D/P/S, Perkins + Will.
A conceptual image of the Downtown focused Innovation District. – D/P/S, Perkins + Will.

Innovate ABQ Operations Beginning on the Central and Broadway Site

The First Baptist site has been purchased and the site can now begin developing into the Innovation District.  Final plans are not yet complete, but this should not prevent fast tracking portions of the existing property into incubator spaces.  We hope to see the first students and tenants moving into the First Baptist site before the end of the year.  By 2016, we hope to see major infrastructure development happening on and around the property.

A bike corral in front a coffee shop in Tucson, Arizona.
An on-street bike corral in front of a coffee shop in Tucson, Arizona.

Parquitos + On Street Bike Corrals Across the City

Now that the regulations are in place, we hope to see many more businesses across the city adopting the ordinance and building their own parquitos.  The same ordinance could also hypothetically be used to install on-street bike corrals (bike parking), a much needed improvement in many parts of Downtown, Nob Hill and beyond.

Large Scale Market Rate Housing Development in Downtown

Much of the recent residential development in Downtown Albuquerque has come in the form of subsidized housing.  This is great, as there is significant need and demand for this product.  However, a vibrant Downtown requires a mix of different types of people and income groups to be successful.

This image, from the Jeff Speck plan, illustrates the potential development opportunities around underutilized parking garages.
This image from the Jeff Speck plan illustrates potential development opportunities around existing underutilized parking garages.

Existing underutilized parking lots managed privately or by the city could be leveraged to facilitate residential development.  Other cities use this model and it is time for the City of Albuquerque to take the lead on this initiative.  Developers need to be pulled Downtown and leveraging existing parking spaces is the best way to do this.  At current rental and leasing rates, market rate residential development Downtown is not viable because of the high cost of building parking.  Leverage existing parking and watch market rate housing happen Downtown.  Plus, with a new grocery store moving in, living Downtown is becoming easier.  On the topic of parking, something else Downtown needs is a…

Parking benefit district

A parking benefit district is a way to gain more support for priced parking.

How does it work?

Let’s say, for example, the City of Albuquerque wanted to increase the cost of parking along Central Avenue in Downtown.  They would announce the price increase and the merchants along the corridor would be up in arms!  They would argue that increased parking prices would drive away potential customers.  However, the City would then tell the merchants that every cent of parking revenue would be invested right back into the corridor.  Street trees, street lights, improved facades… suddenly, the merchants would be asking for the price increases.  Realistically, correctly priced parking is quite good for businesses.

A parking benefit district pumps parking revenue right back into the location where it was earned.  In the case of Albuquerque, all of Downtown could be part of a single parking benefit district.  As one could imagine, the benefits of this policy would be significant and it would be smart for the city to pursue.  Linked here is more information about parking benefit districts from, of all places, Houston, TX.

This is one of the many easy to implement proposals found in Jeff Specks plan.  This critical project could be completed tomorrow for around $40,000.  Source for cost estimates: http://bit.ly/1xcOK50.
This is one of the many easy to implement proposals found in Jeff Speck’s plan. The numbers in the image are width in feet.  Mr. Speck also proposes physical protection in the buffered areas.  This critical project could be completed tomorrow for around $40,000. Source for cost estimates: http://bit.ly/1xcOK50.

Bernalillo County Deciding to Remain Downtown –

This year, the County began a search for new office space.  Currently, Bernalillo County staff is scattered all over the city, making work between departments difficult.  Much of the search included offices outside of Downtown, scaring a lot of folks.  After all, the County does a lot of work with the City, making it logical to stay in close proximity to City Hall.  It appears they received this feedback but a final decision on this matter would help with positive decision making Downtown.

This scene from Downtown Albuquerque earlier this year was replicated across the country.  This year, across the country, thousands took to the streets, our public space, to peacefully voice opinions and express ideas.
This scene from Downtown Albuquerque earlier this year was replicated all across America. In cities across the country, thousands took to the streets, our largest public space, to peacefully voice opinions and express ideas.

Your Continued Support and Advocacy

In order for Albuquerque to become the place we want it to be, we must continue to show up to meetings, criticize and critique plans, provide public input, and even take to the streets when deemed necessary.  It’s equally important to thank our local leaders for their hard work when the opportunity arises!  If you have never participated in our democratic system, make it your New Year’s resolution to do so.  Voting is a good start but realistically, our elected officials expect us, the constituents, to lead the way and to call for change.  On the local level, democracy functions relatively well.  Just this year, as discussed in this article, we have watched many of our ideas become realities.  It required significant effort but we proved that change IS indeed possible.

TAKE ACTION!

Talk to your neighbors.  Start a community garden.  Walk or bike to at least one destination per week.  Paint a crosswalk.  Engage the people around you and realize that it is us, the people, who will decide what direction we want our world to move into.

Happy New Year!