6 Positive Projects from 2016 & A Look Ahead

Written and Edited By Members of the UrbanABQ Collective and Better Burque

Check out BetterBurque.org for in-depth, Albuquerque-focused articles about bicycle and pedestrian safety, infrastructure and more! 

MLK looking east at the Edith intersection. Though there are still issues with some of the intersections along the corridor, the changes have overall created a vastly improved cycling environment.
MLK looking east at the Edith intersection. Though there are still issues with some of the intersections along the corridor, the changes have overall created a vastly improved cycling environment.

A Series of Predictions

In late 2014, we wrote an article called “A Great 2014 + The 2015 Forecast,” which can be found HEREThat piece covered positive changes that happened over the previous year and investigated some things we wanted to see happen in 2015.

Much of what we wanted to see in 2015 didn’t happen … until this year, 2016. In fact, most of the items on that list have become a reality in the last couple of months! So, we decided it was time for an update on the update:

Recent Positive Happenings:

Grand Opening of the Silver Street Market in the Imperial Building

The recently completed Imperial Building contains a grocery store, a brewery, restaurants, affordable housing, a rooftop garden and many other amenities
The recently completed Imperial Building contains a grocery store, a brewery, restaurants, affordable housing, a rooftop garden and many other amenities

We could not be more excited about the grand opening of the Silver Street Market in the Imperial Building at Second and Silver. Though some have complained that the grocery store has not fulfilled their highest of hopes and dreams, it’s a game changer in terms of livability in the Downtown core. The ability to buy essentials such as eggs, lettuce, and a bottle of wine just a block from the Alvarado Transit Center has already impacted the daily lives of many Downtown residents. It makes a stronger case for anyone who has been thinking about moving to or developing residential units in the heart of the city. 

A.R.T.—Albuquerque Rapid Transit Begins Construction

Albuquerque Rapid Transit construction in Historic Hunning Highlands / East Downtown. When complete this segment will feature widened sidewalks, and uphill bike lane, a bi-directional bus lane and one general traffic lane in each direction. For more info, visit the project website: http://www.brtabq.com/.
Albuquerque Rapid Transit construction in Historic Huning Highlands/East Downtown or EDo. When complete this segment will feature widened sidewalks, an uphill bike lane, a bi-directional bus lane and one general traffic lane in each direction. For more info, visit the project website: http://www.brtabq.com/

When we initially wrote about the A.R.T. project three years ago, we could not imagine the uproar and controversy it would eventually cause. On the plus side, it is exciting to see the citizens of Albuquerque so engaged around public transit, an important topic which typically falls to the wayside.

Unfortunately, much misinformation has been spread about the project, a problem that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. For example, no matter how hard anyone works to communicate otherwise, many people think the money for the project could be used to fund other things such as APD, that the project will eliminate all left turns on Central, or that stations in the median will be more dangerous and harder to access than curbside stations—none of which is the least bit true.

Just as we have from the beginning of this project, we stand behind A.R.T.  True, it’s a project with faults and we wrote about some of them in our 2015 forecast article. But overall, it’s an incredibly positive project that will forge major transit improvements—especially in some of the poorest, most transit-dependent parts of the city—and lead to major pedestrian safety improvements on the deadliest street in the city.

The Zuni Road Diet

The Zuni Road Diet is perhaps 2016’s most exciting and badly needed project from the perspective of road safety. It’s been in the works for years, yet continued to hit roadblocks, so to speak.

This section of Zuni, between Washington and San Mateo, went from 3 lanes in each direction to 2 lanes in each direction + wide, buffered bike lanes. The majority of the corridor, from San Mateo to Central, went from 2 lanes in each direction to 1 lane in each direction + a center turn lane + bike lanes on each side.
This section of Zuni, between Washington and San Mateo, went from 3 lanes in each direction to 2 lanes in each direction + wide, buffered bike lanes. The majority of the corridor, from San Mateo to Central, went from 2 lanes in each direction to 1 lane in each direction + a center turn lane + bike lanes on each side.

The original plans called for major physical changes to the corridor, including the addition of mid-block crossings, sidewalk widening, and other elements to calm traffic and dramatically improve safety. Unfortunately, the funding proposed for this project is tied up.

To make a long story short, recently elected City Councilor Pat Davis, using his discretionary funding, teamed up with Bernalillo County to get a low cost repave and restripe on Zuni. This was only possible due to the extensive groundwork laid by his predecessor, Councilor Rey Garduño. It’s an inspiring story of agencies and departments working together to make positive change happen, but the fact that this relatively cheap project was so hard-won says a lot about how local and national transportation infrastructure is financed and prioritized.

Fortunately, the results have been exceptional, despite being derived from only paint. Narrowed automobile lanes, based on Albuquerque’s recently-passed Complete Streets Ordinance (more on that below), allowed for wider bike lanes and (hopefully) lower automobile speeds. For the cost of paint and with political will, many lives will likely be saved this year and beyond on Zuni Road.

Implementation of the Albuquerque Complete Streets Ordinance

As predicted, this happened in early 2015, but only recently have we seen the physical results of the legislation, which was led by city councilor Issac Benton. Across the city, repaving projects like Zuni are leading to the creation of narrower traffic lanes, wider buffers for sidewalks, wider bike lanes and increased safety for cyclists. The Complete Streets Ordinance is a small but significant step in the direction of a safer more resilient Albuquerque.

Implementation of the Downtown Walkability Plan

This study has now become legally-binding policy, and we’ve seen recent implementation of some of these recommendations, including:

The addition of parking on these previously
The addition of parking on these previously “naked” curbs helps to slow down traffic, buffer the sidewalk from moving vehicles and increase automobile access to Downtown retailers
  • Painted buffers added to the Lead and Coal bike lanes between I-25 and Second Street
  • Addition of parking meters to previously arbitrarily marked yellow and red curbs “naked” curbs, covered in-depth on pages 20, 79, 99 of the walkability study and also covered in other pages in the study
  • Reconfiguration of First Street and Copper into a traditional four-way intersection
  • Painted buffers added to widened bike lanes on MLK Jr. Blvd.
  • Conversion of signals into stop signs at low traffic intersections in Downtown along Silver and Eighth Street (this is still under study and this may or may not become permanent) 

Still, we’re a long way from finished regarding the implementation of the other recommendations. Some of these, such as removing portions of Tijeras, will require more money and time to implement. That said, it’s great to see some of the aforementioned light, quick, and cheap ideas being implemented where possible, contributing immediately to a better Downtown ABQ.

Groundbreaking at Innovate ABQ

“The Rainforest” is quickly rising out of the ground on the corner of Broadway and Central

Work has begun at the former First Baptist Church site with the inaugural development now under construction. Called “The Rainforest,” this mixed-use building will include dorm residences, a business incubation center, a Nusenda Credit Union branch, some food establishments, and more. The addition of these new residents and businesses will likely stimulate the growth of more restaurants and retail Downtown. 

Uber and Lyft

In our 2015 Forecast, we mentioned that Uber and Lyft had recently begun operating in New Mexico. Shortly after this post, both firms experienced legal trouble with the State of New Mexico and began operating in a legal gray area. Lyft left the state shortly after it arrived due to these legal concerns

These legal issues have since been resolved and Lyft is back. Both Uber and Lyft are now operating legally in New Mexico so if you haven’t yet, give them a try!

Other Things We Would Like to See Happen:

More Parquitos

Images of the destroyed parquito. These images could also be a commentary about driver behavior in Albuquerque in general.
Images of the destroyed parquito. These images could also be commentary about driver behavior in Albuquerque in general.

The Bad News: After we crowdfunded the first parquito in Albuquerque, it was quickly built in front of the Zendo Coffee. The bad news is that on one late night in early 2016 someone driving a large vehicle destroyed it. This means that there are currently no parquitos in Albuquerque.

The Good News: However, the area around the first parquito has now become a vital node, with not only Zendo Coffee, but also Sidetrack Brewing Co., A Good Sign and SCA Contemporary at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory, a collaborative art space and gallery.

A whimsical
A whimsical “silly walking” sign was recently installed by A Good Sign on the corner of Lead and 2nd

The Great News: A successful 2016 (Park)ing Day, on September 16th, was the kickoff of what will soon be a permanent parquito in front of Deep Space Coffee. We have heard that it will be constructed in Spring of 2017 so stay tuned!

The temporary parquito in front of Deep Space Coffee on (Park)ing Day 2016
The temporary parquito in front of Deep Space Coffee on (Park)ing Day 2016

A Comprehensive Approach to Homelessness, Poverty, and Mental Health…

This wasn’t mentioned in the 2015 forecast, and definitely needs to be said: The homelessness and poverty challenges in Downtown and across Albuquerque pose a huge threat to our city’s success. Though there have been efforts on the part of the City and other organizations, including a program employing panhandlers which has gained national attention, the massive needs here aren’t being adequately addressed.

One possible solution could be a tent city. Las Cruces has developed a successful tent city model, which could be replicated here.  

Crime is on the rise in Albuquerque and in many other cities across the nation. It is especially obvious at the Alvarado Transit Center and Robinson Park, locations where petty crime and drug dealing can be observed happening in broad daylight.

and a Better Way to Release Prisoners

Buried in the Downtown Walkability Study, there is a fantastic idea that most people seem to have missed:

Reportedly, when prisoners are released from jail, they are dropped off at the Regional Correctional Center and told that their wristband entitles them to a free ride from the Transportation Center to anywhere its buses go. This misinformation apparently contributes to the large number of homeless at that facility. Much better outcomes would result from these prisoners being dropped off instead at the transit facility at Central and Unser, with a bus ticket. It would seem well worth the limited cost of these tickets for the City to underwrite such a program.

Apparently, this program used to exist but somehow, the partnership between the City of Albuquerque and Bernalillo County dissolved over time. This would be an easy, common sense solution to two large problems: a Downtown filled with recently released prisoners with no means to go anywhere; and providing a way for them to return to their home, or at least get closer to a location with resources or support.

This is one of a thousand simple, small-scale solutions that could lead to large-scale change. As with many public policy problems, the first step is recognizing this is a huge problem that requires the collaboration of many different stakeholders.

On the Way Up With A Long Way To Go

Overall, there are many good things happening. On top of all the things mentioned above, some other positives include:

The improvements on MLK included many innovative features including loop detectors, which sense the presence of a bike and change the signals more rapidly.
The improvements on MLK included many innovative features including loop detectors, which sense the presence of a bike and change the signals more rapidly.

In light of the fact that community participation played a role in so many of the aforementioned successes, it’s clear that even more engagement has the potential to effect even more positive change.

We invite everyone to attend our meetings and speaker sessions to learn more about these initiatives. Follow us on Facebook for details about future happenings!

Our next “UrbanABQ Presents” speaker series event will be on the evening of Thursday, December 1st at the Hotel Andaluz. Find all the details on the Facebook event, here! 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s