All posts by 4thandcentral

UrbanABQ is the brainchild of Tim T. and Dan M., two dedicated urbanists from Albuquerque, NM. They have both traveled extensively, observing the good, the bad and the ugly sides of urban form and development. Together, with help from many community members, they are developing a vision for a stronger and better Albuquerque, an UrbanABQ.

CicLAvia and the New Los Angeles: Lessons for ABQ from the City of Angeles

– Dan Majewski

Overlooking the 110 Freeway, Wilshire Boulevard
Overlooking the 110 Freeway, Wilshire Boulevard

IMAGINE: Central Avenue, from the Rio Grande River to San Mateo, completely closed for an entire Saturday or Sunday.  Open lots filled with stages and music.  More bicycles, rollerblades, long boards and strollers than you’ve ever seen in your life.  People lying in the middle of the street on a mattress.  Tall bike riding leotard-wearing youth.  Old Route 66 transformed into New Route 66, a street for people.

Try to count the bikes!
Try to count the bikes!

The equivalent of this happened in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 23.  Six miles of Iconic Wilshire Boulevard, the traffic and exhaust choked historic Main Street of Los Angeles, was closed to motor vehicles from 9 AM – 4 PM.

Streets filled with people, Downtown Los Angeles
Streets filled with people, Downtown Los Angeles

What is CicLAvia?

The concept is simple:

1)    close the street to vehicles

2)    bring in food trucks, live music, yoga teachers, etc.

3)    make sure all of the businesses along the route are open

4)    see what happens!

It is based on ciclovia, a tradition that began in Bogota, Columbia three decades ago.  The concept is now rapidly spreading across the United States and other parts of the world.  Tucson, a city with many similarities to Albuquerque, is now planning its sixth event.  An estimated 25,000 people attended the most recent event in April.  Read about my experience at the first Tucson ciclovia here.

Los Angeles first tried this experiment on 10/10/10.  The route utilized side streets that normally had little car traffic.  It had public support but many a naysayer.  After all, modern Los Angeles is practically defined by car culture.  Los Angeles is world renowned for soul-crushing traffic jams, a massive freeway system, fancy celebrity filled Ferraris, Jay Leno’s car collection… you get the idea.

Despite the doubt, the inaugural CicLAvia was a huge success100,000 people huge.

Map of the first CicLAvia event
Map of the first CicLAvia event

Where is CicLAvia Now?

There will be three CicLAvia events on the streets of Los Angeles in 2013.  It has a vast array of financial supporters and local champions as shown in the photo below.

Banner displaying a portion of the major contributors to the most recent CicLAvia event
Banner displaying a portion of the major contributors to the most recent CicLAvia event

The event on June 23 was incredible.  The route itself included many famous buildings, museums and public spaces best seen at the speed of a bicycle or slower.  For the first time “dismount zones”, where people on foot were prioritized, anchored each end of the route.  It marked a welcome change in policy since the goal of CicLAvia is to open the streets to ALL non-auto users, especially people on foot.  The fact that this route was shorter than previous routes also made it easier to walk the entire distance.

Read more about the event here and here.  The official CicLAvia website can be accessed here.

Los Angeles, 2013
Los Angeles, 2013

The New Los Angeles

As someone who was born in Los Angeles and visits frequently, there is change afoot.  The Southland is truly beginning to shift its policy and funding priorities towards transit, cycling and walking.

Los Angeles, up until 5 years ago, barely had a bicycle plan.  It had little official acknowledgement of bicycles as either a form of transportation or a way to get some exercise and fresh air.  The big shift occurred when the outgoing mayor, Anotnio Villagrosa, was hit while riding his bicycle on Venice Boulevard in 2010.

Suddenly, doors opened.  It’s unfortunate that it takes a crisis but it’s incredible to see the progress since.

Los Angeles is only one of many cities in the region currently transforming its streets.  Long Beach and Santa Monica, both of which will be written about in future posts, are currently the leading the progressive urban awakening in Southern California.

Cities Are for People

The era of car dominance will be looked back upon as an odd blip in human history.  For all of time until the past 75 years, every human settlement was built around the person on foot.  Even when railroads and streetcars were invented, the city continued to retain this focus.  After all, one has to walk to the streetcar station or the railroad depot.  It is only with the advent of highly subsidized fossil fuels that our urban areas have shifted into sprawling behemoths connected by 15 lane super highways and dominated by automobile.

Los Angeles is THE poster child, the ultimate symbol for a new direction, a new future, a new hope.  With two rail transit lines under construction and three about to break ground, the people of SoCal have voted for a future where one can ride a bicycle safely on the streets of Los Angeles for more than one day a year, where you don’t need a car to get everywhere, where walking is a reasonable and safe way to move around the community.

A map of completed and under construction Metro rail lines
A map of completed and under construction Metro rail lines

Central Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard: Creating a 21st Century Corridor

Central Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard are two urban corridors experiencing similar transitions.  Wilshire recently received designated bus priority lanes.  It (like Central) has more transit riders than any other corridor in the city.  Plans have been approved for rapid transit on the corridor.  However, it will be located underground, providing the city with an opportunity to reshape the streetscape dramatically.

On Central Avenue, an underground transit system makes little sense based the population of our region.  Our options at this point are to do nothing, bus rapid transit (in any variety of shapes or forms), light rail, streetcar or possibly a combination of all of the above.  Each segment of Central has a slightly different need and this needs to be acknowledged.  This community conversation is beginning to bear fruit but it is missing something: a larger regional vision.

The Need for a Regional Vision

Los Angeles is moving forward so rapidly because it developed a regional vision.  In 2008, the people of Southern California voted for a tax increase called Measure R to fund improvements in transportation around the region.  They are not the only metro area which has done this; Tucson also voted on a similar (but much smaller) proposal in 2006 called the Regional Transportation Authority.  All over the country, metropolitan areas are voting not to wait around for the federal government.  They are deciding to work together to develop a vision for the future of the region.  These movements are both bottom up and top down.

Here in Albuquerque, we recently voted to allocate local bond money to be spent on the Paseo del Norte interchange.  This project on its own is not necessarily a bad thing.  However, the fact that it was approved in isolation is a disturbing trend.  Will we continue to just vote on individual projects as needed?  This is a terrible strategy.  The PDN interchange should have been part of a larger transportation improvement package.

A rendering of the proposed improvements to PDN
A rendering of the proposed improvements to PDN

The advantage of a package is projects which would not necessarily be supported independently can be funded when combined with other more popular projects.  Also, it allows everyone to get a piece of the pie.  For example, the Los Angeles funding measure allocated different percentages of the tax to different pieces of the transportation puzzle: 20% to bus operations, 20% for highway capital projects, etc.

An example from Albuquerque could be 20% for BRT, 10% for Rapid Ride, 5% for protected bike infrastructure, 30% for Paseo del Norte, etc.  The options are limitless and putting it all together results in a strategy and a vision.

ABQ 2020

In order to progress economically as region, we need to develop an infrastructure investment package.  We need to work together to find out which projects are most important, how much they will cost and how they can be a part of developing a 21st century economy.

I will be explaining the specifics of my proposal in a future post.

Thank you for reading and please comment below!

The Inhabitant of Burque

Albuquerque Bus Stops is the story of many people moving around a city in transit. This specific post touches on many themes including the digital revolution, identity themes in ABQ, and more. Enjoy the read!

albuquerque bus stops

Lion outing-0971

I had never seen what lay hidden behind his dark sunglasses, and I cannot show it to you now, for shutters and zoom, like the mind, clunk and err from time to time, and rare opportunities are easy to miss.  But I assure you that the warmth in his eyes, alit in brief and random interludes, lends sincerity to all those words ever effervescing from his throne in bloom.  And those words, those images, they tickle and poke, caress and kindle so many latent emotions embedded in a strange city waking up to itself a little more each day.  He unto himself is no controversy, but the modern world he exposes is very much so, and I cannot help but to stare in awe as this same world—so thirsty for a chance to connect with its own self—gravitates more and more around the digital commons he un-ribboned only ten months…

View original post 1,238 more words

Central Avenue: The Necessity of a Strong Vision, Community Champions and Street Trees

UPDATE 2/4/16: Last night, the City of Albuquerque hosted a meeting about this BRT project on Central, now called ART. See the project website here! Many new and updated features of the project were unveiled at the meeting including pedestrian scale lighting along the entire project corridor and FREE high speed WiFi!

We will be learning if ABQ receives the federal grant for this project in less than 1 WEEK, on February 9th!

Many people believe project has been “fast tracked” without any public input. Part of why we’re reposting this article from 2013 is to disprove that point. Also, many of the concerns voiced in this article have been addressed including:

Bikes and Silver: The City has planned and begun allocating funding for improvements to Silver. This does not mean that Silver will extend past the freeway. However, the city is also going to be making major improvements to bike facilities on MLK, already a heavily used bicycle corridor that connects UNM to Downtown. We still believe that there are unanswered questions about bikes on Central but overall, many improvements to the plan have been made.

Medians vs. Wider Sidewalks: The folks in Nob Hill came to an agreement with the project planners and there will be wider sidewalks through Nob Hill instead of medians, a huge improvement for the business district. In fact, sidewalks will be widened and improved throughout much of the corridor and pedestrian scale lighting will be added throughout the entire corridor!

Marketing, Outreach and Champions: This project has found a champion in the form of Mayor Berry.

However, outreach and marketing by the City on behalf of this project has been too little, too late. Unfortunately, outside sources have spread misinformation about the project. Independent from those outside sources, there has been resistance to the project for a variety of reasons. In addition, it is not always easy to communicate the benefits of this project, the construction process, the potential impacts and other aspects of this proposal.

The people running this project, as of very recently, finally starting using a Facebook page to communicate information. The City needs to do better promotion and outreach for these types of projects to get ahead of any possible pushback or misinformation campaigns. It’s not an easy thing to do but it can be done.

There’s plenty more to be said about this project and we will continue discussing it on our Facebook page.

The original article, in it’s unaltered form, is below:

“Central Avenue: The Necessity of a Strong Vision, Community Champions and Street Trees”

-Dan Majewski, May 2013

BRT meeting, ABQ Museum

During the month of May in 2013, the City of Albuquerque held six public meetings about a proposed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for Central Avenue. Every meeting was held in a different location and focused on a different segment of the proposed project.

The format of the meeting was as follows:

  • 15 minute power point presentation about BRT + benefits of the project + why it should be built
  • 30 minute collaborative work session: we broke into small groups and conversed with consultants about what we like on the corridor, what we don’t like, what type of project alignment we would like to see, etc.
  • 15 closing presentations by each of the small groups

The collaborative element was useful. It allowed us to effectively express our opinons and hash out a vision for the corridor. It was also an opportunity to air grievances without having to interrupt the larger group presentation.

Bus Rapid What?

BRT Rendering

I attended two of these meeting and came away with mixed feelings.  BRT could be a great solution to the current transportation problems currently found on Central Avenue but it must be marketed correctly and executed properly.  Scroll to the bottom of the article for my full reaction.

Sorry, No Bicycles Allowed

For rapid transit systems to work, they must attract people from a wide geographic area.  To accomplish this, bicycles can be a great tool.  When asked about bicycles at this meeting, many of the consultants or city leaders implied that bicycles do not belong on Central Avenue.  “Why not the Silver Bicycle Boulevard?  Or MLK?  Or Lead/Coal?” they would say.  My response:

  1. Silver is great… until it dead ends at I-25.  It does not connect the University of New Mexico to Downtown, Old Town or the Bosque Trail.

    As you can see, the Silver Avenue Bicycle Boulevard ends at the interstate.
    The blue line on this map is the Silver Avenue Bicycle Boulevard. As you can see, it currently ends at the interstate freeway on the left side of this image.
  2. Most of the desired destinations are located on Central.  I may use Silver for 90% of my trip.  However, since my end destination is located on Central, I need to bike on Central for at least a block or two.  This means riding on the sidewalk (dangerous/illegal) or in the street (terrifying).
  3. Whether you like it or not, there is already a lot of bicycle traffic on Central.  It will only increase over time as this corridor becomes more dense.
  4. Accommodating bicycles does not necessarily mean 6 foot bike lanes in each direction.  It simply means providing infrastructure where possible.  This is an example of what bicycle accommodation could look like in the narrow segment between University Boulevard and I-25:

central

The Nob Hill No

The Nob Hill Neighborhood is the most organized and wealthy stakeholder group on this corridor.  They are also the most frustrated and angry about this proposal.  From their perspective, CABQ is trying to take away something (the medians) which presently provide safe pedestrian refuge.

True BRT = one general traffic lane in each direction.  This would lead to slower traffic speeds, creating a safer pedestrian environment and reducing the need for median pedestrian refugees.  However, the city has not adequately demonstrated the exchange of the medians for a world class rapid transit system.  The project leaders have not clarified how many crossings for people on foot would exist along the segment.  Also, it appears to Nob Hillers that this system will simply be going through the neighborhood without stopping (as the current alignment exists).  CABQ and ABQ Ride are not effectively selling the system to the neighborhood.

The city should explain that instead of the medians, Nob Hill could get wider sidewalks or bicycle lanes.

Using Streetmix, here’s how the Nob Hill segment currently looks:

Streetmix: nob hill current

Here’s how this segment could look with bicycle lanes:

Nob Hill, bike lane option

It could also look like this, replacing bicycle lanes with wider sidewalks:

Nob Hill; BRT + street trees

There are many potential positive possibilities.

Lessons from Ft. Collins, CO

On February 21st, the ULI (Urban Land Institute) hosted a full day conference about BRT in Albuquerque called Transit and Place: First Steps.  The day was filled with fantastic presentations from transit providers and developers nationwide.

Kurt Ravenschlag from Ft. Collins, CO delivered a wonderful presentation about the Mason Street Corridor BRT Project.  Initially, the project did not go over well in this mid sized college town.   It was rejected by the business community because the city was not emphasizing the economic benefits of the project, such as increased values around the station areas.   The transit provider was forced to go back to the drawing board.  The re-marketing of the proposal was successful and the project is now being constructed with major local support.

The City of Ft. Collins did not change the project!  They only changed the sales pitch.

All Together Now

The City of Albuquerque is currently working on a Complete Streets Plan for Central Avenue between 1st St. and Girard.  Isolated from the BRT project, this plan has its own webpage, a separate set of public meetings and different group of consultants.

This needs to change.

The BRT plan and the Complete Streets plan are the same thing!  They both have the same vision: increased economic development and a safer more beautiful street for people moving throughout the corridor.  Why are there two separate plans?

Mr. Ravenschlag from Ft. Collins emphasized the importance of first laying out a vision for the corridor.  Streetscaping should be the first conversation, followed by zoning overlays and bicycle/pedestrian access.  After all of that, transit should be discussed.

Reframing the Conversation

Central Avenue is in desperate need of a solution.

Half of all transit trips in the city are on this corridor.

It is Albuquerque’s main street but it is marked by vacant lots, visible poverty, fast moving automobile traffic, high pedestrian fatality rates, unsafe intersections and a lack of cohesiveness.

Rapid transit will be a part of the solution but it can not come at the expense of all the other elements.  Wide shaded sidewalks, bicycle infrastructure, rezoning of the corridor, reduction of parking minimums and safe pedestrian crossings at every intersection are all more important to the long term success of Central Avenue.

This project needs a stronger emphasis on the complete streets and economic development elements of the project.

ABQ Ride and the City of Albuquerque need to go back to the drawing board and figure out how to sell BRT as a larger part of the revitalization of the Central Avenue corridor.

The sales pitch could be something like this:

IMAGINE… an improved Central Avenue, Albuquerque’s Main Street.  Envision wide, smooth, safe sidewalks shaded with large native street trees.  Think of slow moving vehicle traffic and narrow, easy to cross intersections.  Visualize vacant lots disappearing, then filled with shops next to the sidewalk and apartments above.  Feel the warm summer air as you leave your apartment and walk a few steps away to a rapid transit station.  The station has shade, real time arrival information and other amenities.  However, you barely have time to look at all of it since a transit vehicle arrives every five minutes.  The successful vibrant Albuquerque of the future is linked to this critical corridor.

Can you see it?  I sure can.  For it to manifest, it will take strong local champions and a chorus of voices demanding a safer, more prosperous and more beautiful Albuquerque, a city for PEOPLE, where motor vehicles are guests.

It’s a difficult challenge but it’s our best hope for long term economic vitality.

Get involved!

Please comment below if you have questions or comments about this post.

For more information on the Central Avenue BRT project, click this link.

For more information on the Central Avenue Complete Street Plan, click this link.

Like the Complete Streets in New Mexico Facebook page for more news and information.

Like UrbanABQ on Facebook for more news and information.

The Transparency of an Engaging Public Realm

Image

Imagine walking down the sidewalk in downtown Albuquerque, it’s 3:30 in the afternoon and the temperature is hovering 100-degrees heat. You peer into the window of a local restaurant only to see your own reflection and the bright light refracting back at you. You can simultaneously feel the oppressive heat of the sun as well as another heat source radiating off the tinted glass. I imagine anyone reading this has experienced this a time or two walking around our downtown or in other areas of the city.  

Whether as a pedestrian, or even as a driver, there is an architectural feature that makes an enormous difference to the quality of the public realm: window transparency. Sure, there is a utilitarian reason for tinted windows in our region, but designers often fail to consider the unintended consequence of this common design choice.

There are many principles associated in generating a high quality pedestrian environment in our cities, and one involves the creation of an interesting streetscape that engages our senses at a speed that matches our 3-5mph average walking speeds. Tinted glass erodes this quality by hiding what lies behind and simultaneously contributes to heating the urban environment by reflecting the sun back into the street and sidewalk. A view (interesting or not) of life beyond the curtain wall helps to distract us from the weather. A view of socializing people, or one of merchandise are just a couple of examples of the way in which transparency contributes positively to the experience of the urban streetscape.

The same visual effect can be observed in our high rises around the city. Tinted glass contributes toward the creation of more brutal structures. An example that comes to mind is the recently renovated midrise structure at the southeast corner of the Big-I interchange. Previously, the triangular office building was coated in tinted glass windows, reflecting its surroundings. It was the equivalent of a triangular, onyx rock. The renovations included replacing the glass with a combination of transparent and sea foam green glass, resulting in a structure that is less brutal and monolithic, offering glimpses through the structure. Each level nearly appears to levitate over the previous one. The office building no longer anchors the space it is in quite the way it did before, but instead now engages its environs in a more delicate way. Its presence is no longer recognizable by only its unique, triangular shape, it is now somehow more sophisticated, allowing us to see through it and understand its skeletal structure.  

Image

New Mexico’s famous sunshine and variable weather necessitate solutions that temper our built environment. However, our sometimes harsh environment provides opportunities for innovative solutions. Let it be known that I am a fan of diversity in architecture. All art is subjective and in no way would I wish to ban any (ok, almost any) style. However, the design of our cities must consider how each building affects the composition of the city, which is experienced by people while walking, riding bicycles, and driving or riding automobiles. 

– Tim

Beyond Critical Mass: Bringing ABQ Back to the Cutting Edge

Lomas & Carlisle
The Critical Mass community bicycle ride in Albuquerque, New Mexico occurs on the last Friday of every month. It begins at the Duck Pond at the center of the University of New Mexico campus and then meanders through the city before ending (usually) at a local brewery. As the ride progresses, people drop off. By the end there is usually a much smaller group. It is loosely organized through social media and word of mouth and it is always a lot of fun. The diversity of riders, bicycles and routes makes for an inspiring and unique event.

The ride on Friday, May 31 was different.

Someone decided Critical Mass should be more than a long bike ride to a brewery. This individual coordinated three separate acoustic shows throughout the ride. The first two occurred at city parks while the final show took place at an undisclosed location.

It was beyond amazing.

The ride began with 100+ riders. We traveled up Lomas, overflowing out of the right lane. We turned onto Alvarado to Indian School then down Indian School to the first musical performance. We retained all of our numbers and added a few people. This was due to everyones excitement about the musical performances. This was more than just a ride through the city.

All of the music groups were talented and full of energy.

The first group, Karrie Hopper, played at Mirraceros Park. The sound of semis on I-40 slowly melted away as the soothing soulful sounds of the acoustic guitar and bass filtered through the trees at twilight. The band played a short set and then we were on our way.
A Delightful Concert

Our next stop was nearby at Netherwood Park where our next performer appeared. AJ Woods played a melancholy mix of music. Against the background of the sun soaked Sandias, AJs unique combination of finger picking and Rocky Votolato-esque lyric style was impressive. As the sun set, his songs filled the bicycle covered hilltop.
AJ Woods

Off to the final performance!

We collectively “bombed the hill”, lights flashing, and proceded to meander, lost through the neighborhood. A random rider took the lead, bringing us to the final location.

We turned off our lights and proceeded to a secret urban space. With walls covered in graffiti, plastic cups filled with small candles hung from the grates above.
Leaky Faces

The Leaky Faces began to play. Loud, brash folk punk pierced the night, driving us into a dancing frenzy. Camera flashes from all angles turned the space into a covert club, if just for an hour.

The event ended there and we all dispersed into the night.

Lessons + Thoughts

Unlike previous Critical Mass rides, we were numerically strong until the end. Through the integration of local music, public parks and pedal power, a true grassroots gathering took root.

It demonstrated that Albuquerque is ready for the next level.

Our city leaders need to hear it, loud and clear: let’s retake the lead! For decades, our multi-use trail system was the envy of cities across the country. It continues to be amazing but it’s not enough. We used to appear as a Top 5 bicycle city year after year. It’s been awhile since that’s happened.

Across the country, other cities are taking the lead. The Green Lane Project is an example of this. Part competition and part study, six American cities have received grants to construct protected bicycle lanes. This project has created an interesting phenomenon: Memphis, TN, a city previously rated as one of the worst for bicycling in the country, is now on the cutting edge of the urban bicycling movement.

Elly Blue, a well known writer within the utility cycling community, wrote a fantastic series in Grist a few years ago called Bikenomics. In one of the articles, she explains the important economic reasons to promote cycling. Acording to her,

Communities designed exclusively for motor vehicles impose a major financial penalty on those who are compelled to take on the expense of driving. But if you’re one of those who lives in a bike-friendlier place, you’ll be doing your local business community a good turn and padding Uncle Sam’s pockets as well as your own if you trade four wheels for two.

Beyond Bikes

More than anything, this event emphasized the importance of having diverse elements to create a successful urban experience. Quality cycling infrastructure is one thing; having a strong art, music and culture scene is crucial as well.

Albuquerque is already a major cultural hub. Unlike Portland, we have ethnic and traditional diversity. Our city has been here since 1706 and it’s been on an upward trajectory ever since.

Recently, Albuquerque has been witness to a growing out migration. We lack quality jobs so many young educated citizens have left. They go to Denver and Austin, regional cities investing heavily in culture and the core.

The missing piece in Albuquerque is a vibrant urban environment, a diverse and dense walkable core, an exploding Downtown warehouse district.

We have the bones. We have the thinkers, the great weather, the space and the desire.

What will it take?

It could begin with a commitment, a statement from the city leaders. They could choose to invest the most time and money in the core of the city. Right now, a huge percentage of our revenue pays for new roads and infrastructure on the West Side of the city. How does that investment help us succeed as a city? What is the return on it (for more on this topic, visit the Strong Towns website)?

It will take champions, people in our community who fight for and stand up for values they believe in.

It will take time and money. Most of all, it will require us to work together, to share, to collaborate, to make our voices heard.

Want to know more about bicycling events in ABQ? Follow this Facebook group or visit the “Local Resources” portion of our page.

Thank you for reading and please comment!

-Dan