Category Archives: downtown

April Fools to Reality – Why Albuquerque Needs Better Bike Lanes

A screenshot from the KRQE news story.
A screenshot from the KRQE news story.

On April Fools Day, we were all astounded by the response to our fake article about turquoise colored bike lanes in Downtown Albuquerque. It was covered not just by the local news but by Streetsblog, a national progressive transportation policy news source.

There are many different options available for bike infrastructure, so we will be explaining some of them and providing recommendations for where they might work in Albuquerque.

We would first like to apologize to anyone we may have led astray. Our intention was not to lead anyone on but to stimulate a productive dialogue about what we want to see Downtown and across the city.

And what a dialogue there was! Some of the comments:

  • “This is what I’ve been asking for! It’s a shame that they do not include streets like Silver, Gold, etc.”

  • “Is green paint really gonna keep drivers from running us over? Once again the mayor falls short. We need a physical BARRIER for bike lanes, not just paint.”

  • “I would love to bike more, but it’s frankly scary the way so many routes are mixed with traffic and so few protected bike paths.”

  • “Downtown is in desperate need of bike lanes and bicycle friendly routes. We have a small downtown area but it’s very difficult to safely bike from… Gold Street Cafe to Marble Brewery… Short simple journeys like this should be immediately bikeable… This is especially pertinent right now because we’re about to launch a bike share program downtown – BICI – the success of which largely depends on how easy it is to bike our streets.”

  • “If only that weren’t an April Fool’s joke! Hopefully Mayor Berry and his staff are taking ideas like this seriously.”

Obviously, this is an issue that people feel strongly about.

The Mayors Response

The most interesting response came from the Mayor himself. He was interviewed on the KRQE morning news show the next day and this was his response:

Portion of Transcript (emphasis ours):

Mayor RJ Berry – “When I first saw it, I thought… ’cause next week, we’re going to be doing the first of our 50 Mile Bike Loop legs… I’m a big bike fan… this is already a great bike city… when we heard ‘way to go Mayor Berry on these buffered trails’ I was a little confused… It’s a great biking city, we’re trying to improve it every single day, it’s been a priority for the administration. The buffered bike lane idea is a good one… We’ve got hundreds of miles of trails. We always want to make it better because it’s one of the things that makes us stand out and it’s one of the reasons we’re one of the healthiest and fittest cities in America.”

Lessons from the Responses

There’s a diversity of knowledge about bike infrastructure among Burqueños. Some confuse lanes and trails, others pointed out that we didn’t actually show buffered lanes in our April Fools photoshop job. So let’s clear some things up! We appreciate the Mayors supportive words but we crave more than just trails here in Albuquerque.

Why Should We Care?

Why do we want to see protected, painted and buffered bike facilities here in ABQ? According to the city website, “the City of Albuquerque has over 400 miles of bike paths and trails”. However, when you look closely, you realize that many of these facilities are poorly designed, non-existent or do not connect to each other.

According to the city bike map, Ventana Ranch on the Westside has many multi-use trails which do not connect to anything.
According to the city bike map, Ventana Ranch on the Westside has many multi-use trails which do not connect to anything.

Furthermore, most of these 400 miles are designed for confident riders. They frequently force riders to mix with fast moving traffic, especially at intersections.

According to the CABQ bike map, this is a bike lane on Wyoming between Osuna and Academy.
According to the CABQ bike map, there is a bike lane on Wyoming between Osuna and Academy.

There are different bike facility standards for riding with partners. If residents want to comfortably ride next to a friend and chat, there are fewer than 100 miles of bike facilities here in Albuquerque. Most people are “interested yet concerned” about bike riding. They have a desire to ride but they do not feel comfortable on most of the roads in Albuquerque.

This image is from a study done by Portland State University. It demonstrates that most people are legitimately interested in riding bikes.
This image is from a study done by Portland State University. It demonstrates that most people are interested in riding bikes.

What We Want to See

On the national level, there are three types of bike infrastructure spreading like wildfire: colored, buffered and protected.

Colored bike lanes

These types of facilities are being implemented across the country. The premise: when bike lanes cross intersections or driveways, they can blend into the street. Coloration can help to distinguish and highlight the existence of a lane.

This NACTO image demonstrates how green paint can be used to mark transition areas.
This NACTO image demonstrates how green paint can be used to mark transition areas.

Where in the ABQ? – A good first place for colored bike lanes would be on MLK Jr. Blvd. This is doubly true because other improvements will soon be made to the bike lanes along this corridor. We are primarily asking for color in conflict areas including driveways and places where the bike lane crosses other roads aka intersections.

A rendering of what turquoise bike lanes could look like on MLK and I-25, westbound.
A rendering of what turquoise bike lanes could look like on MLK and I-25, westbound.

Our Ask to the City – Colored bike lanes in the conflict areas on MLK and on other similar streets such as Lead / Coal, Indian School, Washington, and more. And make them turquoise!

Buffered bike lanes

All over the city, a thin stripe of paint separates fast moving vehicles from bike lanes. What if there was a wider stripe of paint? This is the premise behind buffered bike lanes.

A buffered bike lane on Taylor Ranch Rd on the Westside of Albuquerque.
A buffered bike lane on Taylor Ranch Rd on the Westside of Albuquerque.

Albuquerque already has some buffered bike facilities, primarily on the Westside. We would like to see lots more, especially because they are so easy to implement. After all, it only requires white paint.

Where in the ABQ? – Indian School Road is an important bike connection between downtown, UNM, and Uptown. We think this is an important place to provide a buffer between the fast moving cars and bike commuters. MLK is slated to receive buffers and we can’t wait to see them there. Other places where buffered bike lanes would be great would be on Lead, Coal, Zuni, and Central Avenue.

Our Ask to the City – Where possible and where auto lanes are 12 feet wide or more, add a buffer. We are looking forward to the buffers coming to MLK and we hope to see them on Indian School Road as well.

Protected bike lanes

In over 50 American cities, you can now find some type of physical protection which separates bikes from traffic. There are not currently any protected bike lanes in Albuquerque but we would love to see some. Specifically, we would like to see parking protected bike lanes.

A parking protected bike lane with bollards in Chicago.
A parking protected bike lane with flexible bollards (posts) in Chicago.

Where in the ABQ? – Streets where protected bike lanes would make the most sense include Lomas Blvd in the Downtown area where traffic counts are low enough to allow for a lane reduction. Rio Grande Blvd north of I-40 can also absorb a lane reduction and on-street parking would stimulate business activity on this strip.

Our Ask to the City – Protected bike lanes on Lomas and Rio Grande.

TAKE ACTION!

  • Please sign our petition and let us know your thoughts and ideas. We’ve already received almost 100 responses but we still want to hear from you!

  • Talk to your City Councilor. There’s a City Council meeting TONIGHT, Monday April 6 at 5:30pm which has the Bikeways and Trails Facility Plan, Bus Rapid Transit, and other issues on the agenda. You can come and provide your opinion on buffered, colored and protected bicycle lanes and ABQ!

It is time for Albuquerque to return to the top when it comes to cycling. Our trail system is great but we’re falling behind when it comes to on-street facilities. We must make it clear what we want and why and it will take a collective effort. Please join us! We will close with this quote from urbanist Enrique Peñolosa:

amazing chad quote daughter

Mayor Announces Buffered Bike Lanes for Downtown

EDIT: April Fools!  Read all about the joke and the possible positive implications on the Streetsblog website.

 

Mayor Richard J. Berry announced that the City of Albuquerque will be developing turquoise-colored buffered bike lanes on several Downtown streets.

The project is part of the Mayor’s Challenge for Safer People, Safer Streets, an initiative of the Federal Highway Administration to improve bicycle and pedestrian safety across the country.

Mayor-Bike-Lanes

“Improving our bicycling infrastructure is critical to maintaining the excellent quality of life in our great city. Visitors and residents are attracted to our active and unique lifestyle and I believe this project will attract more businesses and millennials to Albuquerque,” Mayor Berry said. “These new bike lanes will lay the groundwork for Albuquerque to be the most bike friendly city in the United States and will create economic opportunities and jobs throughout Albuquerque.” The plan was endorsed by Mi ABQ, a group of millennials actively working to improve Downtown Albuquerque.

Green painted bike lanes are cropping up all over major cities. The color improves visibility of bicyclists and their lane for drivers and has been shown to decrease accidents. But rather than going green, Albuquerque’s bike lanes will be painted turquoise. According to Mayor Berry, “Turquoise bike lanes will give our own local flavor to this growing worldwide trend.”

The $4.7 million project identifies 13 miles of on-street bikeways that will be completed by early 2016 and will serve to connect areas such as the Rail Yards, Innovate ABQ, and UNM. The streets slated for these improvements include Broadway Boulevard, 4th Street, Tijeras Avenue, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, and Lead and Coal Avenues.

The plan falls in line with recent measures by the City that focus on pedestrian, bicycle, and transit-related street designs — the Complete Streets ordinance, which passed unanimously at City Council in January, and a walkability analysis by renowned consultant Jeff Speck that was released in late 2014 and adopted last month. Speck’s report laid out principles for a useful, safe, comfortable and enjoyable roadway network, as well as recommendations for improvements to specific downtown streets.

A Better Block for Burque: Andrew Howard & Event Based Activism

-Dan Majewskibetter block logo

On October 21, Andrew Howard, one of the two people behind Team Better Block, visited Albuquerque.  Contact with Andrew was initiated through a tweet from Tim Trujillo which manifested into a visit through the efforts of many.  Former City Council Roxanna Meyers and the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning both contributed money towards bringing Andrew to town.

Mr. Howard was brought in to look at various parts of urban central Albuquerque and identify a segment of town which is on the cusp of success but could use a bit of boost.

Watch the video below to see the work that Team Better Block does.

Meeting the Players

The morning began with a breakfast at Flying Star on Silver & 8th St.  Tim Trujillo, Rick Renne of the Downtown Action Team, Mark Childs of the UNM School of Architecture, Andrew Howard and I were present.

At breakfast we learned more about Andrew’s background and his experiences with H-GAC (the Houston, TX equivalent of MRCOG) and Kimley-Horn, a multinational engineering and planning consulting firm.  The public process he observed while working for these organizations was so discouraging that he decided to try something different.  This led to his collaboration with Jason Roberts and the birth of Team Better Block in Dallas, TX.

After breakfast, Tim, Rick and I gave Andrew a tour of some important portions of Downtown including the Gold Ave. Lofts, the Sunshine Block and the Alvarado Transportation Center.  Tim and I then directed Andrew around Barelas with a focus on the Railyards and 4th Street, including the iconic Arrow Supermarket.

Next on the list was EDo: East Downtown / Huning Highlands.  In EDo, Andrew told us he was looking for something more “gritty” and “authentic”.  In his mind, EDo has already “made it” (did you hear that Rob Dickson?!) and he wanted to see a place that hadn’t quite “made it” yet.

When Andrew made these comments, I immediately thought of the International District.  In my mind, it has the right bones which would allow it to become an “art district” of sorts.

However, the last area we had time for was North 4th / Mountain, including Marble Brewery and some of the warehouses in the area.

Lunch @ CityLab

Andrew Howard at CityLab
Andrew Howard at CityLab

The next agenda item was a brown bag lunch hosted by Micheale Pride of the UNM + CABQ CityLab space.  Important local players in attendance included city traffic engineer Crystal Metro and Linda Rumpf who works for the Office of the Mayor and ABQ: The Plan.

We began with a short video about some of the recent work done by Team Better Block in Norfolk, VA.  After the video, people started to talk.  Sammantha Clark vocalized the difficulty of getting land owners to open up buildings for these types of events.  Andrew responded by noting that insurance for a Better Block event must be included as part of the price tag.  He says that owners tend to loosen up as planning for the event accelerates.  When landowners observe the momentum, minds change.  Mr. Howard also emphasized that with difficult property owners, you have to begin by just asking to get inside the door.  Don’t overwhelm them with event details immediately.

The discussion continued into debate about the parklet/parquito program which is currently being pursued by ReUrbanate ABQ.  We learned that Lobo Scooter “buys” the parking space in front of their store to display scooters everyday.  Who is to say we couldn’t do this for a parklet or some type of art installation on the day of the event?

Linda brought up the importance of Route 66 in regard to any proposal or plan.

I asked Andrew who we can look towards regionally for inspiration.  Andrew mentioned Denver but regarding a city our size, Fresno, CA was the best example he could think of.

Mr. Howard also told us about the Better Block experience in Wichita, KS.  Wichita is home to the infamous Koch Brothers, wealthy contributors to ultra conservative think tanks and organizations.  Needless to say, Wichita is relatively conservative and resistant to change.  Despite initial resistance, Better Block was successful in this community.  The success was due to a data driven process where economics became a major emphasis.  A major function of Better Block is creating opportunities for commerce where there previously were few.  Mr. Howard emphasized the importance of a data driven process when there is resistance.  My favorite quote from Andrew regarding the current state of the mandated “planning process”:

I don’t think the next generation is going to put up with it.

The International District was brought up when Michaele informed the group of the place-making process occurring in the district.  Little Globe, UNM, AMAFCA, CABQ and many others are collaborating on place-making through art in this historically poor and ignored segment of the city.  Michaele also explained how East Central Ministries is a major umbrella for positive grassroots advocacy efforts in the International District.  They are planting seeds for a better future in the area.  Andrew’s presentation later that evening featured a similar organization in a poor part of Dallas which led a successful Better Block effort.  The pictures reminded me of the International District.

The Better Block Timeline

Jason Roberts of Team Better Block in action!
Jason Roberts of Team Better Block in action!

Per my request, Andrew broke it down.  He referred to the process as “part chaos, part faith”:

3-4 months – develop a plan.  In order to make it viable, there MUST be a strong a champion from the area to push it forward.  1-2 major property owners on the block must be on board.  At the same time, set a date and publish it!  Andrew emphasized the need to “blackmail yourself”.  It forces people to commit.  The corridor should have a design speed of 25 MPH or less.  That’s the threshold speed for a successful project so on the day of the intervention, create a streetscape that has these design speeds.

1 month  – Begin the pop-up shop application process.  Initiate walk thru of the buildings you want to “occupy” on the day of the event.

2 weeks out – Begin the pre-build.  Acquire materials, talk to players you want involved, hash out the details.  Clean up the retail spaces and ready them for occupation.

2 days out – Full build out of the occupied spaces.  The idea of doing it at the past minute means no procrastination is allowed!  With 4-5 hours and lots of volunteers, it will happen.  More people involved = less time needed for build out

Day of – Start early and get those boots on the ground.  The rest can only be determined by the community.

1 month after – Show up at City Council with a list of local zoning codes you broke in order to make the event happen.  Come to them with stats about the success of the event, how great traffic calming is, etc.  It will be a hard argument to reject.

City Staff Meeting

City staff meeting.  The book in the foreground is a report from a successful project in Norfolk, VA.
City staff meeting. The book in the foreground is a report from a successful project in Norfolk, VA.

The next agenda item was a meeting with members of city staff.  The diverse group of attendees included, but was not limited to, Andrew Webb, Roxana Meyers and Russell Brito.  

Regarding the success of doing a Better Block project, Andrew emphasized the importance of champions vs. cheerleaders.  In the Better Block project area, there must be someone who is passionately interested in the potential of the neighborhood.  A cheerleader is extremely supportive but a champion will live and die for the block.  The best example of a champion in Albuquerque is Rob Dickson.  His unwavering passion for the creation of a stronger East Downtown (EDo) has led to a successful transformation of Central between Broadway and I-25.

Another element of a successful Better Block is a 50/50 mix of vitality and abandonment.  Selecting a completely decrepit area is not recommended.  You need people occupying a given area (a block “anchor”). These existing tenants see the potential for the block and are therefore generally supportive of the event.

Mr. Howard also explained the most importance part of the Better Block process: the 30 days after.  In those 30 days, data and information must be processed and presented to city staff.  It is generally presented with zoning change recommendations.  At the first Better Block, Jason and Andrew had giant posters in the windows of buildings explaining which rules were broken to create the Better Block!  When city staff saw these posters, a positive community conversation began.

Eventually, the talk turned to Downtown and why it has struggled over the years.  Andrew went around the table, asking each person a question which then led to another question for the next person around the table.  Andrew concluded by asserting that Downtown struggled because it was not treated like a neighborhood.

We then discussed a variety of other items such as the difference between a special event vs. a pilot project vs. a permanent project.  Mr. Howard also emphasized the importance of keeping the scope of Better Block small in order to make it successful.

In this meeting, we also learned about a strong relationship between Better Block and the National Association of Realtors.  It has facilitated multiple successful Better Block projects.

The Big Event

In the evening, Andrew presented his story to a relatively full house in the Garcia Auditorium @ George Pearl Hall, UNM S-AP.  Michaele and I explained to the audience the process of getting Andrew here and then let him do the rest.  For me, it was the least exciting and most relaxing part of the day.  At the same time, it was good opportunity to reflect upon the conversations we had over the course of the day.

Some highlights from the evening presentation:

  • Context sensitive design: be conscious of the place you are designing for.
  • Duct tape: the most important tool in the toolbox.  Temporary can be powerful.
  • Think SMALL!
  • Break all of the rules and do it publicly!  Make sure people know which rues you are breaking.
  • Better Block is fun but it is NOT a party.  Collecting data = potential for long-term change.
  • Tell the story of the place.  Every place has talent and resources.  Sometimes, the place just needs to be looked at differently / appropriately.
  • Connect the dots.
  • Build trust.
  • The world is a stage and Better Block is an act of improv.

After the presentation, Mr. Howard walked into the audience and conversed with many of the attendees.  Many of us left the presentation fired up and filled with ideas.

Mr. Howard left Albuquerque, NM the next day to speak at a conference at MIT.

 

What’s Next + Andrew’s Top Choice for a Better Block in Burque

After seeing many parts of town, Andrew selected a street for the first Burque Better Block:

Gold Ave. Downtown between 2nd and 4th.

The built environment on the select segment is ideal: good building stock + high level of occupation + some vacancies.
The built environment on the selected segment is ideal: walkable building stock + healthy mix of occupation and vacancies.

This segment of Gold is also the proposed location of the first parklet/parquito in Albuquerque.  There are plenty of natural partners on the segment, including Café Giuseppe.  The right of way is 55 ft.  It allows for the possibility of using the street differently.

CiQlovia: Coming September 2014

Regarding the first Burque Better Block project, I am planning a larger event.  I have begun the planning process for a ciclovia/open streets event in Albuquerque.  It will be called CiQlovia (Q for ABQ) and it will incorporate elements from Team Better Block.  At this point, the draft route includes Silver but we are looking at using Gold instead so we can have Better Block elements integrated into the event.

Currently, my team and I are in the early stages of the planning process.  We have selected a draft route, pictured below, and and we are aiming for one of the four Sundays in September.  It includes Downtown, Old Town, Barelas, the Bosque and other amazing neighborhoods in the historic core of Albuquerque.

This map highlights the proposed route as well as land uses along the route.
This map highlights the proposed route as well as land uses along the route.

We Need YOUR Help!

CiQlovia will require a massive team of volunteers as well as funding.  Once we acquire our special event permit at the beginning of the year, we will begin seeking out members of our community who would like to be involved.  We are looking for food trucks, yoga teachers, natural healers, philanthropists, artists, muralists, craftspeople, bicycle repair experts… well, let’s just say this will be like nothing Albuquerque has ever seen.

Supported by the Complete Streets New Mexico Committee, the Healthier Weight Council, the Downtown Neighborhood Association and the City of Albuquerque, CiQlovia will promote the use of our streets, our largest public space, for something other than moving as many automobiles as possible.  Streets are closed in Albuquerque for races, parades and shopping events.  CiQlovia is about just being in the street.  It is about providing a safe place for people to walk, bike, rollerblade and exercise, fresh air.  More than anything, it is a statement about the relationship between our built environment and the obesity crisis.

Keep following UrbanABQ.com for updates on this event.

See you there!

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!

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.

Parklets Hit the Primetime

this one!
Channel Four News aired a segment last night about parklets. Tim Trujillo gracefully covered the subject in the video segment, explaining the social and economic benefits of having safe and pleasant places to hang out and spend time Downtown. Here’s a link to the full article and video.

In cities where parklets have already been built (such as NYC and San Francisco) local businesses were not initially supportive. Once businesses realized people spent more money in places where they could safely sit, demand for parklets and plazas increased. For example, in Times Square NYC, a large portion of Broadway Blvd. was converted into a plaza in 2009. Since that change occurred, retail sales and rent values have skyrocketed (Streetsblog NYC). All over America and the world, residents and planners are realizing that people are the key to successful places and spaces; cars are secondary. Soon, Albuquerque will join a group of great American cities that prioritizes space effectively and reallocates space from cars to people without much more than a signed piece of paper. Until that moment, we must all join together and tell our city what we want.

Albuquerque is NOT for cars; it is for us, people, Burqueños. We want to walk and bike and use all of the streets safely. Our city leaders understand this but they need to hear the message more forcefully. Other cities across the country are beginning to realize that endless low density sprawl is a recipe for economic disaster. A strong core is key to the success of a metro area and parklets are a step in the right direction.

-Dan