Albuquerque City Council unanimously adopted the Bikeways and Trails Facility Plan on May 18, 2015. This plan builds on many years of hard work and specifies next steps in the progression for increasing bicycling friendliness. The plan’s champion Councilor Isaac Benton said this was a long time coming and took a multi department effort that was boosted by advocacy from the entire community. Bicycling is generating an atmosphere of excitement in Albuquerque, NM.
I’m including a link to the actual City Council proceedings because it tells a tremendous story. This was a community moment where the long struggle to realize a vision of better bicycling was recognized. The prevailing sense is that bicycling connects people together, and better bicycling advances all of humanity. People really want this, and are doing the work to make it happen. There was a pause to take stock and celebrate all the hard work it has taken to get the plan this far. It hasn’t been easy, but challenges…
A few weeks ago, Steve Clark from the League of American Bicyclists visited Albuquerque to evaluate our ability to become a more bike friendly city. This fantastic article covers the exciting events which occurred on that day and what this all means for Albuquerque.
On Tuesday, April 8 Mayor Berry kicked off his 50 mile healthy travel initiative with a ceremony on a trail linking the Mile High District to Uptown in Albuquerque. This coincided with a visit by Mr. Steve Clark from the Bicycle Friendly Community program run by the League of American Bicyclists. The day’s festivities moved Albuquerque in healthy directions. Cities that rate highly as walk and bike friendly also rank as top places to live. Elected officials, professional staff, businesses and community advocates are working on this synergistic development.
We met at City Hall in the morning. The plan was to take a bike ride with Steve and look closely at Albuquerque’s transportation system from a bicycling perspective. First we had coffee and greetings. This meeting would be a fun one to do every day.
We stopped at Martin Luther King Jr Blvd to discuss multimodal improvements on the horizon
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.
Furthermore, most of these 400 miles are designed for confident riders. They frequently force riders to mix with fast moving traffic, especially at intersections.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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.
It is with great pleasure that I am sharing our ABQ CiQlovía 2014 report today. Valerie Hermanson, Tara Cok and I have been hard at work putting this together and we are pleased to announce its completion.
Click the image below to see the report and tell us your thoughts in the comments section.
In addition to our report, we are officially launching the effort for ABQ CiQlovía 2015! Right now, we have identified four areas for a route location: the South Valley, the Heart of Downtown, Nob Hill and the International District. Regarding the date, we are leaning towards late September again but we are open to suggestions. Join us in selecting the route and date moving forward.
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 –
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
Ground Broken on Hotel Chaco in Old Town + Athena @ the Granite on 4th Street –
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.
Completion of 4th StreetRebuild –
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.
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…
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Albuquerque, 2014: Our population is decreasing and high wage jobs are few and far between. Our local government has a growing list of projects to construct and a shrinking tax base. In addition, several indicators in our community have changed since the recession. These indicators range from people per household to average income to home ownership rate. All of these changes have not led to changes in how public (and even private) projects are built and prioritized.
One of those indicators is motor vehicle miles traveled per person or per capita VMT, the topic of this article.
Projections vs. Reality
Building It ≠ They Will Come
This next section is very important. I’ll call it “How Cities Decide to Build More Roads” or “The Road Gods“.
Municipal traffic engineering departments base road construction priorities around something called a Traffic Demand Model (TDM). TDMs are computer simulations that calculate projected amounts of motor vehicles + population + other indicators on city roadways. Based on the results of these models, the Road Gods then decide which roads should be built, expanded or kept as is.
In the words of a local government staff person:
The City uses traffic projections to plan their projects. They are not looking at past traffic patterns but the modeled traffic demand in 2035.
This is an imperfect system to begin with because it does not consider scenarios such as “what if we build LESS lanes?” or “what if we just added sidewalks and bike lanes on every road instead?”
However, since the mid-2000s, these models have become extremely outdated and irrelevant. They are leading to decisions which are having a dramatic negative effect on our local transportation infrastructure.
People Are Driving Less
Below is a chart that captures one aspect of the social changes occurring in the United States today:
As the red arrow demonstrates, driving “peaked” in 2004. In case people think that this is a temporary trend, below is another chart, which correlates VMT with recessions:
This chart captures a growing trend in America: not driving. Americans across the demographic spectrum are simply not driving as much as they used to.
What About New Mexico? We Drive a Lot Here!
This is true, but our trends reflect some of the national trends. Below is a chart, which reflects these changes:
As you can see, driving has declined or stayed flat every year since 2004, in our metro area. Also, the declines in Bernalillo County (the location of Osuna Road) are far more significant than those in other surrounding counties. For example, the chart below shows these differences. These variations reflect development patterns in the newer more suburban portions of the Albuquerque metro area.
As you can see in the chart above, residents of Albuquerque drive half as many miles per day as people who live in Los Lunas or Belen.
So, what’s the point?
We are making transportation infrastructure decisions with outdated models which do not reflect behavioral changes!
We now return to Osuna Road, Albuquerque, NM.
Osuna is an interesting road. It starts as a major arterial with an interstate highway off-ramp and eventually dwindles down to a minor neighborhood street. During the early 2000s, traffic counts were increasing dramatically, but recently, they have dropped to early 1990s levels.
Below is a chart of traffic counts on Osuna Road between I-25 and 2nd Street, the segment which the City of Albuquerque is trying to expand:
Look familiar? It is a mirror of the national trend from the chart earlier in the article.
AND HERE LIES THE PROBLEM: Osuna is currently high on the list of proposed road widening projects in the City of Albuquerque. According to vehicle count data from the MRCOG website, Osuna currently experiences little to no congestion. For example, Central Avenue currently handles 30,000 vehicles per day with two lanes in each direction so there is hardly a need for 3 lanes on Osuna, which currently averages 22,000 vehicles/day.
Some may argue that this is a temporary trend. I have three responses:
1. Below is a chart of transit ridership in ABQ metro area over the past decade:
As you can see, transit ridership in the Duke City has almost doubled since 2004.
Many of those motor vehicle trips seen in previous years are never coming back.
2. Osuna is not a regionally important road. By this I mean that it does not cross the Rio Grande River and it never will. As a result, it is unlikely that high traffic counts will return to Osuna at any point in the near future.
3. The next generation is not driving as much. The chart below, which was taken from a regional survey performed by the Mid-Region Council of Governments in New Mexico, demonstrates this fact:
But that’s not even the point.
The question I pose to you, the reader:
Why is this $7 million road widening project a high city priority?
Aren’t there more pressing projects to which this funding should be allocated, projects which would lead to much higher return on investment (ROI)?
The answer is YES, there are.
In my next article, I will discuss projects which should be a higher priority and how it all relates to our local economy.
Call or email your local elected official and tell them that widening Osuna Road is an inefficient use of taxpayer dollars.
Department of Municipal Development (DMD) head, Michael Riordian (DMD is responsible for road construction here in Albuquerque):
Email – email@example.com
Phone – (505) 768-3830
Official DMD contact person:
Name: Mark Motsko Phone: (505) 768-3832 Fax: (505) 768-2310
Osuna is located in Council District 4, where the City Councilor is Brad Winter.
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
Twitter – @_Brad_Winter
Policy Analyst contact info:
Name -Jessica Gonzales Email – email@example.com Phone – (505) 768-3101
I also encourage you to contact your own councilor.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when elected officials receive 10+ calls or emails about an issue, it becomes a high priority.
Thanks for reading!
A diverse collective advocating for a better live/work/play, healthy and equitable city for everyone!