Road to Nowhere — Why We Need No New Roads

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 1.18.30 AM

“Paseo del Volcan plan hailed as future of the west

Full steam ahead on ‘active’ Paseo del Volcan project”

“DOT considers proposals to ease traffic on U.S. 550”

The headlines always sound so romantic, don’t they?

Though these are all real headlines from the Albuquerque Journal about real projects, they’re selling a myth. This is part of the discussion within the #NoNewRoads campaign by our friends over at Strong Townsan education and advocacy nonprofit working to create resilient communities through better development models. #NoNewRoads strives to transform the national transportation conversation through a nontraditional campaign (emphasis ours):

This week at Strong Towns we are going to focus our attention on the embarrassing mess that is the American system of transportation finance. Our premise here at Strong Towns has been, for some time now, #NoNewRoads, a rejection of any proposal to spend more money on this system until we undertake dramatic reform.

That position puts us at odds with advocates on the left of our political spectrum as well as those on the right. So be it. The current political paradigm is bankrupting this country … . It’s time to create a new paradigm.

Click here to read more about the premise of #NoNewRoads 

The Band-Aid Approach

Everyone loves a ribbon cutting for a new road project, but maintaining the infrastructure once it has been built is not quite as fun or exciting. Our current financing system emphasizes new construction without accounting for long term maintenance costs.

New and widened roads are subject to an economic rule known as “induced demand.” It works like this:

  • Road is built
  • Road becomes congested with traffic
  • Road is expanded
  • Once expanded, road fills up and becomes congested again
  • The Sisyphean cycle continues

New road space encourages more drivers to drive more often. In the meantime, lanes are expanded by sacrificing bike lane width, sidewalk width and, ultimately, quality of life on or around the road.

Don’t believe in induced demand? Click this link to read about the notorious Katy Highway in Houston. In summary, the Texas Department of Transportation recently finished widening the highway—and commute times in the corridor actually increased. The Katy Freeway is currently 23 lanes wide.

highway traffic
Maybe if we just add one more lane…

America has been shaped by transportation. Canals, railroads and highways have all shaped the cities and towns we live in today. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 allowed the government to begin paving new roads with the goal of creating a network of national highways. In 1992 the Interstate Highway System was declared complete. Since that prolific era of roadway development there has been little focus on the maintenance and care for these roads. We are now a nation of potholes. Almost 300 bridges in the state of New Mexico alone are rated “Structurally Deficient” and many more bridges do not meet current design standards. We have all experienced cracked pavement, potholes and unsafe roadway designs. However, we continue to develop new roads with the mentality that our transportation culture and travel preferences have not changed since 1956.

One important conclusion to all of this is that, contrary to popular belief, you can’t build your way out of traffic. Expanding a road will never “ease traffic,” at least not in the long run. It will only move the traffic down the road another few miles. It’s a system that leads to increasingly diminishing returns. Highway expansion isn’t fundamentally wrong but it is unethical to say that a highway expansion paid for with taxpayer dollars will ease traffic when the data says otherwise.

Where It’s Happening in ABQ

The best example of a massive new highway project in the Albuquerque metro area is Paseo del Volcan. This planned freeway is so notorious that it recently made a national list titled “12 of America’s Biggest Highway Boondoggles” (it’s #10).

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 1.35.36 AM
Overview of the Paseo del Volcan corridor

If you look at the plan for Paseo del Volcan, linked here, and if you read the headlines from the beginning of this article, you would assume only positive can come of the project. From the city’s Paseo del Volcan website, emphasis ours:

“Paseo del Volcan is an essential long-range need for our region. Preparing for this road now will encourage good quality, well-planned development for the west side of the region in the future. This will open up the possibility of future employers and in turn address the jobs/housing imbalance and congestion. It’s time to move this project from the back burner to the front burner.”

What exactly is good quality development and how do you define that term? It depends on who you ask. For example, what does “good quality development” look like in terms of ROI, or return on investment?

Traditional Urbanism vs. Auto-Oriented Development

Strong Towns has studied this exact question in a piece titled “The Cost of Auto Orientation”. We strongly encourage you to read the whole article but, in short, Strong Towns found that:

“…the old and blighted traditional commercial block still outperforms the new, auto-oriented development by 41 percent.”

When the folks at Strong Towns say “auto oriented,” they are talking about places like big box stores and drive-thru restaurants, such as the abundance of new Starbucks or Chick-fil-A’s we’re seeing pop up all over Albuquerque. When they say “traditional commercial block,” they are talking about areas like Central Avenue from Downtown through Nob Hill. The word “outperforms” refers to tax revenue for the respective city or town where you find these developments.

chic fil a
An example of auto oriented development

An  important point is that  just because the local daily and the city use lofty language—e.g. “future,” “ease,” “essential,” “quality,” and “possibility”—to hype a project, that doesn’t necessarily mean the project in mind is the best possible solution to the given problems. All the studies about Paseo del Volcan are technically right: constructing and widening roads will always create temporary jobs and when the land around the road is developed, this creates tax revenue. However, it’s still a huge waste of resources.

Building new housing subdivisions around new roads in the desert is one way to develop a city but it is extremely inefficient. Beyond that, we never allocate enough resources to maintain all of our new roads. If we did, all that new sprawl out in the desert would never be “affordable.”

Our Recommendations

We don’t recommend this

Across the country and the world, there is a growing understanding that building outward forever in a suburban, automobile dependent manner is eventually unworkable. At a certain point “drive till you qualify” is a three-hour commute in each direction.

Here in Albuquerque we continue to spread out across the desert. As we grow outwards our resources are spread thinner. Our ability to invest in maintaining infrastructure is diminished. Furthermore, our local economies are diluted. Instead of building vital, dense neighborhoods we have instead designed for suburban lifestyles. This is inherently unethical, as automobile dependency forces the young, the old, the poor and many others into a lifestyle of solitude or dependency.  

Instead of feeding more growth, let’s improve what we have. Let’s build a high frequency transit network and fill the gaps in our bicycle network. That way, people from the ages of 8 to 80 can safely and easily move across the entire city.

Until this is the funding and financing priority, we advocate for building #NoNewRoads.

Join us for #BlackFridayParking – Paying Tribute to Wasted Space

murica parking lot
America, the Beautiful

As Thanksgiving approaches, we at UrbanABQ are looking back at 2015. We are thankful for the exciting changes we have seen in Albuquerque this past year. From the launch of the Bici bike share system to another successful ABQ CiQlovia to the unexpected appearance of a buffered bike lane on Lead (missed PR opportunity much?), 2015 has been filled with plenty of joy. However, with Thanksgiving on the horizon we can’t ignore an unwanted cultural phenomenon that comes with it:

Black Friday.

On Friday, November 27, Black Friday will be upon us again. In reality, the shopping frenzy will begin on Thanksgiving itself, as thousands of big box retailers open before folks have finished chewing their turkey.

The chaos of Black Friday and the culture that it breeds is intertwined with our culture of suburban sprawl and automobile dependent development. After all, it’s a bit harder to go on a shopping binge at WalMart if you do not have a car. Without an automobile, you need to be more conscious about how much you buy at one time… or buy everything online.  

Over the past few years, there has been a growing backlash against the concept of Black Friday. The consumerism, strikes, stampedes and violence mark a stark contrast to the previous day’s feasts and gratitude. This has led to the development of alternative celebrations such as Buy Nothing Day built around sharing and community. This coming Black Friday, even REI is closing its stores while encouraging their employees to #OptOutside and paying their employees to do so!

A new aspect of this criticism is parking. For the past two years, the good folks over at Strong Towns have led a campaign called #BlackFridayParking. Here is the description of the event:

Black Friday Parking is a nationwide event drawing attention to the harmful nature of minimum parking requirements, which create a barrier for new local businesses and fill up our cities with empty parking spaces that don’t add value to our places. On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, people all across North America will snap photos of the (hardly full) parking lots in their community to demonstrate how unnecessary these massive lots are. Participants will then upload those photos to Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #blackfridayparking.

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 12.21.13 PM

Are you familiar with the concept of parking minimums? In summary, every development is required by law to provide a certain amount of parking per square foot of developed space. How much? The answer: it’s arbitrary.

Extensive research, led by the knowledgeable Donald Shoup, has determined that most parking rules require far more parking than needed. Typically, the excessive requirements are justified by this statement: “we’ll need all this parking on Black Friday!” Hence, #blackfridayparking.

There you have it!

Assuming you are out and about on Black Friday, please snap some photos and share them with us, Strong Towns and the Internet in general! 

Share them on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram using the #blackfridayparking hashtag. Also, feel free to post them on the UrbanABQ Facebook page. If you’re inclined, use the #blackfridayparkingabq hashtag as well so we can see how many of you are out there contributing.

Let’s prove that you DON’T need huge parking lots, even on the busiest shopping day of the year.

Let’s replace our shinning seas of asphalt with majestic mixed use development.

Thanks for joining us and Happy Thanksgiving!

Where are the Jobs in Albuquerque?

– Kristen Woods

Where are the Jobs?
Click for a larger view.
This Map shows nearly every job in Albuquerque mapped as a dot. It was developed by a Harvard Ph.D. students named Robert Manduca and is discussed in the Washington Post. The map is in an interactive format that spans the whole United States. It is based on Census Data.

The map is important because it shows us numerous ways that the location of job development can effect Albuquerque.  Most of the jobs are placed along major transportation corridors and in the expected neighborhoods like Uptown, Downtown and the Journal Center. It is also obvious that Central Avenue is a major corridor for Retail/Hospitality and Healthcare/ Education employment. There is quite a lot of separation of job types, but there are some areas that are purple (Manufacturing/Trade mixed with Professional Services).

If we see where jobs are being established we can make informed development decisions. If we focus, for example, on the fact that Central Avenue is employing primarily Retail/Hospitality and Healthcare/ Education sector individuals we can plan for housing and transportation that will meet their needs. Those needs will be very different from the needs of the Journal Center, which works primarily in Professional Services and Manufacturing, because they work at different times of day and under different conditions.

We can also see how our work lives are being affected by development related decisions (like zoning codes). There is a lot of separation of uses in Albuquerque. There are also a lot of areas of Albuquerque where there are no jobs. This is economically isolating and doesn’t promote a lot of principles that are important to the vitality of cities, like walkability, bike-ability and neighborhood diversity. Neighborhoods with jobs and a mix of land uses have a larger diversity and more vitality in the economy.

City Council Passes Bicycling Plan: Carpe Diem Albuquerque

Another great post from Bike Yogi, this time about the City of Albuquerque Bike Plan. Read about all the details below!

Bike Yogi

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…

View original post 479 more words

Dream America: People Friendly Cities

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.

Bike Yogi

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.

2015.4.7 ABQ Bike League community day 001
2015.4.7 ABQ Bike League community day 004
2015.4.7 ABQ Bike League community day 007

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.

2015.4.7 ABQ Bike League community day 023

We stopped at Martin Luther King Jr Blvd to discuss coming multimodal improvements We stopped at Martin Luther King Jr Blvd to discuss multimodal improvements on the horizon

2015.4.7 ABQ Bike League community day 034 Andrew Webb, a staff for City Council, tells us…

View original post 1,097 more words

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.


  • 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.


“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 diverse collective advocating for a better live/work/play, healthy and equitable city for everyone!