When almost 300 people jammed into a conference room at Hiland Theater last week to hear about the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project, public officials who spoke, such as City Councilor Pat Davis, remarked and marveled at the turnout compared with other public meetings along the proposed route. In fact, the throng present seemed to cause a complete last-minute revamping of the meeting format, one that didn’t sit well with some attendees.
The crowd present at the edge of Nob Hill last Wednesday corresponds with the relative level of political energy, particularly anti-ART. Those vocal in opposition, such as “Save Route 66 Central,” are almost 100% centered in the University and Nob Hill neighborhoods.
But while the political debate is centered around Central and Carlisle, the most dramatic impact of ART might very well be West of Downtown.
The Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) puts out a Congestion Management Process Atlas from time-to-time, with the easiest to read/follow currently the 2010. The Atlas does a good job of numerically and visually illustrating traffic along our most traveled roads, especially in terms of traffic speed and “volume/capacity, (V/C)” the percentage of traffic on the road to the amount that stretch of road can reasonably take. Here’s the 2010 overall report for Central Blvd, and here’s that report visually displayed:
Our congestion is West of the River.
While the data is a bit dated, 2010 does take into account the birth of the first Central Rapid Ride in 2004. While it’s hard to find Rapid Ride data on a station-by-station basis, one continuing transport problem has been that as West Side population has increased, the jobs have not gone West of the River. In terms of motor traffic congestion, ART would seem to have much more to do with the areas in red above than anywhere else. This fact along with many other factors, most importantly the width of Central in the area now, has dedicated ART lanes sharing four motor lanes (and bike lanes, as shown below in the proposed Atrisco Station streetscape) while Nob Hill will see only one lane in each direction.
So in terms of motor traffic, the political emphasis on University/Nob Hill tends to distort perception when it comes to the traffic reality and a look at the data makes the lane configurations proposals more sensible.
A big sales point of those pushing ART is that Central can become more a “destination that a thoroughfare,” an increasingly common pitch one also hears concerning projects such as the renovation of Bridge Boulevard from 8th Street at the South end of Barelas to Coors Boulevard. While ART’s bus ridership is sold (vis-a-vis Rapid Ride) as getting riders further and faster, much of the other proposals throughout the corridor revolve around pedestrians, both those getting on the bus and just walking in the immediate area.
In the Burque sense, Nob Hill serves as the closest thing we have to a walkable work/leisure neighborhood. This fact painfully points out the current and on-going problems of Albuquerque’s downtown, but is also evidence that the changes ART seeks to invoke won’t be nearly as “transformational” (to use the buzzword expressed by ART’s PR guru Joanie Griffin) as ANY improvements in walkability along Central West of the River.
To take one example, let’s look, via Street View, at Central/Atrisco looking West from Central “today.”
We’re not in Nob Hill here, folks, and while the intersection of Central and Carlisle, for instance, is far from perfect in terms of multi-modal transport and walkability, the Coors Corridor west of Downtown is a far, far less desirable “destination” in terms of the social mobility and interaction already present in Nob Hill. While it’s unclear what impact ART in its final form would have on walkability scores and concomitant retail economic development, etc., it’s obvious that ART will change Central/Atrisco and its immediate area more than it will Central and Carlisle.
BUT WHAT ABOUT BUS RIDERSHIP?
A recent Journal story by Dan McKay related fiscal year 2015 bus ridership figures, ones that saw a five percent decrease in overall ABQ Ride boardings. More 2015 specifics aren’t available from CABQ, but the fiscal 2014 figures show just how important Central Avenue ridership is to the Ride system:
For context, the #5 bus (Montgomery/Carlisle) is the 5th most popular route in the system. As you can see, its ridership comes nowhere near any of the Rapid Ride routes or the #66 bus along Central. In particular, the Red Line from Central/Unser to Uptown continues to be the dominant route, interestingly dropping like a rock in rides during the weekend.
There is much confusion on the part of those citizens trying to find out more when it comes to how ART will change bus routing and ridership along Central. The ART “FAQ? webpage tells us: “…the existing local bus system will remain about the same. Minor, if any changes will be seen.” Keeping the Rapid Ride lines in tact, while adding all the ART buses seems a tall order, given the high numbers already riding the Corridor.
Still, the motor traffic congestion figures noted above, continued population growth/migration West of the River and, perhaps most importantly, changes in perceptions about bus travel might be enough to warrant ART + RR + 66.
Proponents certainly seem to think so, but the ART education/outreach effort on this point has left quite a bit to be desired. More outreach with and vocal support from those living West of Downtown might tip overall support, or at least better balance it from its current Eastside, oppositional, slant.