ABQ Rapid Transit (ART) and the Green Blob

Mayor Berry’s Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) plan has become one of those, frankly, fun situations in which the loud vocal, over-the-top emotion of politics melds with the soft-spoken, but equally passionate, nerdom of public policy.

Right now it appears the nerds are winning, but the “season” is not over. This week features three more “games,” i.e., public meetings, held at additional points along the corridor. Obviously, whenever political passion reigns and sports terminology is thrown about, ideas like “fun” are often tossed aside as too frivolous for “something so important.” In fact, many may be offended by anyone referring to the current ART tussle as “fun,” contending the issues raised with such a plan are too massive and pernicious to chuckle about.

Interestingly, the same can be said about New Mexico Lobos basketball, just ask Cullen Neal.

Let’s boil away the sports analogies and political emotion for a moment, and try to better understand the largely unspoken passion of planners in putting together ART. In particular, let’s look at how ART might change one nasty intersection, the meeting of Lomas and Central at San Pasquale.

First, here’s a Google Earth snapshot of what it looks like now:

sanpasqualeetc

Not pretty, is it?

It’s hard to imagine how something so dangerously constructed was ever “planned” at all.  One chuckles (there’s that word again) envisioning a meeting in which somebody put a design concept rendering on the easel (this is before PowerPoint) and said “Yup, this is it. This is what it will look like.”

One also hopes the person making this statement had a long life after this meeting, but was never employed in anything like traffic planning ever again. The question now, in 2016, is: What do we do with this monstrosity?

Cue blow-up of ART plan for this intersection from the New York Ave. to 15th St. “alignment and cross sections.”

sanpasqualeart

Let’s talk about that green blob next to “Shared Lane.” Notice how it squeezes access to Central going downtown and gently turns eastbound action toward Lomas instead? You can just make out that folks hellbent on continuing eastbound on Central have to share a single lane with the ART bus (which comes every 7.5 minutes), while those taking Lomas get plenty of lanes and no need for a dramatic right turn.

Hmm…more traffic on Lomas, which can handle it better. Hmm…Lomas as “thoroughfare,” while Central becomes more of a “destination.” Hmm…

The proposed changes at this intersection don’t stop there, but that green blob alone gives anyone, including non-planners like us, some idea of the far less noisy public policy passion woven through this, or any, such project.  Somebody, somewhere came up with the green blob and that person will never be a presenter (or attendee) at a public meeting.

But they’re rooting, big time, for the green blob.  They probably have something like a “two bits, four bits…” cheer for the green blob.  They have a poster of the green blob in their bedroom. They really care about the green blob.

And while the blob itself will almost certainly never be mentioned at any public meeting, and damn sure won’t be the subject of any noisy political discussion about “Berry’s Plan,” it’s a component of ART that needs to be considered along with the multitudinous other political and planning considerations. For instance, if ART were to die and never be built, would vanquishing opponents still like to save the green blob? Or should we throw the green blob baby out with the ART bathwater? What happens to nerdy public policy ideas buffeted in a stiff political breeze?

Like I said, fun stuff.

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