Albuquerque Rapid Transit: Image, Perception and Public Policy

Vacation’s over. It was nice, thanks for asking…

Amid all the hue, cry, wail and umbrage regarding Albuquerque Rapid Transit is the repeated use of the word “historic” to oppose the project.  Employing the “picture worth a thousand words” model, propagandists (or advocates, if you prefer) use photos like the famous Ernest Haas shot as their call to inaction:


(Note/Attribution: You can try to get one of these Ernest Haas prints via Swann Auctions

Such photos elicit what all powerful images do, passionate reaction. Central (see what I did there?) to the passionate argument by those opposing ART is that the Haas photo represents Central Avenue/Route 66 at its heyday. ART is posited as a final death knell to any traces of that glorious past.

Deconstructing this photo would make for a lovely semester-long class in American Studies, Planning and countless other academic disciplines. But we’ll dream of designing that class somewhere down the road, so to speak.

Instead, let’s go to something far less iconic and passionate, but a tidbit that illustrates the more boring plod of history via public policy. The Haas shot unfortunately doesn’t look west from Carlisle on Central, for a visual would help us understand what Central around UNM looked almost 40 years ago (admittedly a bit more modern than the era of Haas’ shot). Still, here’s a archive piece from the Albuquerque Journal of June 17, 1978:

Delay in Decision Is Urged On Parking in UNM Area


A special task force has recommended that the city defer a decision for up to one year on allowing removal of on-street parking on East Central Avenue in the University of New Mexico area. In an interim report to be transmitted to City Council Monday, the Central Avenue Traffic Study Task Force recommends the deferral to allow it to evaluate other measures that have been or are being implemented. The report says removal of on-street parking on Central is “highly desirable from the standpoint of improving pedestrian safety…” – He said the study also included problems on University, Lomas and Girard.

The task force now plans to evaluate measures that have been or will be taken to resolve the problems, Fosnaugh said. The report said the task force feels that removal of on-street parking on Central would be acceptable to the business community if two or three off-street parking lots with at least 40 total spaces were provided on or near Central. It says three lots with 48 spaces would cost from $291,000 to $375,000, including land and construction costs. Assuming a meter rate of 25 cents an hour and an occupancy rate of 60 percent for eight hours a day 250 days a year, 40 spaces would yield annual revenue of $12,000, the report says.

In noting task force hesitancy to recommend removal of on-street parking because of high replacement costs, the report says other pedestrian safety measures “will result in a significant improvement and will partially offset the potential hazards of on-street parking.” A list of pedestrian safety measures snows completion of installation of general pedestrian warning signs on Central, pedestrian signals on all traffic signals around UNM and a pedestrian traffic signal on Central at Cornell. The speed limit on Central also has been reduced from 35 to 30 miles an hour, the list shows.

Installation of 30-minute parking meters on Central is listed as deferred pending a decision on off-street parking. But the report says if the task force’s recommendation for deferral of a decision on off-street parking is accepted, further consideration will be given to reinstalling meters on Central. Task force members included representatives of UNM students, the administration, the city and Central Avenue businesses.

Apologies to Ms. Burks, long-time Journal reporter and former head of the Albuquerque Press Club. I tried to find her phone number, to ask for permission, but couldn’t find it. I’m very much hoping she’s still very much around.

I copy/paste the whole article here because:

  1. Note the incredible amount of detail in the financials involved in only 370 words!
  2. More specific to the nostalgia evoked and invoked in the Haas photo, note the obvious, simple fact that altering the Mother Road has been going on forever. Heck, they even reduced the speed limit from 35 to 30 (yes, it can actually happen!).

Needless to say, Albuquerque Rapid Transit has no bearing on the fact that today’s stretch of Central west of Carlisle little resembles the cacophony of commercialism, tail-fins and 34 cent gasoline seen in Haas’ photograph. The purported heyday of Central ended decades ago. And maybe public policy like that outlined in the Susanne Burks story from 1978 is a reason why.

Still, the Mother Road has always been changing. The only thing that hasn’t changed, for some, is the picture in our mind of a supposedly more glorious time. I’ll spare you the F. Scott Fitzgerald, but at times it’s best to just redirect our oars into better navigating the future.

Meanwhile, here’s a 2015 Google shot of what resulted from that 1978 public policy debate. Have a great weekend!


Central at Cornell Looking West, April 2015





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