Albuquerque Rapid Transit and the Bike/Ped Dangers of Central Avenue

A cyclist was hit and killed crossing Broadway on Central Avenue last night by a woman who was given a field sobriety check after the incident. According to informal recordkeeping, this is the 2nd Burque cycling death so far in 2016.

That the death occurred on Central is no surprise to anyone. The “Mother Road” through town has long been generally the most dangerous for both cyclists and pedestrians in the city. Those needing proof can check out sources from the Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments (MRCOG), which periodically releases statistics and graphics such as this (2008-2011 here, released in July, 2014):


A bit of squinting is required, but see all the red dots starting at Central/Tramway/I-40 and continuing west, forming intense bunches around UNM and through downtown? Those are bike crashes, in red (as opposed to the green dots elsewhere) signifying Central doesn’t have a “bike facility,” i.e., bike lanes or consideration as a “bike route,” throughout this long stretch.

Even more pronounced is the crash rate for pedestrians along Central. Here’s a look from the 2009-2013 MRCOG Regional Safety Report:


Downtown is an understandable “blob,” but notice how the above average pedestrian crash rate extends throughout Central, with 3 times the average at San Mateo, Louisiana and Eubank, and two times the average west of downtown, including Central and Rio Grande Blvd., right next to the site of last Saturday’s injuring of a 4-year-old pedestrian.

No new news here: Central is dangerous, particularly to those walking or on bicycles. But what about ART? What impact will the reconfiguration of Central due to Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) have on this level of danger?

The question gets a bit more pertinent with the graphical release recently of the construction timeline along the ART corridor from Coors to Louisana. Here’s the downtown/UNM stretch of that timeline (note: the text on the webpage pdf is REALLY small and requires quite a bit of ctrl-+ to become truly decipherable).


Yeah, even with my “blowin’ up” of the pdf, the type is still darn small. To ease your eyes, basically the UNM stretch is scheduled for August/September (interestingly, right at the beginning of Fall Semester), 2016, with various parts of downtown scheduled from late Summer this year to March of 2017.

Returning to the question of increased bike/ped safety, the simple answer is, “yes,” and it’s an answer that’s been implied throughout the rather rocky authorization process. Things like widened sidewalks, reduced driving lanes and improved bike lanes, in some places, certainly seek to encourage more bike/ped activity and imply greater safety. Another way of looking at it, is, heck, Central just about couldn’t get any worse for a cyclist or pedestrian could it?

Looking more closely at specific treatments, the answer gets a little murkier. Let’s zero-in on the scenes of our last two bike/ped incidents to get an idea why. (Note: there’s a measure of guesswork involved with the available resource maps, as they don’t show quite enough detail on every block of the route.)

Cycling Central and Broadway

Last night’s crash/incident/murder happened here in terms of ART:


As the cyclist was going West (downhill) on Central, the only real difference with ART here is the reduction of a motoring lane in each direction, the other replaced by either two dedicated ART lanes (from Broadway West) or one ART lane and an rather interesting 10.5 foot striped median from Broadway East). Again, there’s a bit of guesswork here, but that appears to be correct.

What’s that mean in terms of cycling the site of last night’s incident? Hard to say. In general, ART frankly doesn’t propose much improvement for cyclists, unless one considers the “traffic calming” elements of reduced motoring lanes and far fewer left turns along the route. And those are important. From a bike lane perspective; however, ART doesn’t do much, with this stretch being an exception for those going East, up the hill to I-25.

As to the specifics of last night’s incident, as we know them, quite possibly impaired drivers hitting cyclists at the intersection of Central and Broadway isn’t something that’s going to stop with ART, or much else, other than a significant paradigmatic change in our culture away from drinking and driving in particular, and driving dangerously in general.


Pedestrians Crossing Clayton and Central

More interesting might be the case of those choosing to jaywalk across Central at Clayton, as, reportedly, did the grandmother and 4-year-old boy last Saturday night. Here’s how this section near Rio Grande Boulevard looks now (with white dots/line showing distance across Central at Clayton):


Notice the long medians set for left turns here? Here’s what happens to them with ART:


Those medians, sometimes called “informal refuges,” go away. They are called refuges because cyclists/pedestrians crossing busy streets with such medians use them as a half-way oasis on their death-defying crossing. With ART, the medians are replaced with dedicated bus lanes. This being the case, the question is: Will such a configuration lead to decreased jaywalking along Central in this area? Or will the reduction in motoring lanes make up for the loss of perceived safety in the medians/refuges?

Additionally, will the significant reduction in left-turns here also lead more pedestrians to jaywalk and cyclists to use Clayton onto Central? The reduction in such turning lanes certainly improves how safe it is to make such illegal and/or perhaps unwise bike/ped decisions, including that for cyclists choosing to enter Central at a point with no bike lane, buffered or no, in either direction.

All of this conjecture is just that, conjecture. Still, pondering such questions seems germane in a changing bike/ped environment, one that certainly seems to be encouraging more use via things like widened sidewalks and, here and there, buffered bike lanes. While any change to Central Avenue would almost have to improve things on the bike/ped safety front (how could it get worse?), forward thinking and tweaking need to be considered as we go from release of a construction timeline to actually, finally, fixing an extremely dangerous stretch of Albuquerque road.


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