Better Solutions at Coors & Blake, Finale: Fitting a New Reality

Two days ago, Better Burque started a closer look at the scheduled improvements for the intersection of Coors & Blake in the South Valley. Before we wade further into the matter, readers might want to catch up with those earlier posts, but one quick way to sum up the proposed project is that it does a good-to-great job in making Blake better, but leaves much to be needed/desired along the Coors stretch, particularly from a cycling and walking perspective.

The gap between what’s proposed and needed can somewhat be summed up in the two Streetview photos posted previously. Let’s put them up again for reference, the first from March 2008 and the second from earlier this year:

coors-and-blake-nw-2008

coors-and-blake-nw-2016

And we’ll just remind readers that the sidewalk you see next to Wendy’s only exists immediately adjacent to that establishment.

And to further catch us up, here’s a proposed “typical” section (typical because there’s right-turn lanes, curb medians that become left-turn medians and such in several places) showing the presence and widths of various proposed components:

coors-cross-section-at-blake

To avoid a total regurgitation of “Part I” in this series, the project proposal does grant a bike lane along Coors for the short duration of the project, but doesn’t really address the changing nature of Coors Blvd. and the surrounding neighborhood. And while this is obvious, that is not to say the proposed improvements are the result of any anti-bike/walk fervor on the part of traffic engineers, or a general obliviousness to the neighborhood changes illustrated above. There is no conspiracy here, only the reality that exists in trying to make this highly dangerous intersection better. That reality includes the following:

  • Blake is a County road; Coors is a State road.
  • Bernalillo County, like the City of Albuquerque, works under a new “Complete Streets Ordinance.” Complete Streets is, simply put, the single most important element toward making ABQ/BernCo roadway cycling/walking better and safer in recent history. Perhaps we can just leave out the word “recent,” and make that ALL city/county history.
  • The State of New Mexico and NMDOT do not work under the auspices of Complete Streets.
  • Hence, most of Coors is proposed in this project to look like you see above.
  • Making it look better/safer for cyclists and pedestrians would cost a very significant amount of money.
  • As always, the pool of money for this project is not large enough to make everybody happy with the result.
  • While one can argue, and I will below, that the fiscal priorities of the project should be different, it is asinine to conjecture that there is some conspiracy at play here, and that cyclists and walkers are being deliberately left unsafe.
  • Making projects like Coors & Blake look like you’ll see proposed, by me, below will require changes in public policy and budgeting, particularly at the State level, that fundamentally alter how we calculate and build road projects.
  • The proposed improvements at Coors & Blake simply reflect all of the above. If we want to change this reality, small tweaks are possible through public meeting comments and, perhaps, silly little blog posts like this one. REAL change for this and any other projects, particularly involving NMDOT, have to be through passage of Complete Streets at the State level.

Okay, now that we’ve basically stated that we know why Coors will, very likely, NOT look like the proposed street design below, let’s beg everyone’s indulgence and posit what it should look like:

Using the Streetmix website BB wrote about yesterday, and noting that project drawings seem to indicate a minimum Right-of-Way of 93 feet:

coors-and-blake-bb-version

Important elements include:

  • 6-foot sidewalks
  • 6-foot bike lanes, versus 5-foot,  with 3-foot buffers
  • Shrinking driving and median lanes to 11 and 12 feet, respectively
  • Putting some form of “planting strip” buffer between curb and the sidewalk

Most BB readers can follow the logic behind these elements, but for those who don’t drive much in the South Valley, the speed limit at Coors and Blake is currently 45 mph, a figure exceeded by MANY drivers, in part because the area checkerboards posted speeds between 45 and 55 in a confusing manner.

Like much of Coors Blvd. everywhere, not having a bike lane buffer inculcates a sizable level of rider discomfort. Sure, in a perfect iteration, the buffers proposed here would include some form of physical separation (delineators, etc.), but we’re trying to be at least somewhat realistic, even in this dramatically different proposal.

The big question surrounding any proposal such as BB’s above is how to meld it into the realities of a non-Complete Streets State of New Mexico/NMDOT paradigm and limited funding. It’s such a big question that one is tempted to not even try. I’ll admit that while I usually have just about zero “writer’s block” when it comes to spewing thoughts, ideas and rants about such matters, putting something out there about this particular project is really tough.

The County/State proposed improvements, funded with federal money, at Coors & Blake will make that intersection safer, a place so unsafe now that your humble blogger won’t even drive there, even though it’s only about a mile from my house and just so happens to be precisely where I’m starting a teaching job next month (more about that in a future blog post).

It’s a ridiculously unsafe situation, and the improvements will help.

So why not just appreciate the possible improvements, instead of suggesting/demanding the highly improbable? That question has certainly given me pause the last 48 hours or so, even more so than the countless other times BB has suggested improvements not currently scheduled at other projects around the area (e.g., Silver at Carlisle).

After much reflection, I think I’ve figured out why.

Coors Blvd. is currently so bad in the South Valley that positing anything looking remotely like the BB proposal above seems ludicrously naive. But that’s on Coors, not the proposal. Offering the suggestion that Coors Blvd. is, in reality, now a street from a roadside amenities standpoint, and that its roadway should reflect that reality instead of an antiquated highway mindset isn’t naive.

It just looks that way because Coors is such a metaphorical train wreck.

And that kind of thinking, so very, very common down here in the South Valley, just isn’t right. To use the parlance of my dear mother, “we don’t deserve nice things” is just about mantra in the SV. That’s gotta stop, and it’s gotta stop sometime.

Coors Blvd., particularly in the South Valley, reflects a dangerous way of thinking that has to stop. It might as well stop with the new iteration of Coors & Blake.

 

 

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