Is 20 MPH Plenty in Downtown Burque?

Last night’s meeting of the Greater Albuquerque Bicycling Advisory Committee (GABAC) featured introduction of an idea by Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton advocating that downtown ABQ have a 20 mph speed limit throughout.

What “throughout” means in terms of boundary (e.g., does downtown, and such a restriction, include Lead and Coal Avenues?) is at an early stage, but Councilor Benton’s thinking seems to have started on the issue in reaction to something having nothing directly related to how fast motorists do/should drive through downtown.

Namely, it’s that damn bike lane on 4th Street roughly between Civic Plaza and Gold. You know, the one that had curb stops and flexposts providing physical separation (aka: “Positive Barriers”) between cyclists and motorists. The same first such barriers in the City that were yanked due to, as Mayor Keller put in a Tweet:

“These flexposts were recently removed on Copper Avenue (actually 4th Street…blog poster correction) between Central and Tijeras for a film production.”

We don’t know if the “film production” has “wrapped” its work on 4th, but we do know the physical separations are still not there.  And that gets us back to the discussion led by Councilor Benton at last night’s meeting.

Yes, we are talking about this again.

In sum, Benton proposes permanent loss of those physically protected lanes AND imposition, through ordinance, of a 20 mph speed limit throughout a to-be-determined area of downtown. Central to Benton’s argument for both is the City’s passage (with Council voting 9-0 in favor, as the Councilor pointed out more than one last night) of an ordinance:


That “Walkability Analysis” was conducted by internationally famous city planner and urban designer Jeff Speck. Looking within the 100-page study, we see reference to 20 mph and “20 is Plenty,” an international campaign for lower speed limits that has spread to U.S. cities such as Seattle and Cambridge, MA.

The above logic explains why a growing number of cities have instituted “20 is Plenty” ordinances in their downtowns, and a few have even settled on 18 mph as the target speed. In the interest of compromise, this report recommends the institution of a 25 mph speed limit for the most walkable sector of downtown (blog poster emphasis), essentially bounded by this study area. As discussed, lowering speed limits are only the half of it. The more important step is to engineer the streets for the desired speed, which means outlawing wider lanes and other inducements to speeding.

So 20 mph isn’t, ultimately, recommended in Speck’s study. As for 4th Street between Civic Plaza (Tijeras) and Gold, Speck makes distinctions:

4th Street is designated as a minor arterial despite holding very little traffic, nowhere more than 350 cars per peak hour—about a third of what a two-lane street can handle. It is also becoming a significant bike route, with its inclusion along the City’s new 50-mile loop.

Given its significance for biking, it should contain a cycle track wherever it fits, which means everywhere except between Tijeras and Gold (blog poster emphasis). From Tijeras to Central, a new solution has just been built. From Central to Gold, the 27-foot cartpath should receive one flank of parallel parking, and the lanes should be marked as sharrows to indicate the continuation of the bicycle route beyond. Here, while some cyclists might prefer a 14-foot sharrow rather than a 10 foot lane against parking, the latter alternative is recommended for the lower driving speeds that it is likely to encourage and the benefits of parking to local businesses.

Technically, Jeff Speck doesn’t recommend 20 mph downtown or a physically protected bike lane on 4th Street. The “new solution has just been built” referenced by Speck was the parallel parking and buffered bike lane striping installed well prior to the late-Berry Administration decision to suddenly put curb stops and flexposts right at the end of 2017.

So what does this all mean? And should downtown ABQ have an area-wide 20 mph speed limit. Jeff Speck or no, the evolving/devolving (depending on one’s viewpoint) political landscape has had, and will continue to have, as much to do with downtown roadway engineering policy as Mr. Speck’s recommendations.

In a “butterfly effect” of bureaucracy and politics, the Berry Administration’s decision to go against Speck’s recommendation in putting the very first “PBLs” in Burque on 4th has led to a widening debacle involving the following:

  • Pushback from motorists and businesses demanding parking places be reinstalled along 4th;
  • Friction between CABQ Planning, those in charge of the “50-Mile Activity Loop,” and CABQ Department of Municipal Development (the street folks) on whether there should be physical separation on 4th (i.e., should we “follow Speck’s recommendations”);
  • Yet another example of the understandable but important transition glitches that have occurred as we move from the Berry to Keller administrations; and,
  • Pissed-off cyclists who, eventually, have lost the only physically protected bike lane in town, even if having 4th between Gold and Tijeras be that first PBL was kinda of a dumb idea in the first place.

So, the upshot is that every single stakeholder in the issue has been pissed-off, at least once, during this debacle. Right now, it’s the cyclists who might seem most upset, but, actually, it might be the Albuquerque City Council that continues to be most aggrieved.

Unilaterally changing roadway engineering policy without consultation with Council isn’t considered good practice by many observers, particularly when those observers sit on Council. How Councilor Benton’s call for a 20 mph speed limit downtown plays out will be a lengthy process, one interesting to watch and participate in, even more so given the circuitous bureaucratic and political path we’ve taken to get to the idea’s introduction.

We’re definitely in grab some popcorn and a front-row seat territory here. I’ll take mine with extra butter, please.



3 thoughts on “Is 20 MPH Plenty in Downtown Burque?

  1. I hope this happens, is engineered to work, and goes all the way to the highways. Almost killed this weekend by some dude doing 60 on 6th. Boy does that road need to be squashed from 40 feet to 9.


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