Undoing an oxymoron: Cycling/Walking and the Big-I

The $293 million Big-I reconstruction back in 2000-2002 was a smashing success. Completed before its scheduled date, the work has been generally applauded by “the public” since completion and continues to be gushed over throughout the road design, construction, promotion, and engineering industries.  The work won an AASHTO “President’s Transportation Award” in 2002. What a great project!

And what an absolute, disastrous waste of money for anyone trying to walk or bicycle anywhere near its immensity.

It is interesting to consider whether an identical reconstruction today would be so universally praised, but, back then, designing and building the state’s largest public works project in history with not one sliver, not an atom, of consideration for any form of human transportation aside from motor vehicles was perfectly okay. In fact, it was perfect, by all accounts.

Another side-effect of that perception of perfection is that very, very few Burqueans ever think about riding/walking anywhere near the thing. The Big-I is essentially multi-modal plutonium. The thought of coming within a frontage road near it never crosses 99.9% of bike riders/walkers’ minds. Ever.

Big-I together
What? Are you kidding?

But let’s have it cross our minds today. What the heck? In particular, how could we use Indian School and the South Frontage Road of the Big-I to, fairly safely, get from Wells Park/Downtown to the North Diversion Channel?

“Insanity” is a perfectly understandable initial response to this question.

But let’s take a look. Let’s start with the “easy part” that is 1st St NW to the South Frontage west of I-25:

Indian School to S Frontage
We’re starting east of 2nd Street because…2nd Street. 

As old-timers recall, I-40 largely obliterated Indian School west of I-25, but the street remains as a low-traffic neighborhood alternative running south of the highway. The red line segment above follows Indian School east from 1st NW through Edith.

At Edith between the walled Frontage Road and Mt. Calvary Cemetery (btw, this cemetery has two very cool names for cemetery roadways: Malthusian Way and Exculpating Road), we’ll get NMDOT to allow us, as it appears to be their right-of-way, to construct a multi-use path that connects to the Frontage Road at the arrow above. The wall between cemetery and road already fortunately already ends at this point.

Better Burque now sensing you are saying, perhaps screaming, outloud as you read the above: “I do not want to ride on the South Frontage Road. I do not want to, Sam-I-Am!” Understood. So, noting the following information from the MRCOG traffic count data set:

I-40 South Frontage traffic count
The figures are about the same or lower for other frontage roads around the Big-I. These frontage roads are WAY overbuilt. 

Let’s “road diet” the South Frontage Road, transforming its current two lanes into one driving left lane and a completely separated continued multi-use path via jersey barriers…

Related image
Evidently the U.K. Channel Island Jersey has these all over the place. I kid. It’s just what these things are officially called.

Moving east under and through the Big-I on South Frontage, we benefit in that the N. Frontage Road is one-way, and low traffic as well. Once we cross that, let’s do this:

s frontage over university

We’ll stay on our jersey-barrier protected multi-use path past the Motel 6 and get to University. At University, with it’s 20,000 vehicles an average weekday, we need a bridge (crudely and lovingly rendered in MSFT Paint above). Yeah, the bike/ped bridge will drive up the cost of this project, but, you know, if we can spend $293 million in 2002 dollars on an interchange, we can spend another $1 million or two in 2018 dollars on something that at least starts to make up for all the multi-modal horror that is the Big-I.

Guilt money, we can call it.

East of University, we continue the multi-use path until we reach a little paved connector to the North Diversion Channel (NDC), one I bet only about 1% of the many, many NDC users even know exists:

connector to ndc

Insane as it may have sounded a few paragraph ago, this can be done.

In not so many words/pictures, the 2015 area Bikeways & Trails Facility Plan does list this stretch as a “critical gap” in our cycling network. Kudos to those folks who included this in that Plan. At the same time, the plutonium nature of the Big-I for cyclists/walkers tend to make us forget and/or shudder to think of addressing this very critical gap.

But it’s 2018, not 2000-2002.

While it would truly be mad (and more) fun to blow up the Big-I and rebuild the whole thing with more consideration for walkers and cyclists (and less consideration of landscaping rocks), a short bridge, some concrete barriers, and a bit of right-of-way can help make it at least fairly safe to get across the vehicular monstrosity to the 2nd most popular cycling/walking path in the area.

Let’s do this.


3 thoughts on “Undoing an oxymoron: Cycling/Walking and the Big-I

  1. This would be awesome.

    The I-40 trail is a farce, atm. I often ride the ghost of Indian School past, including the frontage road. I take it to Edith than up Indian School. It’s simply the easiest and safest route past I-25, that side of Lomas. The alternative is riding on the I-25 frontage road after taking a left from Mountain, which is a really harry scary road to ride on, with traffic coming up behind you at 70 mph. That’s just one texting driver away from death.


  2. Thanks for the feedback, Biliruben. One fascinating thing is the difference of viewpoints vis-a-vis perceptions of safety/comfort. I’ve had cyclists tell me they felt the I-25 frontage road ride you describe is better than taking Indian School (skinny bike lane/bigger hill). I have done both and just blankly stare at these “turn left on frontage road from Mountain” folks. Not my cup of comfortable.


  3. Yeah, both leave a lot to be desired, terms of safety. Hopefully the Indian School redesign, if and when it ever happens, will make it a no-brainer. The tie-breaker for me is my knees, and their pleas not to drop altitude in the long climb. The downhill to the cancer center on the I-25 frontage is psychologically painful, and it’s followed by two steepish pulls.


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