Carving an El Pueblo NE “Northwest Passage”

The Better Burque Tactical Urbanism Team (BBTUT) wandered by bicycle through the goathead-infested railways, overly-abundant parking lots, and AMAFCA ditches and wetlands that make up the immediate south of the infamous BNSF tracks that cross El Pueblo Rd. NE, the tracks that have caused untold injury and mayhem to cyclists for decades.

We risked flat tires and a vague feeling we were breaking trespassing laws in search of some sort of “Northwest Passage.” Discovery of this passage would not involve icebreakers and silk/spice routes, but would instead find a route by which the BNSF tracks could be re-routed in a way that avoids El Pueblo altogether and still gets them to where they eventually go (the main tracks near the Los Ranchos/Journal Center Rail Runner station).

bnsf the basic idea.jpg
The simple route if the “PNM Reeves Generating Station” did not exist. The circle to the east denotes confluence of tracks meeting from Albuquerque Publishing and American Gypsum; the western circle denoting where the tracks could eventually return to their route on to the main north/south tracks.

Obviously, the simple solution of flattening the PNM station and putting together a straightforward route such as above is impossible. Besides, it’s such a cool looking old plant and what’s the fun in a “Northwest Passage” if it’s just a straight line in the first place?

pnm plant
The PNM plant. Spoiler Alert: We’re going to use some of the overabundant employee parking you see here in crafting our passage.

To get a better idea of why the tracks were created in the first place, let’s first go east and see the dual termini of these tracks:

where bnsf goes

Albuquerque Publishing (the Journal) and American Gypsum are why these tracks were created. Circles point out where the tracks end to deliver whatever is/was needed to make/distribute dry wall and newspapers. One easy solution to the problem would be to fully eliminate our need for dry wall and newspapers, but returning to mud stucco for home construction might be problematic, and I dunno, saving the newsprint/newspaper industry seems warranted. I guess. So we’ll bypass that idea and sally forth.

BBTUT’s intrepid sallying involved riding/walking/scraping goatheads from the PNM front gate through scattered parking lots created for various small business along El Pueblo (a motorcycle shop, a volleyball team headquarters, a photography studio, and another sports-related entity I can’t recall), then on to following the tracks as they wind away from El Pueblo south to the aforementioned confluence.

Along the way we documented the expedition:

ndc shortcut
Backing up west a bit, here’s a shortcut some take to avoid one set of tracks, a bridge over North Diversion Channel and crossing of this AMAFCA gate. Some benefit, but riders still face one set of tracks and there were roughly 7.5 million goatheads via this shortcut.
PNM parking lot east to tower
Looking just east of our shot of the PNM plant we see a fence line bordering the plant and a tower of some sort. Keep that tower, and the open space on the other side of this fence line, in mind as we move east to the tracks in the next photo.
tower south to confluence
Now we’re on to the “crux of the biscuit” as Mr. Zappa would once sing (actually say). There’s the tower and fence line, and off in the distance you can just see where the tracks converge.
path through PNM parking lot
And here’s the most important aspect of the “Northwest Passage.” We’re going to take these tracks and curve them west pretty much right alongside these telephone poles, through the PNM plant parking lot and beyond.
rerouting bnsf
And here’s the proposed “Northwest Passage,” drawn with my $5,000 CAD program (kidding), taking advantage of the space between PNM and those El Pueblo volleyball headquarters, etc. and utterly avoiding the dangerous track crossings circled. From there we purchase inexpensive pepper and other spices from Eastern Asia (again, kidding). We’re just gonna keep delivering gypsum and newsprint.

BBTUT would love to tell you who owns that dirt lot to the immediate northwest of the PNM, for it is the other most important component of the proposed Passage, but the CABQ GIS pages seem out of commission this morning. The business right next to our proposed confluence with the existing tracks in the far top/left corner of the above is Rader Awning, and BBTUT proposes we spring for paving their extremely poor driveway as part of this deal.

The other business primarily affected (besides BNSF) would be PNM, as we’d need a portion of their employee parking, but it sure looked like they currently have far more than enough, and, besides, this is the electric company we’re talking about. They owe us.

One other little wrinkle in creating this Passage concerns the strange, unused BNSF track that heads north from the current route across Paseo del Norte.

bnsf crossing pdn

Why is this track still here? Are we expecting enough “traffic calming” to occur on currently 60 mph (posted) Paseo del Norte that we can post 30 mph and have train crossing arms, forcing drivers to stop in both directions while train cross?

Because if we do, BBTUT would simply like to congratulate those implementing such changes on probably the single-greatest roadway safety measure this town has seen or will ever see. We say make this happen by Friday. Thursday afternoon’s rush hour, if possible.

Assuming such traffic calming will not occur, BBTUT’s proposed “Northwest Passage” solves a decades-long traffic safety problem that has been worked on again, and again, and again, and again by numerous government/private entities for years, and years, and years to no avail.

BBTUT and this Passage offer copious amounts of avail. Tons of avail.

So let’s make this happen.

Using the estimated “$8.4 million to $11.2 million” the proposed Rail Runner Spur to the Balloon Fiesta in mind as some sort of cost barometer (and big thanks to that Spur idea because it makes all other ideas concerning reducing Balloon Fiesta traffic congestion seem relatively sane), and with the idea that making El Pueblo safer for cyclists is a boon to ridership and safety during Fiesta, the costs associated with carving our proposed Northwest Passage are not only sane, but well within the $7.5 million the state is giving Albuquerque in capital outlay for “Balloon Park transportation improvements.”

Despite the goatheads, it was great fun scouting the area like Sir John Franklin and others did up in Canada and thereabouts (actually, it was much more fun because we didn’t get any flat tires, and didn’t get lost like Franklin did). Readers are encouraged to make the trek themselves, before heading to any public/private officials involved with your strong and undying support for immediate creation of this Passage.

Like by the time of this year’s Balloon Fiesta. Thanks in advance for your expedition and your support.


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