A First Look at Proposed ABQ Complete Streets Renewal

A guy leaves town for a month and so much has happened.

When I headed out for a bicycle tour in mid-April, Albuquerque did not have a formal Vision Zero pledge from its Mayor and there was only talk of an updated Complete Street Ordinance. While crime and wind and Scalo being closed have remained Burque constants (actually, I need to ride by Scalo and see if that last mention is still true), governmental policy toward making roadways safer for all users has evidently evolved dramatically.

Leaving a look at Mayor Keller’s Vision Zero pledge for another post, let’s first take a quick look at the Complete Streets Ordinance renewal/revision, O-19-64 in City Council numbering parlance. Sponsored by Councilor Isaac Benton (I know, you could have guessed that), the new Ordinance seeks to address shortcomings of ABQ’s first such ordinance passed back in early 2015.

Early in its route toward passage, O-19-64 has been very recently been assigned after Introduction to the City Council Land Use, Planning and Zoning Committee, “LUPZ” (pronounced “Lups” rhyming with “Pups”). LUPZ will very likely pass the Ordinance along to the full Council, helped 10000% by the fact Councilor Benton sits on the Committee. A check of the CC website doesn’t have indication yet of when the Ordinance will go before LUPZ.

Policy process out of the way, a look at the proposed renewal/revision of course centers on what’s new, or struck out, from the original 2015 Ordinance. As is always the case with legislation, there’s much in there and much of it is vague and very subject to interpretation. The vague and interpretation of vague is, of course, important. For instance, look at the recently vetoed “Five-feet bill,” one killed by language originally perceived as a “friendly amendment” by its sponsors.

The little things matter. And, taking our first look at O-19-64, we’re taken with a new provision that can be found on the bottom of Page Six of the proposal.

CS renewal excerpt

Hmmmm….

Where to start with this fascinatingly vague provision? What does “must work to avoid” mean exactly? What would constitute a significant enough “negative consequence” and how many in the “surrounding community” would have to see a roadway project as having “negative consequences” for that project to be further revised or terminated?

It’s easy to understand the rationale that leads to inclusion of such language: Neighbors most adjacent to roadway jobs are often left out of the planning and implementation process. There’s too little citizen input and too much invisible decision-making by City Administration and Department of Municipal Development, DMD, (the “streets people”).

That said, there’s never 100% agreement on anything, roadway improvements included. For instance, you may not believe it (sit down for this), but there are some people opposed to bicycle lanes. There are those who would prefer that walking NOT be encouraged through sidewalks and easier/safer intersections.

This new language seems to encourage local control/input and, in doing so, possibly endangers needed improvements for ALL users by allowing for that “Tyranny of the Majority” (i.e., drivers) Alexander Hamilton (and J.S. Mill, etc.) worried about back in The Federalist Papers. The provision, in its lack of clarity, also seems open to abuse by the perceived “negative consequence” by anyone vocal enough in the “surrounding community.”

Democracy is messy, and local input both essential and extremely messy. As currently written, the mess of “surrounding community” in this provision is, vaguely, addressed elsewhere in O-19-64 as being potentially cleaned up by the Administration and DMD. What’s definitely left out in the current language of O-19-64 is a separate entity, an oversight committee, that would instead exist to be both a place for local input and decision-making body authorized for final approval on roadway design/implementation.

That’s how it looks from a first reading, quickly gleaned from a first reading having been out of town for a month. We’ll ask for input both from BB readers and those around town in coming days to get a better handle on what “negative consequences,” etc. means and how the proposal might be tweaked/improved.

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