1st Draft Toward Comments on Proposed Complete Streets Renewal/Revision

Note: As discussed earlier this week here at BB, Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton has proposed a renewal/revision of 2015’s “Complete Streets Ordinance.” It has been assigned to the “Land Use, Planning, and Zoning” (LUPZ) Council Subcommittee, to be discussed there before possibly moving on to the full Council. Below is a first draft of public comments to possibly be made at LUPZ. As there’s a two-minute limit for public comments there, the second draft of the below will need to cut out at least 53 minutes of extraneous material. Any suggestions toward that appreciated!

Good Evening, Councilors

It’s an exciting time for those of us extremely interested in making our roadways safer in Albuquerque and throughout the area. The Mayor’s formal pledge of the City toward Vision Zero and the proposed renewal/revision of its Complete Streets Ordinance offer a rare and great chance to codify and implement increased roadway safety for all users, and, just as importantly, a singular chance to do things right, not only for the duration of this Administration and Council, but for years and potentially decades to come.

Looking at O-19-64, the Complete Streets update, there is much to be commended. I applaud in particular its provisions toward greater equity in service and attention to safety for all users in low-to-moderate-income areas. Those provisions remind me of what I consider the single most important roadway improvement in recent years, the “road diet” of Zuni SE from Washington to Central.

Limiting Zuni to one driving lane in each direction through some of the poorest neighborhoods in our city, an area with higher numbers of pedestrians and a history of disproportionate injury/death to those walking there, has made Zuni much safer and encouraged use by those of us who travel by something other than pushing down a gas or e-pedal. Combined with planned, hopefully eventually funded, sidewalk improvements, Zuni will become a true model of Complete Streets in action.

I understand and deeply respect the political will that has gone into these Zuni improvements. I know they are not popular with everyone. Just as you do, particularly Councilor Davis, I hear from folks not happy about Zuni being reduced to one lane, just as Councilor Gibson hears about the road diet on San Pedro, and most likely every Councilor and the Mayor hears about roadwork involving bike lanes anywhere.

Roadway improvements for what is now a minority of citizens are frequently unpopular with the majority, those who drive. Keeping this in mind and making sure any Vision Zero efforts, such as the Complete Streets Ordinance, include provisions that include equitable input from all users is essential. With this vital aspect in mind, here are some tweaks to the current proposal that I think will far better ensure equity for all users.

First, I come to you today as the “Unincorporated, West of the River” representative of the Greater Albuquerque Bicycling Advisory Committee (GABAC). That’s a mouthful, and there’s a mouthful of implication in that role and entity.

First, the word “unincorporated” tells you, I don’t live in Albuquerque. Thanks for listening, regardless, Councilors. I do ride a bicycle all over town and try to represent both incorporated and unincorporated Bernalillo County, and that gets me to my first suggestion for improvement. The need for Complete Streets does not end at the City Limits. Specifically, major multi-lane roads noted for high rates of roadway death/injury, such as Coors Boulevard, extend through both City and County, with Coors even being NM-45, a “state road,” one that extends through some of the poorest part of Bernalillo County. While the City can understandably only address City matters, the rather unfortunate disconnects in jurisdiction make roadway policy difficult and haphazard. One way to address this would be to craft a MRCOG/MPO-wide Complete Streets policy as has been recently been done in a renewal/revision of its ordinance in Des Moines, Iowa.

Des Moines’ legislation also includes creation of a “Transportation Safety Committee” to oversee and advise in review of all City projects. Such a committee is central to ordinance elsewhere, including our nearby neighbor Tucson, Arizona. While I understand resistance toward forming more committees and adding more layers of government, my personal experience on GABAC has deeply illustrated why formation of a formal committee to oversee Complete Streets implementation is necessary. As part of my GABAC duties I volunteered to sit on an informal Complete Streets review committee consisting of myself, several representatives from City DMD, folks from City Plannning, MRCOG and someone from ABQ Ride. Someone from GABAC was kindly invited to the sessions by Councilor Benton. The past two years we’ve looked at pending scheduled road maintenance projects and worked, in my opinion fairly well, to figure out ways to make use safer for all users.

That said, there has been an extreme inequity in who sits at this informal review committee table. Nobody advocating those who walk or navigate by wheelchair or other device was at the table. No transit user advocates have been there, only a representative of ABQ Ride. Someone from GABAC, me, was asked because there is a bicycle committee. There is no pedestrian committee, per se.

This lack of input combined with extreme limitations in what improvements could be advised by the committee (for instance, we could not include recommendations for sidewalk improvements, even if current sidewalks were out of ADA compliance) left important voices out of the room and absolutely essential improvements beyond the informal committee’s scope.

This needs to change in the renewal/revision of the Ordinance. Just as in Tucson, Des Moines and elsewhere, a formal review committee comprised of stakeholders from all roadway users must be created. Such a committee, complete with OMA requirements of meeting agenda, minutes and public reports, will also address the current lack of transparency when it comes to Complete Streets implementation currently. For instance, how many roadway users, including people in the advocacy community, even know there’s an informal Complete Streets Review Committee at present?

The lack of input from pedestrian and transit users on the informal committee gets me to my final suggestion for ordinance improvement today. Frankly stated, the Complete Streets renewal/revision as currently written strongly reflects the fact that we (City or County) do not have what has often been called elsewhere a “bike/ped coordinator” or, more recently, a “Active Transportation Coordinator” or planner.

I’m sure you’ve already guessed, but, yes, Tucson and Des Moines both have such a coordinator/planner. Last time I looked, Tucson, a city similarly sized right here in the American Southwest, has an active transportation staff of four. There’s a Tucson City webpage with a photograph of those staffers riding bicycles, and I must admit I cringe in envy every time I see it.

tucson staff
From “About the Bicycle and Pedestrian Program” webpage at City of Tucson

But this goes beyond envy. Without an active transportation planner/staff, without someone representing the needs and mindset of non-drivers on a day-to-day basis as roadway jobs are designed, tweaked, possibly argued against by members of the driving majority, refined, and implemented, an ultimately successful Complete Streets Ordinance and Vision Zero pledge is, in my humble opinion, impossible.

Having sat on GABAC for four years now, I see the negative impact of not having such a position/staff in place. From less significant gaps in collecting and disseminating bike counts to the public to hugely important day-to-day input leading, over time, to fully realized roadway improvements that take into account all users, not having an active transportation person/staff shows. In fact, this proposed Complete Streets Ordinance, as currently written, strongly looks like it has been written by an entity without an Active Transportation person/staff.

It’s just missing vital elements that such a person/staff would catch. Elements found elsewhere throughout the country from nearly countless new/recent Complete Streets initiatives.

In conclusion, I think we’re moving a bit too hastily and need to further tweak and improve the proposed Ordinance before it goes to the full Council for passage. I urge it be tabled and that significant review of reports crafted in cities such as Tucson and Des Moines be consulted and “borrowed” to strengthen the legislation and make it far more likely that our roadways become safer for all users, that all users are represented in our decision-making and that we make significant progress toward the Vision Zero pledge of the City.

Thank you.

 

 

 

 

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