Thoughts on Complete Streets City Council Vote Scheduled for August 5th

Proposed revision to the City’s Complete Streets Ordinance moved “without recommendation” last Wednesday from City Council’s Land Use, Planning, and Zoning (LUPZ) Committee to a full Council vote scheduled for its August 5th session.

PoD 6.12.19
There were actually quite a few folks in attendance, but this was the general vibe at the LUPZ session, especially when discussion/vote on other prior matters ended.

Brought by LUPZ chair Isaac Benton, the proposal failed to receive recommendation for three reasons: 1. Concerns about its ramifications of its equity provisions, particularly from member Councilor Trudy Jones; 2. An admitted need to refine the proposal’s language, a sentiment expressed by its sponsor; 3. LUPZ was short members, specifically Councilor Davis, and it wouldn’t have passed with recommendation without them/him.

Thus the proposal now goes on into an interim period of wordsmithing and cajoling, with the latter probably more theater than substance, as passage at full Council seems quite likely. The real work before August 5th will be in turning a proposal currently weak in implementation language into the politically formidable tool necessary to truly address the dangers and inequities faced by roadways users not encased in a big metal, high-speed box.

This is not the view of the new proposal’s strongest, both in voice and clout, proponents, an organizational collaboration led by the local office of the American Heart Association. At LUPZ and in a recent Journal op/ed, this positive view is summed up by Heart Association New Mexico Executive Director Terri Archibeque thus:

This ordinance, when fully implemented, will saves lives and improve the quality of life for Albuquerque residents.

Astute Better Burque reader that you are, you probably focused on the phrase “when fully implemented” in the quoted sentence above. And you’re right, again, astute reader for wondering exactly what “full implementation” means and doubting that “full implementation” is going to happen. Because implementation is when things get difficult. Because implementation is where the good feelings of something with a Cowsills/Up with People/We Are the World title like “Complete Streets” meets up with what’s necessary to actually “save lives.”

Things like money, loss of parking, and slowing the fuck down.

We’ve all by now heard the expression “unfunded mandate,” in which a government entity passes some dictate to another body without providing any money to achieve that dictate. As a former K-12 teacher, examples of unfunded mandates that come to mind include pretty much any initiative from the eight horrid years of the Susana Martinez administration and her Public Education Department.

As currently written, the proposed revision of the Complete Streets Ordinance is rife with unfunded mandates (i.e., funding is not mentioned at all. Ever), but what’s even more interesting and equally problematic is that it’s implementation is centered on what might be called a “conceptually unfunded mandate,” namely (page 11, lines 8-12):

1. The Administration shall work with City Council to develop a process for  implementation, performances measures, evaluation, and staff training for  implementation of Complete Streets policy. 
2. Within nine months of the adoption of this Complete Streets Ordinance, the Administration shall present the process to the City Council. 

The underlining means this is newly added language atop the existing Ordinance in place. It would be perfectly acceptable and meaningful language if the Keller Administration and City had any idea whatsoever in how to “develop a process” as outlined above. The unintentionally humorous “nine months” phrasing above might as well be “nine geologic eons,” because simply handing a job that requires intense and immense inclusion of stakeholders and staff to an entity with almost no staff and little idea on what needs to be done is like me telling you to cure cancer in the next nine months, if instead of an research oncologist you were, say, a K-12 English teacher.

It’s not the Keller Adminstration’s/City’s fault. They just don’t have the capacity to make such a process happen in anything remotely close to a meaningful way. And yes, this is where I’m going to write about Tucson again.

In renewing/revising Complete Streets, City of Tucson first had already hired a staff of four to its Bicycle and Pedestrian Program. Burque currently has zero such staff, and while much talking about changing this has happened, nothing has happened. Equipped with this Program staff, Tucson then fully included stakeholders into development of an agreed-upon, implementation-rich policy manual for Complete Streets. THEN it passed a revised Complete Streets Ordinance, one including the agreed-upon manual for guidance, including sections like this:

The City is committed to tracking and evaluating the progress of its Complete
Streets Policy implementation. The Complete Streets Technical Review
Committee shall establish performance targets and identify performance
measures under the following categories, in consultation with the Complete
Streets Coordinating Council and any additional experts, as needed.

Readers interested in the “following categories” can check them out in the 19-page policy manual. Just taking the paragraph above, with its “Complete Streets Technical Review Committee” and “Complete Streets Coordinating Council,” I can personally tell you, having served on something sorta-kinda like a “Complete Streets Technical Review Committee” here, that the City of Albuquerque has neither the capacity nor understanding to come within seventeen conceptual light years of meaningfully implementing even the single paragraph above.

To use a local analogy, what’s required in putting together a truly meaningful Complete Streets policy here is the same energy and resources that went into crafting and implementing our new Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). Now that’s a high, high bar, and I’m sure many/most of you are probably laughing heartily at the thought of anything close to that level of work/resources going into making our roadways safer and usable by all users. I mean, I’m joking, right?

No, I’m not joking.

Extending the IDO analogy, one HUGE difference between implementing IDO and Complete Streets is that the principal City department ensuring implementation of IDO is Planning, from which all the conceptual and literal energy/resources emanated. Implementing Complete Streets will, of course, fall largely upon (and I choose that phrase purposefully) the Department of Municipal Development.

Let that sink in for a minute.

So, when those supporters of the proposal get close to a “IF this passes, THEN we save lives” position, your humble blogposter is left in the awkward traffic safety advocate position of opposing a Complete Streets proposal. At least as currently written and without anything approaching the necessary process in place.

And given the chasm between what’s currently on the page and within the City’s capacity, and what’s needed to implement changes that will truly save lives, there’s a shit-ton of wordsmithing and, more importantly, Administration conceptual input and tangible change (e.g., immediately hiring a bike/ped “Active Transportation Coordinator”) that’s gotta happen before such opposition is ameliorated.

Will that happen before this version of Complete Streets passes and is signed by the Mayor? Probably not. Will the capacity-building and stakeholder-rich process needed to fulfill the vague current implementation language and the mythical “nine months” happen in nine months, or even ninety years?

I’ve ranted long enough to make my answer apparent. How would you answer that question?



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