What ABQ Complete Streets & Vision Zero Really Need and Currently Lack

Note: The following “Guest Column” appeared in slightly different form in the Op/Ed section of Sunday’s Albuquerque Journal.

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In 2017, an elderly woman assisted by a metal walker tries to cross Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. at Oak Street but is unable to walk fast enough before the light changes. She is run over and killed by a driver in a high-profile pickup starting forward at the green light as the driver cannot see the diminutive victim.

You’ve perhaps read about Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s recent “Vision Zero” pledge to dramatically lower roadway injuries/deaths and City Councilor Ike Benton’s proposed renewal/revision of the City’s “Complete Streets Ordinance.” Both initiatives include detail about complicated things like “implementation measures,” but ultimately it’s all about trying to transform our roadways, and roadway behavior, in ways that don’t leave elderly women crushed by drivers in huge pickups.

Earlier this year, drivers street racing down wide and flat Louisiana Boulevard swerve or lose control near poorly-lit Ross SE and obliterate a mother of two standing in the median trying to cross the six-lane street.

The Complete Streets renewal, scheduled for City Council vote on August 5th, provides important new guidelines that, if properly implemented, could make transportation safer for all users, motorized and non-motorized alike. But the caveat – “if properly implemented” – is important, because better rules are meaningless without the tools in city government to make them happen. Sadly, as currently proposed, implementation is an afterthought. Specifically, the proposal has not been created through a process including representatives of all roadway users. Instead, Mayor Keller’s Administration is charged with creating such a process after passage, yet there is no funding attached for the necessary staff to facilitate an inclusive process or implement the results of that process.

Last month, a man walks along the sidewalk at Mountain and 3rd  as an SUV driver runs a red light and slams into a pickup, spinning the truck into a light pole, and the unfortunate man who is gruesomely killed.

dented light pole
Descansos for Chris Gallegos killed at the corner of 3rd St. and Mountain NW

Transforming our roadways and roadway behavior requires far more than currently found in the Complete Streets proposal. To give context, recall the extensive series of public meetings, document preparation and revision, Planning Department capacity, and final approval that has gone into the recent revamp of City zoning known as the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). That same level of commitment and resources is mandatory if we are to achieve what Complete Streets, and Vision Zero, proclaim as goals.

The true roadway incidents related throughout this essay occurred after passage of the original Complete Streets ordinance in 2015. While that legislation instructed the City to begin making our streets “Complete,” its lack of proscribed implementation measures, funding, and staffing have meant very little has changed since passage. These same shortcomings unfortunately remain in the proposed renewal, reflecting a continued unwillingness to spend the implementation time, money, and political capital (e.g., slowing drivers down is not universally popular) necessary.

And as you can still see this very morning, in finalizing construction of the new Zocalo Lofts Downtown,  crews design and authorize the intersection of Coal Avenue and 4th Street in a way that makes it necessary for walkers to squeeze between a signal pole and curb, and forcing those using wheelchairs or assisted by metal walkers into the street.

zocalo reality

The incidents related above reflect the complex challenges we face in making our roadways safer and the simple fact that only those who drive to work have been overwhelmingly in charge of our streets for a long, long time. A mere pledge to “Vision Zero” and Complete Streets ordinance lacking implementation tools needed to make sure its followed will not change that. Change will come only from fully inclusive input and oversight throughout roadway design, construction, law enforcement, and user education, along with sufficient funding and newly hired City staff to ensure daily that this input and oversight results in actions truly helping everyone navigate our roadways in ways that don’t get them killed.

3 thoughts on “What ABQ Complete Streets & Vision Zero Really Need and Currently Lack

  1. Scot thanks for these comments. I couldn’t agree more. I’m optimistic that increasingly more of us are clear on what fundamentals need to change in order to get to streets that are safe for all of us.

    In my neighborhood, Lead and Coal between Washington and Yale remain a demolition derby despite the $30M reconstruction whose main purpose was to make them safe for all users. The sidewalks are excellent, the lighting is great, the landscaping that hasn’t been destroyed in collisions is beautiful, but none of that has worked to keep cars on the road.

    If demolition derby (in the words of the press) sounds like hyperbole, take a look at these images: https://photos.app.goo.gl/TihJCRUFESxQkfF32

    Cars onto sidewalks, rollover crashes into yards, ejection fatalities in front of living room windows in two of the most walkable neighborhoods in Albuquerque? That’s what happens when CABQ and MRCOG turn narrow residential side streets (no wider than Silver) into “principal arterials.”

    University Heights and Nob Hill neighborhood associations, and an ad hoc citizen group (the Lead-Coal Safety Brigade), are working with the Mayor’s team since January 2018 on a comprehensive plan for the Lead-Coal problem in our area. CABQ says it will present recommendations at the end of August. We’re hoping, with tempered optimism, for decisive action that gets at the fundamentals of our situation. We’d be more optimistic, but we are yet to hear the Mayor and his team state publicly that the safety of bicyclists, pedestrians and residents matters more than moving lots of cars at high speed.

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  2. Joseph: Thanks for reading and for your through update on the Lead/Coal situation (that litany of photos is something else!). Converting these stretch of Lead/Coal to two-way seems the easiest sorta/kinda solution, along with signal lights patterns that force (try to force) drivers to slow down/stop more often, but successfully making drivers slow down is really hard. Looking forward to seeing those City recommendations.

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  3. Thanks Scott. As we started the evaluation phase of this initiative, the community asked that all options be on the table, including the two-way conversion. We’ll update you as those recommendations come forward. We also have requested that the Mayor’s team propose a framework for implementation.

    One other point with regard to the Lead-Coal experience, HFIN, and Vision Zero:

    We are asking CABQ and MRCOG to get off the out-dated and inadequate use of a single metric (i.e. crash rates) as a measure of whether a street is safe or not. Those numbers are totally without context and as a result understate the impact of collisions on our narrow residential streets. A high speed crash at the corner of Lead and Girard or Coal and Carlisle is not the same as a crash at San Mateo and Montgomery. The FHWA itself makes clear that the evaluation of street safety requires more than just crash rates https://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/road_diets/resources/pdf/fhwasa17021.pdf (page 3, metrics).

    For too long, the excuse for inaction on Lead-Coal safety has been “your crash rates don’t show a problem.” Anyone in CABQ or MRCOG making that argument needs some re-education, needs to visit and talk to the residents who’ve had a rollover crash (or two) next to their home, and needs to say whether they think school children or seniors or any of us are safe walking near any of the intersections depicted in that crash photo album.

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