First in a Very Long Series: Hindrances to Safely Walking ABQ

The long and short (or “wide and narrow” as you’ll read below) of Better Burque in 2020 is a fairly simple question:

Why isn’t Albuquerque more safely walkable and what can we do to change that? 

We are resolved in 2020 to prune our tendency to rampantly wander, yet this fairly simple question still, of course, includes a wide swath of associated issues and public policy choices. To further avoid wandering, we’ll most often post brief case studies, as illustrated below. In compiling these individual cases over time, BB will also sprinkle larger public policy discussions as circumstances demand (e.g., the announcement of a City “Complete Streets Implementation Plan” due this early Spring).

Finding obstacles to safely walking urban Burque is, unfortunately, even easier than bumping into somebody at Sprouts. One doesn’t have to go far, for instance, to find an ABQ sidewalk out of ADA compliance:

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 mandates the establishment of minimum walkway clearance widths and there are variety of organizations that offer sidewalk width recommendations. Updated and revised in 2004, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Architectural Barriers Act (ABA) Accessibility Guidelines for Buildings and Facilities state that walking surfaces should have a clear width minimum of 36 inches [ADA and ABA, Sec. 4.03].  This clear width minimum is the minimum width for passage and not a sidewalk width recommendation [PROW Guide, Sec. 3.2.1].  The clear width is the width of section of the walkway that is completely free of obstacles, vertical obstructions and protruding objects. The 36 inch width is the minimum width required to provide sufficient space for a person who uses mobility aids to travel within the restricted space [ADAAG, Sec. 4.3].  However, restricting the pedestrian zone to 36 inches prevents passing and does not allow for 2-way travel. The ADA and ABA guidelines state that where sidewalks are less than five feet in width, passing spaces sufficiently wide enough for wheelchair users to pass one another or to turn around shall be provided at intervals of 200 feet [ADA and ABA, Sec. 4.03].

Heck, the City has a 690-page draft “ADA Transition Plan” engorged with sidewalk, curbs, etc. out of ADA compliance. So in finding case studies, we’ll focus on violations created through new construction, and, as in today’s case, on-site decision-making leading to easily avoided violations.

We start our series at the outskirts of Old Town, 19th at Old Town Rd. NW:

19th at Old Town
Site of focus is, as per normal, the red square

To further orient readers, we’re a couple of blocks east of Old Town Plaza, just southwest of Tiguex Park. Walking is relatively frequent here, with old residences along 19th ending at the parking lot for the Albuquerque Museum, Park, and Old Town shops. A Pace bikeshare station is a few feet away on Old Town Road. Here the view looking north along 19th:

19th and Old Town

You can spot some folks on Pace bikes riding across the end of 19th. You can also spot our tell-tale red square meaning something of focus. Here’s a close-up of that something:

measuring 19th at Old Town

While telephone poles planted in the middle of ABQ sidewalks are ubiquitous, this one so “graciously” positioned toward one side of the walk also has a metal housing sticking out from the pole. The metal houses some wiring and also leaves the sidewalk under 36 inches in width:

35 inches 19th at Old Town
Trust me, right at 35 inches from edge of sidewalk/curb to the furthest jut of this metal housing. 

Let’s look again at a step back and posit an on-site discussion regarding this placement.

measuring 19th at Old Town

So instead of bundling the wires in a metal housing on the right side of this telephone pole in the three or four inches of useless sidewalk there, work crews/managers decided to do so on the left, leaving this sidewalk out of ADA compliance.

Yes, the entire sidewalk along 19th here is barely compliant in terms of width and evenness throughout, and there would be just over 36 inches of width left here even if we did move the writing/housing, but here’s a case where a simple decision violates the law and makes ABQ just that much less walkable.

While the cost of major work needed to move things such as telephone poles is universally cited as reason for not fixing ADA issues around town, here’s a case where we don’t have to move anything other than a few wires and a metal housing in the short-term, and some bad, illegal decision-making in the short/mid/long-term.

Starting what will eventually be a heavy log of such case studies, we’ll call this one The Case of Wires over Walkers.

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