It’s a question put somewhat on the back burner amid rightful current emphasis on the drop in driving and overall mobility resulting from COVID-19, but it’s still a good and lasting question: How much has the construction and reconfiguration of Central Avenue due to Albuquerque Rapid Transit A.R.T., changed traffic counts on “The Mother Road” through town?
The answer seems to be: Significantly.
New data provided to BB by the Mid-Region Council of Goverments (MRCOG) through its three-year counting cycle shows dramatic drops, generally 20-30%, in driving throughout the Central corridor from Unser east through Downtown and all the way to east of San Pedro, with stretches of “The Mother Road” on either side of Nob Hill showing drops of over 40%.
Prior counts shown above were taken in 2015 and early/mid 2016, just before A.R.T. began. With the latest counts above taken after A.R.T. construction completed in May of 2018, we’re left with a solid look at numbers on either side of the construction period.
And those numbers are remarkable.
While traffic count research is always a bit wonky, looking back at earlier data also provided shows Central traffic conforming to the general trend in Albuquerque and the nation after the Great Recession, with counts generally rising slowly between 2008 and 2015/2016.
What is not normal is the steep decline since.
This decline has many economic and societal implications, including the fact such numbers most likely bum Central corridor businesses out. And we’ll get to economics a bit below. But as our interest is on transportation safety, what do the counts mean in this regard?
One’s first reaction is “Great! Fewer drivers mean fewer crashes,” but studies show, both prior to and during the current COVID driving reduction, that speeding increases with fewer cars on the road. Hence, fewer drivers might mean fewer crashes overall, but with a higher incidence of deadly/injurious wrecks.
Thus, truly taking advantage of what would appear a lingering reduction in driving on Central requires that we alter its roadway engineering throughout to reflect its new number of drivers, instead of keeping it the speeder-encouraging wide open stroad it historically has been, particularly further west and east from Downtown.
The safety improvements could include:
- Reducing the number of driving lanes from six to four in places such as through the International District,
- Placing more signalized pedestrian crossings throughout, particularly in places with widely spaced such crossings at present, and
- Lowering speed limits (and enforcing those limits!) to reflect the increased encouragement of walkers/rollers/cyclists also brought about by A.R.T. itself and its accompanying sidewalk improvements and HAWK signals.
Failing to fully reconfigure the Central corridor for its new purpose not only leaves it more dangerous, it also likely perpetuates reduced business opportunity. Fewer drivers + Scary Walking/Rolling/Cycling = Less Business. The measures taken to encourage transit/non-motorized usage of Central via A.R.T. are only half of the solution needed to make an overall positive, lasting change on The Mother Road. The other half will only come from fully finishing the job in making Central safer for all users.