The Pandemic Ate My Homework: The “Stupid” Project

Yesterday, I was riding the wrong way uphill on the shoulder of Dennis Chaves Blvd. (NM-500), trying to stay with the orange barrels, seen above, between me and the many drivers zooming downhill.

A cyclist, one of those racer/lycra types who often use Dennis Chavez for hill training and downhill thrills, cycle-zoomed past me, but not so fast that I could not catch a most definite:

“Stupid!”

He was referring to my riding the wrong way. I don’t make a practice to be “stupid” in this regard. I usually ride with traffic. I was riding the wrong way because I’m in the early middle of a little project we’ll now and forever call “The “Stupid Project.”

Thanks racer/lycra man, for that title.

The Stupid Project has been undertaken because of two school-related personal events and a pandemic. For the past few months I’ve been a fellow at The Walking College, a 100% online learning experience sponsored by nonprofit America Walks. The College fellowship ends by identifying a local danger/impediment/discouragement to walking our urban built environment and putting together a “Walking Action Plan” toward fixing that danger, etc.

Then you’re supposed to execute the Plan and fix the problem.

After have changed my mind about five times (ABQ has SOOOOOOOOOOOOO many dangers/impediments/discouragements to walking), I decided to tie my project to another school-related happenstance. Namely, I decided to fully “unretire” from K-12 teaching and take a job at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School.

Those hip to high school locations and/or Southwest ABQ are probably figuring out where we’re going from here.

Atrisco Heritage is located along Dennis Chavez (NM-500)

Roughly one-quarter turn from the same spot as the orange barrel photo was taken above

While the pandemic has put the kibosh on actually teaching/attending Atrisco Heritage, I’m one of those folks who: A. Chooses places to work based, at least in part, on the bike route to get there; B. Does a bunch of recon riding to figure out the best route to/from there.

So I’ve started riding up from my place on the South Valley floor up the Mesa to what I now know is called “AHA” by the students/staff, and have found a truly fascinating mix of horribly dangerous non-motorized infrastructure, road and multi-family residential construction, and more horribly dangerous non-motorized infrastructure.

The most fascinating aspect of the situation is this: About 4300 students and ~500 staff (right at 4,800 people) go to/from AHA and adjacent George I. Sanchez K-8 every school day (when there aren’t pandemics), yet 99% of all those people live across busy, horribly dangerous Dennis Chavez Blvd. (NM-500) from the schools.

The schools are on one side of Dennis Chavez; the residences on the other.

And because Dennis Chavez is so horribly dangerous, very, very, very few students/staff take non-motorized means to get to/from school. Adding to the ever-present danger is that aforementioned new construction, poorly illustrated in the short photo essay below:

The under construction extension of 98th St. at Dennis Chavez tied to the apartment construction. Note a few of the many, many subdivision houses across Dennis Chavez from the schools
The 100% affordable seniors apartment complex also under construction at 98th and Dennis Chavez
The nearly finished first phase of apartments and ground leveled-ready for second phase construction.
The fences and more fences separating those apartments from the school campus (we’ll use singular “campus” because “campuses” is awkward and “campi” just sounds snobby).
The entire south and west sides around the two schools have this fence running, meaning that someone who was insane enough to walk or ride to school has to go an extra 3/8 to 3/4 mile to finally get around all this fencing. (Yes, some students and at least one new AHA staff member will be jumping the fence, once there isn’t a pandemic.)
The lowest spot anywhere along the fence line is here(I looked), behind all that tumbleweed, at about 3.5 feet high. Low enough to haul a bicycle over. But tumbleweeds are so itchy…

Making an even longer explanation at least somewhat shorter, let’s refer to the photo essay above as we sum up what The Stupid Project entails:

  • Making Dennis Chavez Blvd. (NM-500) safe enough that it will encourage many more of the nearly 5,000 students/staff to get to/from school across it by non-motorized means.
  • Somehow convincing Albuquerque Public Schools to relent somewhat on its anti-vandalism/anti-“active shooter” policy, and install/unlock gates in the fence thus allowing/encouraging public access to the schools’ nice green field (pictured above), running track, practice football fields (both English and American), and baseball diamond.
  • Such installed/unlocked gates would be especially nice for the seniors moving into the new apartment complex, as there is absolutely nothing close to a City or County park anywhere near the complex on the south/adjacent side of Dennis Chavez, and crossing Dennis Chavez is, of course, currently “stupid” for anybody, especially our senior citizens.

To recap the scope of The Stupid Project bureaucratically, your humble blogposter/Walking College Fellow is proposing to work with and coordinate the work of the following entities:

  1. New Mexico Department of Transportation (yeah, Dennis Chavez is NM-500, a State road)
  2. Bernalillo County (some of the parcels, particularly south of Dennis Chavez are County)
  3. City of Albuquerque (some of the parcels are City. Isn’t “checkerboarding” fun?)
  4. Albuquerque Public Schools

Should be a snap, amirite?

Seriously, the scope of “The Stupid Project” may well be reduced to something along the lines of helping Seniors jump a fence and creation of a Walking School Bus with twice-daily police escorts across *Dennis Chavez. We do need to remain realistic in our goals.

But something definitely needs to be done, and, as clearly proclaimed by that guy in lycra zooming downhill on Dennis Chavez yesterday, I’m just the stupid guy to try doing it. With your help. And the City. And the County. And so on.

*Funny Side Note: Did you know that there are no school crossings signs, of ANY kind, anywhere along the long stretch of Dennis Chavez (NM-500) adjacent to AHA and George Sanchez K-8? The only signs indicating that two schools with school-day population roughly as large as Tucumcari (pop. 4,779) are this:

and this:

We’ve got our homework cut out for us…

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