Will Another Young Life Lost on ABQ Streets Lead to Real Change?

Albuquerque’s unrelenting traffic violence has once again temporarily crossed into broad public consciousness with the killing of 7-year-old Pronoy Bhattacharya, allegedly by fugitive Sergio Almanza.

I don’t need to relate the story, as the story is very much out there. While it’s important that Bhattacharya’s killing remain in our thoughts, and commendable that Mayor Keller and APD have now made it a mission to rid our streets of “Off-Highway Vehicles (OHVs),” those of us who study the subject know, very unfortunately know, that only a few days or weeks from now there will be another traffic death briefly flickering into public awareness.

And another one. And another one.

And, yes, the fact that traffic violence has increased locally and nationally since the pandemic “ended” and traffic returned to “normal” is widely discussed. It’s even true that “the public,” whatever that is, has generally come to understand that the killing of those trying to walk along/across our streets has skyrocketed in recent years, at no time more so than now.

Awful news all around, but at least we’re finally gonna do something substantive and lasting to truly address traffic violence now, right? Surely after the death of a 7-year-old boy, right?

History would tell us that, no, we’re not.

In the circumstances of Pronoy Bhattacharya’s killing, it is certainly possible the now-stated “zero tolerance” of OHVs on Albuquerque streets will become a lasting mandate. Why this hasn’t been the policy for decades is puzzling, but not a mystery; nevertheless, from this day forward and all that.

Yet waiting until someone is killed, and, more truthfully, waiting until that someone is a child, is prima facie not Vision Zero, toward which Mayor Keller has proclaimed that our fair city strives. Any look into how CABQ and countless other jurisdictions change transportation policy or infrastructure, as in the 2018 killing of 6th Grader Eliza “Justine” Almuina on Louisiana Blvd., shows that change almost always only happens after a high-profile death and tends to only impact a tiny aspect of much bigger policy/infrastructure problems.

E.g., we might get rid of OHVs on the roads. Maybe. We put up a HAWK signal at the Louisiana intersection Almuina was killed. And CABQ has also, after several noted speeding-related deaths and much hemming/hawing, instituted some return of automated speed enforcement. But such efforts only scratch the deadly surface and aren’t nearly the system-wide politically harder choices that will enact real change.

Again, for example, getting OHVs off our streets is relatively easy. Not that many yahoos ride these things on our streets now, and they represent a political force somewhere between cockfighting advocates and Better Burque (i.e., miniscule).

In contrast, let’s talk speeding for a second. Speeding is popular. Period. Not with everybody, not with Better Burque, but let’s not kid ourselves. A sizable, politically powerful percentage of our society likes, admires, and revels in speeding on our roadways. And if we make a Venn Diagram of those speed-lovers along with a circle of those who drive and/or love big-ass “lifted” trucks, even/especially if they’re illegally tinted and even though their drivers sometimes kill people trying to legally walk across the street, we’re basically putting two circles directly over each other.

If we asked anybody not fitting into the two circles of the poor Venn Diagram above whether speeding and big-ass trucks should be more highly regulated and/or made entirely illegal, I’d speculate a great majority of respondents would say “Yes.” The problem is, particularly after years and years of pickup truck steroids, etc., that the number of folks who would fit squarely into one/both of the Venn Diagram circles above is now enormous. Far, far, far above the number of OHV yahoos driving on roads, for instance.

Just as is the case with guns, we have, not mysteriously, armed a great number of our citizens with vehicles that can more easily kill others. And given the ever-rising political power of these we’ve armed, we continue to do largely nothing, waiting only for high-profile deaths to undertake tiny, inadequate high-profile “solutions.”

And we write all this truly hoping this long-running cycle will not simply be repeated after the death of Pronoy Bhattacharya.

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