Boardwalks in the bosque. A 50-mile exercise loop. More neon along Route 66.
Mayor Richard Berry wants to know what the public thinks of these and similar ideas. They’re part of an initiative he calls “ABQ: The Plan,” an effort to shift more money into capital projects aimed at triggering private investment.
The city and its consultants sponsored a series of public meetings on the concepts last year, but they want more people to weigh in, especially on the latest ideas. Information and surveys are available at abqtheplan.cabq.gov.
“This can’t be the mayor’s plan. This has to be Albuquerque’s plan,” Berry told the Journal in a meeting last week.
The latest effort focuses on three basic concepts: improvements along the Rio Grande, a 50-mile loop in the city for cyclists and joggers and revitalization of the old Route 66, from roughly Tramway to western Bernalillo County.
The plan mentions about $36 million worth of ideas, although Berry isn’t seeking funding just yet. The projects could be done in pieces over many years, and some of the money could come from other government agencies, not just Albuquerque.
“This is a multi-decade vision,” the mayor said.
Still, Berry has made it a priority in recent budgets to shift some of the city’s operating money back into big capital projects – reversing a trend from before he took office, when City Hall often took revenue earmarked for capital and used it to prop up the basic operating budget instead.
Moving some of the money back is how the city was able to contribute $50 million to the reconstruction of the Paseo del Norte and Interstate 25 interchange, for example.
Vision for the Rio Grande
The city’s goal is to make the river a bigger part of residents’ day-to-day lives. That could include the building of boardwalks, parks, new signs, boat ramps and better crossings for pedestrians and cyclists.
New projects would complement what’s already there, including the Albuquerque Biological Park or the existing river crossings.
City consultants have come up with a map that shows where some projects might go in a 19-mile corridor along the river. No private development or heated structures would be allowed inside the river levees.
“We couldn’t find a city of this size that has so much wild and natural area embedded in the urban fabric,” said Mimi Burns of Dekker/Perich/Sabatini, which was hired to work on design of the project. “It’s an amazing thing – the contrast of urban landscape and this amazing natural river in the middle of Albuquerque.”
Rio Grande Valley State Park is one of the 25 largest urban parks in the United States.
Berry said bringing more people to the river should help protect it. The goal, he said, is getting “more people to fall in love” with its natural beauty.
The cost estimate is $15 million if everything were built.
The idea is to fill gaps in the city’s already-built network of trails, sidewalks and bicycle lanes. They would be connected into a 50-mile loop.
In some cases, the city might need to widen the trails to ensure cyclists and pedestrians can co-exist safely.
Berry envisions people cycling at their own pace. Some might want to travel the whole thing. Others might want to stay at a boutique hotel, then bike to a bed and breakfast for the next night, he said.
There could be rest stops, bike-rental stations and information kiosks along the way. Some areas might need more landscaping and improvements to make the trails more visible.
“It’s a multi-use loop,” said Savina Garcia of Wilson & Co., which is working on the project. “What we’re trying to focus on is getting city of Albuquerque folks and tourists to really realize the benefits of utilizing these trail systems. … We’re tying to make this a little more visible and more open so people know how to get to it.”
The cost estimate is $20 million if everything were built.
The mother road
City planners are debating ways to spruce up Central Avenue, especially the neglected stretches that lie outside the more-successful Nob Hill and East Downtown areas.
“We want to have that kind of success up and down Central,” said Russell Brito, Albuquerque’s manager of urban design and development.
The city’s ideas draw on nostalgia over the old U.S. Route 66, the “mother road” that stretched from Chicago to Los Angeles. Central Avenue in Albuquerque is the longest urban stretch of the road still intact.
“We want to get people off the freeway and onto Route 66,” Berry said.
The city is proposing zoning incentives aimed at encouraging neon signs. Public art pieces could also serve as giant markers reminding people they’re on Historic Route 66. There could be gas-pump-themed kiosks with information.
Increasing traffic counts along Central could lure private development, the mayor said.
People want “more interesting neighborhoods, things to do up and down Central,” Berry said.
Public art and design features would cost around $605,000. Information kiosks and “way finding” signs would cost more, depending on how many are built.
Berry said he hopes people will take the time to visit the city’s “ABQ: The Plan” website and fill out surveys to comment on the ideas or just learn what’s under consideration.
“This is the latest,” Berry said. “This is what your neighbors have said is interesting to them so far, along with our consultants.”
About 150 people participated in meetings last year.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal