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ART stations could transform into event sites

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The Albuquerque Rapid Transit platform in Nob Hill. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

ART could get artier – and maybe a little sportier, too – at least for the time being.

With Albuquerque Rapid Transit bus service still on hold, the city plans to temporarily use its dormant infrastructure for special events. Officials hope that miles of empty street lanes and more than a dozen unused platform stations in the heart of Albuquerque could serve musicians, athletes and more.

Mayor Tim Keller’s office said Wednesday that the city would make the lanes and stations in the middle of Central Avenue available for purposes like “marathons or charity races, art installations, local pop-up business days, and street music,” though specific details are not yet available.

The controversial ART project was supposed to start running a year ago. But recent vehicle issues have further postponed the already delinquent service. The city last month returned an electric bus fleet delivered by its original vendor, BYD, citing safety and battery life concerns. Albuquerque has since contracted with a different company, New Flyer, to build 20 new “clean diesel” buses to serve the route. But that pushes the likely start date into mid-2020.

“In the meantime we want to make (the ART infrastructure) somewhat useful,” said Johnny Chandler, spokesman for the Department of Municipal Development.

But people along the corridor say they have questions about the logistics.

Omega Delgado, executive director of the Nob Hill Main Street organization, said she likes the thought of music and art at the stations, saying it could “enhance the environment” in the popular shopping and dining district. But hosting events in the middle of the street with traffic flowing on either side raises safety concerns, she said.

“In general, ideas always sound super awesome, and once you actually dive into them there’s always some pros and cons,” she said. “This is one of those things we want to make sure the pros outweigh the cons.”

Chandler said that ART platforms are accessible via crosswalks protected by either a traffic light or a “hawk” signal that stops traffic for pedestrians. He said Municipal Development would work to protect those hosting and attending events. That may involve safety barricades, security personnel or an Albuquerque Police Department presence. The city would also work to alert and educate drivers passing by the festivities.

“We would do what is necessary to make it safe,” he said.

Chandler said Municipal Development is creating a permitting process for those who want to use the spaces, which should be released next month. However, the city has not determined what a permit would cost or who would incur the cost of related safety measures, he said.

Frontier Restaurant owner Larry Rainosek – who has an ART platform station near his front door at Central and Cornell – said he does not like the idea, in part because he wonders where people attending such events would park. He said he does not expect it would drive much business to his eatery.

A staunch ART critic who said his business has fallen off 10-12 percent from where it was before construction reconfigured Central, Rainosek said he’d rather see vehicle traffic in the unused lanes.

“I can’t imagine anything being more productive than letting that bus lane be shared with vehicular traffic, and that way we could get Central to come back to life,” he said, suggesting that he’d like to see vehicles have access to the bus lanes even after ART service begins.

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