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Until ART buses arrive, lanes and stations should be used by the public

Yes, it is OK to play in the middle of the street along historic Route 66.

For about 18 months, ART won’t be running. The lanes and stations will be empty, but they shouldn’t be abandoned to taggers and vandals until the buses arrive. These things were built for public use, and we should absolutely make lemonade by helping the public claim the space and take ownership. The lanes should be opened to bicycles and pedestrians and forbidden to cars. The stations should become event spaces, used every weekend, day and night. Music, art shows, runs, bike rides and performance should dominate till the buses come.

When ART was conceived, it was thought of as a transformation of Albuquerque’s historic Route 66 central corridor. The very design of the system was dual purpose. It’s a transportation option across the city and, perhaps even more importantly, it’s a way of bringing people to centers of activity along historic Route 66. ART and its infrastructure bring the potential for renewal of a strip that’s been deteriorating ever since I-40 opened. Until we think about old Route 66 differently, it won’t happen.

Since I-40 came on line through the city, a thriving tourist strip has turned into urban pestilence with only a couple of bright spots Downtown and in Nob Hill. Parts of it have become the most dangerous place in the city for pedestrians. Does anybody feel safe and comfortable at Louisiana or San Mateo and Central?

If we’re serious about renewal and realizing the tourist potential of old Route 66, it can’t be simply a motor vehicle canal. It has to be a place that people like. It has to be a destination, not just an automobile through-way.

How serious are we about transforming old Route 66? How serious are we about attracting people from all over the country to a happening space on old Route 66? How serious are we about reducing pedestrian death and injury? Let’s reduce the emphasis on automobiles throughput and increase the emphasis on safe and comfortable people places. Automobile traffic patterns will adjust. If we can’t imagine the corridor as a great place to gather and only see it as it is right now, the transformation will never happen regardless of ART. We’ll be stuck with an old Route 66 that’s a very public urban embarrassment.

Let’s get behind the transformation. Let’s start now. Let’s make the old Route 66 corridor into a safe and comfortable place for people to gather, socialize, eat, drink and shop. We already promote areas along the strip with occasional public festivals in Nob Hill and Downtown. Old Route 66 is already closed Downtown on weekend nights. Let’s make a really great batch of lemonade by using the ART lanes and stations as public spaces till the buses come. Let’s start on this thing right now.

There are lots of ways to make it happen. We can reduce speed limits around the stations. We can make liberal use of paint and street art to welcome people and calm traffic even more. We could even get with the international Ciclovía Movement by closing large portions to automobile traffic on Sundays. As a consequence, we might even reduce pedestrian death and injury by automobile to zero along old Route 66. Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

Let’s do this. Let’s start right now with public space in the middle of the street and use every device we can to calm traffic and make it safe. Let’s make old Route 66 into a real attraction. We can do this! If we continue to emphasize automobile throughput, we’re stuck.