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Editorial: ‘Complete Streets’ needs update – with safety first

The “Complete Streets” concept is one that’s always been pretty easy to get revved up about. It’s all about getting the most bang for your road buck by ensuring construction projects take all modes of transportation – vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians – into account.

Albuquerque City Councilor Isaac Benton sponsored the original legislation in 2014 and is carrying the proposed update that is going before the council this summer. Its first page cites Vision Zero, a movement Mayor Tim Keller signed onto last month to get Albuquerque to zero vehicle, bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities.

There’s little question that if the legislation was needed in 2014, when 69 people died on the roads in Bernalillo County, an update is needed – that death toll was 64 in 2015, 100 in 2016, 90 in 2017, 91 in 2018 and 50 so far this year. (All of Albuquerque is in the county.) Keller cites the need to improve safety and reduce crashes and fatalities numerous times in his Vision Zero announcement of May 17.

Unfortunately, that’s not the focus of Council Bill 19-64. While dangerous intersections abound in Albuquerque, the words “danger,” “injuries” or “fatalities” appear nowhere in the 11 pages of proposed updates. Instead, the amended language focuses on “gender,” “ethnicity,” and communities with “low-to-moderate income, high populations of elderly citizens, high populations of citizens with disabilities.”

And while there is likely a strong correlation between low-income neighborhoods/those with residents more likely to get places on foot and missing/insufficient infrastructure, Albuquerque will not get to Vision Zero without putting safety – in the form of addressing wrecks, injuries and fatalities – at the top of its to-do list.

User volumes needs to be a close second.

Because it’s important that in a city with limited resources, road, bike, trail and sidewalk improvements should be in neighborhoods where they will make a difference and be used. And it is interesting that while the American Heart Association, AARP, the Cancer Action Network and the Chronic Disease Prevention Council are supporting the proposed changes, the street renderings they provided to the Journal are in Uptown, the Northeast Heights and Downtown – not areas that bring to mind the social engineering constructs of the amending language.

Because our lowest-income neighborhoods also tend to be the least walkable – or driveable for that matter – prioritizing danger and volume will still allow the city to home in on desperately needed traffic projects in underserved areas. And it’s important to emphasize that the revised Complete Streets, like the original, will not dictate improvements on all streets; rather, planners are instructed to consider pedestrian, bicycle and other non-motorized traffic when building new and revamping old streets (routine maintenance notwithstanding).

The 2014 Complete Streets ordinance came before a steady uptick in traffic fatalities in the metro area. While it may have kept the death toll from going even higher, it certainly did not initiate a drop.

For the 2019 version to be a meaningful improvement, it needs to target areas that have seen the most wrecks, injuries and deaths with the goal of making Vision Zero a reality in Albuquerque and not just a goal.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.