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ABQ needs to walk its safer streets talk

In 2017, an elderly woman assisted by a metal walker tried to cross Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. at Oak Street, but was unable to walk fast enough before the light changed. She was run over and killed by a driver in a high-profile pickup (who could not) see the diminutive victim.

You’ve perhaps read about Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller’s recent “Vision Zero” pledge to dramatically lower roadway injuries/deaths and City Councilor Ike Benton’s proposed renewal/revision of the City’s “Complete Streets Ordinance.” Both initiatives include details about complicated things like “implementation measures,” but ultimately it’s all about trying to transform our roadways, and roadway behavior, in ways that don’t leave elderly women crushed by drivers in huge pickups.

Earlier this year, drivers street racing down wide and flat Louisiana Boulevard swerved or lost control near poorly-lit Ross SE and obliterated a mother of two standing in the median trying to cross the six-lane street.

The “Complete Streets” renewal, scheduled for a City Council vote Aug. 5, provides important new guidelines that, if properly implemented, could make transportation safer for all users, motorized and non-motorized alike. But the caveat – “if properly implemented” – is important, because better rules are meaningless without the tools in city government to make them happen. Sadly, as currently proposed, implementation is an afterthought. Specifically, the proposal has not been created through a process including representatives of all roadway users. Instead, Mayor Keller’s administration is charged with creating such a process after passage, yet there is no funding attached for the necessary staff to facilitate an inclusive process or implement the results of that process.

Last month, a man walked along the sidewalk at Mountain and Third as an SUV driver ran a red light and slammed into a pickup, spinning the truck into a light pole and the unfortunate man, who is gruesomely killed.

Transforming our roadways and roadway behavior requires far more than currently found in the Complete Streets proposal. To give context, recall the extensive series of public meetings, document preparation and revision, Planning Department capacity, and final approval that has gone into the recent revamp of city zoning known as the Integrated Development Ordinance (IDO). That same level of commitment and resources is mandatory if we are to achieve what “Complete Streets” and “Vision Zero” proclaim as goals.

The true roadway incidents related throughout this essay occurred after passage of the original Complete Streets ordinance in 2015. While that legislation instructed the city to begin making our streets “Complete,” its lack of implementation measures, funding and staffing have meant very little has changed since passage. These same shortcomings unfortunately remain in the proposed renewal, reflecting a continued unwillingness to spend the implementation time, money and political capital – e.g., slowing drivers down is not universally popular – necessary.

And as you can still see this very morning, in finalizing construction of the new Zocalo Lofts Downtown, crews designed and authorized the intersection of Coal Avenue and Fourth Street in a way that makes it necessary for walkers to squeeze between a signal pole and curb, and forcing those using wheelchairs or assisted by metal walkers into the street.

The incidents related above reflect the complex challenges we face in making our roadways safer and the simple fact that only those who drive to work have been overwhelmingly in charge of our streets for a long, long time. A mere pledge to “Vision Zero” and “Complete Streets” ordinance lacking implementation tools needed to make sure it is followed up will not change that. Change will come only from fully inclusive input and oversight throughout roadway design, construction, law enforcement and user education, along with sufficient funding and newly hired City staff to ensure daily that this input and oversight results in actions truly helping everyone navigate our roadways in ways that don’t get them killed.

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