ABQ sees fewer pedestrians killed in 2020 - Albuquerque Journal

ABQ sees fewer pedestrians killed in 2020

Curtis “Monty” Klatt was an award-winning drag racer and fun-loving uncle known for his “big bear hugs.”

Raul Lopez Sr. was a 51-year-old family man who left behind three children and five siblings.

Raymond Martinez was “kind and generous,” with a sense of humor that was guaranteed to have “those around him in a constant fit of laughter.”

Klatt, Lopez and Martinez were among 30 people struck and killed by vehicles in the Albuquerque area last year. A total of 264 people were hit by vehicles in 2020.

Catalina Rivera, Martinez’s mother, said the family misses him deeply.

“He died a very hard death … I don’t know what else to say,” she said, choking up. “… I cry every day, I have his picture on my phone and every time I turn it on I see him.”

Rivera added, “it’s just the matter of the way he died – left there like a dog on the freeway…. I go to bed at night and I just picture him … it’s hard, very hard.”

The number of pedestrian crashes and deaths actually dropped last year, but Albuquerque, and New Mexico as a whole, is still considered one of the most dangerous places for pedestrians – a problem that officials say will take vision, money and a culture shift to solve.

In 2019, more than 394 people were hit by vehicles and 42 pedestrians died in Albuquerque; 2018 saw 382 crashes and recorded 35 deaths.

The Albuquerque Police Department investigated 20 pedestrian deaths in 2020, which made up 39% of the city’s 77 traffic deaths, and deemed the walker at fault in more than half of those cases.

Data from APD shows that traffic crashes, in general, dropped significantly, from 5,035 in 2018 and 4,616 in 2019 to 3,588 in 2020 as the pandemic shuttered businesses, prompted stay-at-home orders and left many people working from home.

Scot Key, a local traffic safety advocate, said he’s glad there were fewer pedestrian deaths and crashes but he is not optimistic that the city will continue the downward trend – and probably for good reason.

New Mexico hasn’t had a good track record of pedestrian safety.

For three years in a row – in 2017 and 2018 reports and a preliminary report from 2019 – the Governors Highway Safety Association ranked New Mexico as worst in the nation for pedestrian fatalities.

Although the GHSA has not released 2020 data yet, another national organization says the streets have only gotten more dangerous for walkers.

Dangerous By Design’s 2021 report ranked Albuquerque as 12th and New Mexico as third in the nation for most dangerous metro area and state for pedestrians.

The report also says New Mexico had the largest increase and Albuquerque had the sixth largest increase in Pedestrian Danger Index – a metric that combines pedestrian deaths, population and the percentage of those who walk – between the 2019 and 2021 reports.

Dangerous By Design’s report also found that, nationwide, the fatality rate for pedestrians in the lowest income neighborhoods was nearly twice that of middle income and almost three times that of higher-income neighborhoods.

Four of the pedestrian deaths last year, the largest cluster, happened along a problematic portion of Central between San Pedro and Eubank. That 3-mile stretch – one of the low income areas with a large population of minorities – had eight people killed in pedestrian crashes in 2019 and four in 2018.

Vision Zero

The city has done a few studies on pedestrian safety in problem areas – like much of the International District – and now a newly staffed initiative hopes to get the ball rolling on projects.

Vision Zero Coordinator Terra Reed, hired last December, said the goal is to guide the city’s future projects toward safer streets while pushing for a needed “culture shift” in city departments and the community.

“This idea of funding projects based on safety, rather than just on capacity, that’s a big shift that we’re asking to be made and it’s a difficult political conversation in some situations. … That’s one big challenge,” Reed said.

In 2019, Mayor Tim Keller signed on to Vision Zero, a nationwide commitment to “create safer streets for all,” and end traffic deaths in Albuquerque. Since then, the city has cut the speed limit in Downtown, improved crosswalks at nearly 50 schools and upgraded speed limit signage in the university area.

“The hallmarks of what Vision Zero is, and what is going to become in our city, are embedded in every project that we do now, as much as possible,” said Johnny Chandler, a spokesman for the Department of Municipal Development.

It took over a year to staff Vision Zero with a coordinator in Reed, a longtime traffic safety advocate.

She has been using the Mid-Region Council of Government’s High Fatal and Injury Network to identify high pedestrian and cyclist crash areas and prioritize safety measures to “underserved” and vulnerable communities.

Reed said there is a “really important conversation” to be had about East Central, which is “overbuilt” so people drive faster, has inadequate lighting and also high numbers of people walking, biking or taking the bus.

“All of these things happen all over the city but East Central is a good example of all of the different factors coming together,” she said.

An East Central safety study done by the city in 2020 found that the area has a “disproportionately high percentage” of minorities, over one third of the residents are below the poverty level and three times as many use the city bus compared with other city residents.

A long-awaited HAWK – high-intensity activated crosswalk – signal at Texas and Central, part of a Bernalillo County project, is set to be installed by September. Since the project was approved in 2017, at least six people have died within blocks of that intersection, most recently a man struck by a vehicle two streets away in February.

The Department of Municipal Development said two more HAWK signals along Central, one at San Pablo and another at Conchas, are in the design phase and could be under construction by summer 2022.

Although the trio of HAWK signals will help, Key said they are merely “baby steps.”

“Until we get drivers not treating that section of Central like a race course, this is all going to be, kind of, Band-Aids,” he said.

Key said there needs to be automated enforcement, “severe” traffic calming and reengineered roadways to achieve “thorough change” in an area where a vulnerable population accesses services on both sides of Central where crossings are “thousands of feet apart.”

He said Central is only one example as there are issues at Montgomery and San Mateo and all along Coors that need to be resolved, a costly endeavor for the city.

“Unless we spend the dollars required … it’s just going to be for show,” he said.

Reed said she is currently working on less-expensive design options, such as paint and bollards, for a “relatively quick turnaround” on a stretch of Louisiana from Gibson to Lomas.

However, getting people to slow down usually calls for redesigning roads, she said, something that is costly and will require a changing of minds for both the residents and those who make big decisions.

Police have done recent operations targeting speeding and racing as the city unveiled the campaign “Speeding Has A Name.”

The campaign will use advertisements on buses, benches, billboards and elsewhere to reduce speeding around the city.

As far as pedestrian and cyclist safety, Reed said using Vision Zero as a way to humanize those who have died “in a way that hasn’t really happened in the past” is a really important step. She said a mural is being planned at Louisiana and Central to bring awareness to traffic safety in an area hit especially hard.

Reed compared getting the residents of New Mexico to drive slower and safer to mask-wearing during the pandemic.

“We’re doing it to protect our families, we’re doing it to protect our neighbors,” she said. “Getting that culture shift to happen both within the city and outside of the city is going to be a really interesting challenge.”

Unsolved fatal hit-and-runs pile up during the pandemic

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