The stretch of south Coors Boulevard where Brendan McClure was struck and killed by a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office patrol car shortly after 1 a.m. on a summer night four years ago has been described by one safety expert as a “walking death trap.”
It was, and still is, an apt description. There is commercial development on one side of the four-lane highway where the speed limit ranges up to 55 mph, and residential development across the road. Couple that with a lack of lighting, sidewalks and crosswalks. Add in a government response that approaches glacial, and you have a recipe for injury and death.
McClure isn’t the only pedestrian to lose his life along that stretch of road. The state Department of Transportation recorded four additional pedestrian deaths along the half-mile stretch from Las Estancias Shopping Center to Gun Club Road between 2016 and 2019.
Safety activist Scot Key, who dubbed the stretch a “walking death trap,” wrote on his website in 2019 that “Three layers of bureaucracy have mucked up Coors at/near Rio Bravo.” Those three layers would be the state, Bernalillo County and the city of Albuquerque.
Tragic and discouraging as all this is, the deaths of McClure, 28, and others along South Coors are an all-too-familiar story for New Mexico, which has been the deadliest state for pedestrians four years running.
In 2020, 81 people were fatally struck by vehicles across the state, with Albuquerque accounting for 30 of the fatalities. Many others were seriously injured.
The city, state and county have all taken aim at the problem, and last year’s pedestrian death toll was down from 2019’s. But whether the response at all levels has been soon enough — or sufficiently effective — is open to debate.
The state Department Transportation declared in August that “We must take action. … Comprehensive pedestrian safety isn’t just a governor’s priority; it isn’t just a NMDOT priority — it’s a county, state and city priority.”
But documents released by the DOT lack specifics regarding possible infrastructure changes to cut the death toll, although they do lay out some goals and policy changes, including getting feedback from vulnerable communities, identifying locations for pedestrian signals and revisiting speed limits.
At the city level, Mayor Tim Keller in 2019 signed on to the Vision Zero pledge, a promise to work to end traffic fatalities in Albuquerque with an emphasis on pedestrians and bicyclists. It has taken a number of steps, including cutting the speed limit Downtown, identifying school crosswalks in need of updating, planning to revamp travel on West Central and Rio Grande Boulevard and adding 300 streetlights around the city. But a Journal analysis last year found that no city projects aimed at pedestrian safety had been planned for the nearly 3-mile stretch of Central in the International District, where eight pedestrians were killed last year. It’s an area with a large number of homeless people, some with drug- and alcohol-abuse problems.
Councilor Pat Davis said it took four years to get a crosswalk in the area.
As for the deadly stretch of Coors where McClure was killed in 2017?
Four years later — “four” is not a typo — the state DOT at the urging of Bernalillo County officials has finally asked a private contractor to assess the stretch of road and recommend improvements. Officials say they hope to begin phasing in street lighting within the year, to be followed by other fixes over the next 18 months or so.
Back in 2016, Key wrote that the “inability and unwillingness of the city, county and state to modernize and safeguard this stretch of Coors needs to change. Now.”
“Now” is the operative word. If we want to make a dent in our state’s awful pedestrian death toll, there needs to be action that is fast, deliberate, concrete and backed up by the necessary funding. For starters, identify the top 10 pedestrian death traps, including South Coors and East Central, and address them with specific changes including lighting, signals and crosswalks. And as Key said, do it “now.” When it comes to fixing the tragedy of pedestrian fatalities, the strategy should be “run, don’t walk.”
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.