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An independent team that evaluated safety on Lead and Coal avenues is recommending the city lower the speed limit to 25 mph and potentially reduce each street to a single driving lane from Nob Hill to East Downtown.
Auditors found that speeding drivers pose a risk to homes, inhabitants and non-motorists along the streets; that the corridor lacks speed enforcement and penalties; and that pedestrians have a hard time crossing streets in certain locations. The team gave those issues an “F” in the risk ratings.
Auditors also found issues related to noise, visibility and more.
The “road safety audit” – requested by the city of Albuquerque – comes after years of resident complaints about crashes and other dangerous conditions along Lead and Coal in the Nob Hill/University of New Mexico areas.
The audit team included Federal Highway Administration and Mid-Region Council of Governments representatives, as well as an officer from the Albuquerque Police Department. The group examined the area between Washington and Broadway last week.
While the team recommends lowering the 30 mph speed limit to 25 mph, FHWA consultant Mike Cynecki said a reduction will not slow all traffic. He said it will require education, enforcement and “other engineering treatments,” adding that it would be worthwhile to consider slimming the two-lane streets to a single driving lane each to curb some racing.
“A one-lane option should be looked at to see if it can be done,” Cynecki said in a Zoom briefing of the team’s findings last week.
The city, which owns the streets, could also consider making Lead and Coal bidirectional with one lane for westbound traffic and the other for eastbound drivers, he said. Currently in that corridor, Lead only moves west and Coal only runs east.
Crash statistics show 23 reported incidents of vehicles hitting “fixed objects” along the roadway, demonstrating the threat to homes and people who live inside them, Cynecki said.
But the analysis also noted that speeding posed a higher danger to pedestrians and bicyclists. To slow drivers down, suggestions include raised crosswalks or “speed cushions,” which are similar to speed bumps but are specially designed not to hinder wider emergency vehicles.
But Cynecki cautioned such measures “will cause more noise and more vibration in the neighborhood.”
The team noted the city’s plans to operate two of its new automated speed enforcement cameras along the corridor – which auditors listed among the things the city has done well – but suggested the City Council consider legislation to enhance speeding penalties for the area.
Other suggestions for improving the corridor include upgrading/adding signage, trimming trees and removing other obstacles to improve visibility and repainting crosswalks and street markings such as bike lanes.
The final audit report is not expected until August. The city then will have the opportunity to respond but it is not obligated to follow the recommendations.
“The city is the owner of the roadway, and they do make the decisions related to this,” said Kendra Montanari, MRCOG’s transportation planning and technical services manager. “No study can tell the city that they need to do this.”
A city spokesman said the municipal government is awaiting the final report before commenting specifically on the findings but that any “fundamental change” – such as converting two-lane streets to one lane or making them bidirectional – would require a thorough study of potential impacts to parallel corridors.
Scott Cilke, spokesman for the department that oversees traffic engineering, said the city already is attempting to address Lead/Coal safety concerns with a new “Rest in Red” program, something the audit team said was worth pursuing. “Rest in Red” – which is awaiting state certification but could be implemented by year’s end – means traffic lights would be red in all directions until a vehicle approaches, granting the green only for vehicles traveling within the speed limit.
“When the vehicle is detected, if it is traveling at a safe speed/within the speed limit, a green light will be immediately provided,” Cilke said in an email. “If the vehicle is traveling at excessive speeds/over the speed limit, a green signal will not be provided and the vehicle will be forced to stop at the signal.”
People who live along Lead and Coal have complained for years about crashes and other traffic-related hazards. The city in 2019 convened a task force to study the issues and found that Lead and Coal had a higher crash rate than other Albuquerque roads evaluated. City officials had at the time asked the FHWA for a road safety audit but later walked back that request.
It had in the past also made tweaks within the corridor like shortening the length of green lights and posting additional signs to notify drivers that the lights are timed for traffic going 30 mph.