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Bus rapid transit gets a boost, while cyclists gear up for a fight

A TALE OF TWO WAYS TO TRAVEL: One got a ringing endorsement from officials last week, the other is fighting to get their attention tonight.

CITY GETS BRT GREEN LIGHT: First, the Federal Transit Administration has approved Albuquerque’s plans for bus rapid transit along Central Avenue — and that can mean big federal matching dollars.

Unlike ABQ Ride, the bus system that is already a success on Central (that corridor accounts for 42 percent of all city riders), BRT would allow riders to buy tickets before they get on the bus, board quickly because the platforms are level with the floors of the vehicles, and travel in dedicated lanes with a driver who can communicate with traffic signals to reduce delays.

It’s like an e-ticket to your destination, whether that’s Old Town, Downtown, the University of New Mexico or Nob Hill.

According to the BRT Policy Center, BRT “service is frequent enough that passengers do not need a schedule” and “can operate at speeds nearly twice as fast as conventional buses and roughly equivalent to light rail, getting people quickly to their destination.”

Cleveland has BRT on its Euclid Avenue, a system Mayor Richard Berry has referred to often as a model. That city says its system runs passengers 24/7 down a 6.8-mile corridor to 58 stops, including “the city’s cultural and educational institutions, medical and business centers, and all the mom and pop shops in between.”

The policy center says “BRT systems have capital and operating costs substantially lower than rail” and “can be developed incrementally, allowing systems to be installed over time as community needs and demands change.” And considering that federal matching dollars could pick up a big chunk of the tab, a next-generation bus system seems to make more fiscal, transportation and economic development sense for Albuquerque taxpayers than the failed streetcar attempt of a prior administration.

A 2011 feasibility assessment would have Albuquerque’s BRT run on the Central median from 98th Street to Tramway Boulevard. The city says in a news release it plans to host public meetings over the next year “about BRT and the important part it can play in the vitality of our city’s future.”

CYCLISTS FLASH A YELLOW WARNING ON PASEO PLANS: Yet at the same time the city is working on alternatives to single-occupant motor vehicle traffic on Central, there’s a controversy brewing about ensuring cyclists and pedestrians have safe routes in the final Paseo del Norte/Interstate 25 rebuild.

Today, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in Room 7096 of City Hall, it’s time to talk about what the state Department of Transportation has deemed “last design aspects.” Attendees are expected to include folks from the Greater Albuquerque Bicycle Advisory Committee, Duke City Wheelmen and Albuquerque’s Department of Municipal Development, as well as home office staff from Sens. Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham.

It is important this missing segment of bike lanes be done in a smart manner – cyclists can already travel quickly and safely along Paseo from Coors to just west of Jefferson. There, it gets challenging, at best, with heavy truck traffic on El Pueblo, a busy Jefferson and — gulp — the interstate.

Cyclists will again present their concerns about the current proposal, which has changed from a bridge over the whole interchange to a route that Duke City Wheelmen President Jennifer Buntz describes as “a lot like running through a maze.”

And a dangerous one at that, with no barrier between the motorized vehicle frontage road and the bike path (should we order ghost bikes now and beat the rush?), cyclists expected to ride on sidewalks against traffic, with a guardrail on one side and a steep drop on the other (a pedestrian collision waiting to happen), an 8 percent grade on the bridge over the interstate (the steep pedestrian bridge over the river at Interstate 40 is just 5 percent), and no color or textural delineation of bike lanes from car lanes (just check out the vehicle tire marks in bike lanes around town to see why it’s needed).

Buntz’s point is not to bust the $93 million rebuild budget — she says the bike component “could be done much better within the financial constraints that are present” if the design-build team would allow a cycling perspective at the table.

“With the proximity of Rail Runner/bus transit and the high number of employers in the I-25/Paseo area,” she says, “there is a golden opportunity to support the last mile of a commuter’s journey with safe, direct and efficient bicycle and pedestrian facilities in this area.”

The city is busy gearing up the next generation of mass transit with an eye toward quite literally driving economic development. It would be great to see that kind of vision on Paseo as well.

Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays and West Siders and Rio Ranchoans on Saturdays. Reach her at 823-3858;; P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, N.M. 87103; or go to to read previous columns and join in the conversation.


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