A recent letter to the editor from George Richmond echoed some of the city’s rationale for pursuing the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, but also raised some questions to which I, as an advocate of vibrant downtowns, wanted to respond.
And specifically about the ART’s impact on Downtown streets.
But first, here’s my take on ART: As someone involved in the building and development business in Albuquerque for more than a few decades, I very much have an interest in expanding opportunities for reasonable growth.
And everything I know about current development trends suggests adding reliable, convenient transit to a corridor like Central Avenue will do exactly that.
We can have all the arguments we want about whether we’d rather drive our cars or whether we’d rather walk or take transit to places we like to go. That, to some degree, is a matter of preference or opinion. But when it comes to whether or not well-designed and well-managed transit attracts people and their money, drives higher property values or makes for better retail environments, the facts are pretty much irrefutable.
You don’t have to pore over the current research for very long to grasp the advantages of a better mix of development choices.
Just think about all the places you’ve been to that seem to attract people and commercial investment. Where are retail sales per square foot highest? Where are property values increasing at higher rates? Where do young, educated career-launchers want to be?
And, importantly, the one common denominator to all metropolitan areas that have gone through a recent renaissance, and in the process have become 21st-century cities, is a vibrant downtown with some form of attractive mass transit.
Those 21st-century cities are places that offer a great mix of everything: appealing residential and workplace alternatives, and entertainment, life-style choices that don’t depend entirely on driving and parking cars.
In Albuquerque, on the other hand, we’ve got a nearly unlimited supply of places you have to drive to and almost no examples of the compact, walkable mixed-use areas served by convenient transit that is in increasingly high demand by millennials and baby boomers, by far the two largest demographic groups in the country.
Over the years, I have learned what it takes to address the demand for commercial and residential building demand in car-dependent suburbs, and I would never ignore the importance of that segment of the market.
But as a businessperson committed to the beneficial growth of Albuquerque, I think it important for us to support as much as we can alternatives to the suburban form we have focused on for so long.
Cities like ours across the country are making this adjustment, and I believe we need to as well to remain competitive.
To address Richmond’s questions specifically: The ART project’s design will not change the narrow section of Central Avenue between 1st and 8th streets. Instead, the route will split onto Copper westbound and Gold eastbound as the current Rapid Ride routes do today.
The ART’s dedicated lanes will resume east and west of this area. The one lane of traffic in each direction that Central currently provides through Downtown will be extended east under the railroad bridge.
Occasional flooding in the underpass is indeed a problem from time to time. I believe the design the ART Team is proposing deals with that challenge through the flexibility of the transit mode being proposed.
ART buses will easily be able to avoid temporary obstacles with minimal disruptions in service.
ART is an exciting step forward in improving our transportation system, and I look forward to getting on board as the project joins other efforts to revitalize and enhance our premier urban corridor, and make us a competitive and vibrant American city in the process.