Was Bike Bridge Worth the Cost? - Albuquerque Journal

Was Bike Bridge Worth the Cost?

Albuquerque bicyclist Donald Wood, left, rides over the Gail Ryba Memorial Bridge during its grand opening in August 2010. The bridge allows bicyclists and pedestrians to access both sides of the river without having to cross over it on major arterial roads. (Journal File)

A YEAR LATER, WAS THE BIKE BRIDGE WORTH IT? Like many things, it depends on whom you ask.

We’re talking about the $5 million multiuse bridge over the Rio Grande at Interstate 40, built with stimulus funds and opened last fall. Ask Paul Gessing of the Rio Grande Foundation, and the answer is no.

In a recent news release, his group says it “wanted to see how many people are using the bridge and how many of those people are actually commuting to work.”

So it stationed employees on the bridge during morning rush hour. “In 36 minutes of continuous video, a total of 13 bicyclists and seven pedestrians use the bridge, none of them seemed to be dressed for the office or seemed to be carrying work-related items. Regardless of their purpose in making the trip across the river, that is less than one person biking across the bridge every other minute.”

It goes on to say “with all of the fiscal pressures facing the federal government, it would seem that this money could have been saved and used to reduce the gaping budget deficit, but this ‘stimulus’-funded project has been built and instead provides little in the way of mobility increases for Albuquerque residents.”

Ask Mark Motsko of the city of Albuquerque’s Department of Municipal Development, and the answer is yes.

He says a bike bridge over the river “was approved by the Albuquerque City Council in the 1993 Trials and Bikeway Facility Plan. The Gail Ryba Memorial Bridge allows bicyclists and pedestrians to access both sides of the river without having to cross it on major arterial roads like Bridge Boulevard, Montaño (Road) or Central Avenue. Keeping bicycles and vehicles separate on these heavily traveled arterial roadways increases public safety. …

“While Mr. Gessing raises an important question about the current federal debt crisis, he seems to have forgotten, or perhaps is obfuscating, in 2009 the America Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by the president, mandated municipalities spend federal funds on ‘shovel-ready’ projects such as the Gail Ryba Memorial Bridge, not pay down federal debt obligations.

“Due to the low bids received for the construction of the bridge, DMD was able to extend the ARRA funds to resurface the entire Bosque Trail from Alameda Boulevard to Bridge Boulevard (for $1.5 million). The trail is one of the most popular amenities in the city, used by tens of thousands of people a year.”

MORE ON SHARING THE ROAD/SHOULDER: Readers have weighed in after a recent column on bicyclists and the fact the shoulder of a road is not a bike lane.

Khalil Spencer says “I would guess a sizeable portion of the public doesn’t know the legal distinction between a bike lane and a paved shoulder.” And when it comes to shoulders, Khalil says partially paved shoulders — where the state Department of Transportation lays down asphalt halfway onto the shoulder and leaves a pronounced edge — are an important issue “for traffic safety. There are a growing number of shoulders … where there is now a pavement lip down the middle or off to one side. This creates a diversion/fall hazard if the lip is high enough to catch a bike tire and cause the rider to lose steering control. That makes some shoulders unusable.”

“I am sure many motorists don’t understand why, on a partially paved shoulder (or one with badly placed rumble strips), the cyclist is forced into the lane — mainly because they don’t ride.”

Larry Hamner does ride a bike as well as drive a vehicle, and he called to say on Tramway at Encantado, cyclists proceed through the intersection when they are in the turn-only lane and fly right in front of vehicles. He’s almost hit two and been flipped off and asks “why can they break the law?”

Ben called to say that when he walks his dogs on northbound Wyoming, adult cyclists barrel down the sidewalk, are “overly aggressive and absolutely rude” and “imply I need to get off the sidewalk.” “It’s hard to share any sympathy” with them, he says.

And Jim Berry, who shared the road with bicyclists for 21 years as a tour bus driver in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, writes “I damn near killed someone … on Ellison on the West Side at sunset. He or she doesn’t know that, but I do. And it really scared me to death! The setting sun was in my eyes and I could barely see the car ahead of me, let alone the side traffic. This fool had stopped his/her bike, and his/her leg was in our traffic lane. I did not see him/her until I had actually passed.”

Meanwhile a caller says she never rides on the street in bike lanes — but she gives pedestrians the right of way as they share the sidewalk — because “it’s just too scary to get in a bike lane on the street.”

Assistant editorial page editor D’Val Westphal tackles commuter issues for the Metro area on Mondays and West Siders and Rio Ranchoans on Thursdays. Reach her at 823-3858; road@abqjournal.com; P.O. Drawer J, Albuquerque, NM 87103; or go to ABQjournal.com/traffic to read previous columns and join in the conversation.
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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