• February 3rd, 2023
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Leaders Fight for Equity, Investment Along Dangerous Corridors


 

By Sara Van Note

 

On a windy fall Sunday, Altagracia Floyd walked down the middle of Albuquerque’s Kathryn Avenue as her daughter rode a scooter alongside her. “Nobody’s zooming past us. Nobody’s honking at us for crossing the street,” Floyd said, as they strolled through the neighborhood that’s home to some of the most dangerous roadways in the city for pedestrians and cyclists.

 

The unusual calm on the road was created by a yearly event, CiQlovia, that makes a vision of the neighborhood without cars real — for just one day.

 

Photo: Shelby Wyatt for Source NM Former neighborhood resident Altagracia Floyd watches as her daughter Iszybella shows off her Razor scooter at the ‘open street’ event CiQlovía on Kathryn Ave between Louisiana and San Pedro on Oct. 16, 2022.

“We’re trying to make our streets safer,” said Bernadette Hardy (Jemez Pueblo / Diné), the co-coordinator of the International District Healthy Communities Coalition.

 

The International District, spanning roughly four square miles in southeast Albuquerque, is one of the most linguistically and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in the city. And a lot of people there use public transportation, walk and bike — the area has the highest number of households in the city without access to a vehicle, 2019 data show.

 

Major roadways cut through the International District that have become deadly corridors for pedestrians and cyclists, according to the city’s High Fatal and Injury Network (HFIN) map.

 

But that day, the closed street was transformed with DIY (do it yourself) benches and a temporary bike lane outlined in bright green paint as part of an international movement to take back the streets from cars. Down the road, a couple kids maneuvered bikes through a “rodeo” course while others tried bike polo.

 

The scene was a big change from when Floyd grew up here in the International District, and she wasn’t allowed to travel far from her house. She didn’t get to bike or scooter around like her daughter does today, she said.

 

But CiQlovia was helping “by bringing everybody together and making people feel safe to just be outside,” she said.

 

Cruising by on their bikes, Amber and Brad Greene said they were excited to see a special event in their neighborhood. Brad Greene bikes to work but said obstacles to biking nearby include navigating major intersections on the Southern Avenue bike route. He’d like to see “some sort of signaling to be able to get across intersections on a bike without four lanes of traffic each way.”

 

Hardy, a longtime community leader, said International District groups have worked to improve safety with better street lighting, and even re-envision roadways with temporary basketball courts and seating. They also give away free bikes and helmets to people who don’t have them.

 

And they’re advocating for infrastructure funding to address the high rate of pedestrian fatalities, she said. According to the New Mexico Department of Transportation, 157 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in Albuquerque between 2015 and 2019.

 

CiQlovia is one of many efforts over decades to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists in the International District. Reynaluz Juarez, Hardy’s close friend and co-coordinator for the coalition, who passed away in February of this year, was honored as the namesake of this year’s CiQlovia. Juarez worked with local schools, organizing a “walking school bus” for Whittier Elementary School,  where students travel to school together by foot with adults, increasing their visibility.

 

The CiQlovia project also helped engage community members with the city’s safety study of Louisiana Boulevard, a major artery that passes close to several schools. Terra Reed is a CiQlovia organizer and the former coordinator for the city’s Vision Zero initiative, a national campaign to end traffic deaths and injuries. Reed said the city developed a plan to restripe Louisiana and implement other measures to slow traffic. Yet she acknowledges that the project has “taken a while.”

 

Some say the city hasn’t prioritized pedestrian and cyclist safety.

 

While Albuquerque has made some investments in infrastructure, Reed acknowledged, “momentum has stagnated a lot.” The city missed an opportunity to initiate projects during COVID, she said, when fewer cars were on the road, like other cities did.

 

Improvements that benefit cars receive the bulk of city transportation funds, Reed pointed out, while bicycling and walking projects get “scraps of funding,” not “the big resource dollars that it takes to fix some of these problems.”

 

Scot Key agrees. He’s a cycling and walking safety advocate in Albuquerque. He said the city has made small steps towards developing bicycling infrastructure but not the “bigger leaps” needed to help people ride regularly — and safely. What’s needed are bike lanes separated from traffic by curbs or other barriers, he said. “We just haven’t made that leap up to the next level where people would really feel physically protected from drivers.”

 

Valerie Hermanson, coordinator for the city’s Vision Zero plan, said there were many safety projects on deck. “We’re really working to address those high-crash corridors to be able to improve walking and biking and safety for everyone.” She pointed to the addition of 10 miles of bike lanes, new bike routes, and repainting or adding 48 crosswalks across the city, part of the road repaving cycle. “We’re able to do a lot with paint,” she said, for what she called “low-cost, high-impact” projects.

 

Yet Key said addressing dangerous roadways will “require some traffic engineering that is more than just striping.” He criticized the city’s road-repaving process because it doesn’t include infrastructure upgrades like barriers or making sidewalks compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.

 

The city said it is using the HFIN map to develop a strategy for the 10 most dangerous roadways. Work will start in the spring, Hermanson said, but since there aren’t funds to address all projects, “it will be an incremental approach.”

 

She notes that transportation projects have a long timeline, and that adequate staffing is another challenge. City spokesperson Scott Cilke added, “between the policy, the funding and the implementation, all that stuff takes time and resources.”

 

Hardy said the city historically hasn’t funded repairs and improvements in the International District — not like in neighboring Nob Hill — and she would like to see equitable investment from the city.

 

The city today uses the Social Vulnerability Index from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prioritize projects and address equity issues, Henderson said. And the International District scores as highly vulnerable, primarily because of the rate of poverty and the issues that stem from it.

 

Hardy took in the scene as a band played under a small tent for CiQlovia. “If you look around, you can see everyone having fun in the street.” The crosswalks, bike lanes, and benches created for the event, though temporary, showed “what we want our community to look like.”

 

“That’s the way it should be,” Hardy said. “Streets are for people too.”

 

Albuquerque might have additional opportunities for funding soon. The Infrastructure Bill passed by Congress in 2021 offers new monies to upgrade sidewalks and bike lanes. The League of American Bicyclists said it would provide billions of dollars in new funding for bicycling and walking.

 

City planning for new projects needs to take into account the communities where people are already walking, biking and taking the bus, Reed said. If there isn’t investment in areas like the International District, she said, “we’re never going to address either our equity issues or our transportation safety issues.”

 

 

Sara Van Note is a print and audio journalist based in New México. This article is republished from Source New Mexico under a Creative Commons license.

 

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