Dirt City Driving for Neophytes
Alibi circulation manager drops native motoring knowledge
Although Albuquerque is increasingly friendly to bicycles, most residents won't even cross the street to Kmart with anything less than 100 horsepower. Alibi offers the neophyte Burqueño driver tips for motoring around the smelly, sprawling collection of roads that make up Dirt City.
As a military town, the greater part of Albuquerque was laid out in a grid system. Not only is this layout crucial to outdated Civil Defense contingencies, the grid makes our city easy to navigate. This excludes the northwest side of town, where “city planning” is an oxymoron.
If you're new to town, this may not yet apply to you, but about 15 years ago the City began to enforce laws that prevent Burqueños from collecting disabled vehicles—I prefer to call them “projects”—in residential yards. There are folks in town who don't feel complete without a few parts-cars on their property, and you may be surprised how quickly you can accumulate vehicles here, as used car prices are low compared to other states. If you hide them in the backyard rather than on the front lawn, the odds are better a neighbor won't blow the whistle on your “restoration projects.” This isn't to say there aren't plenty of residents who still enjoy decorating their front yards with ’63 Coupe de Villes and stripped Yamaha Viragos.
Albuquerque is a huge motorcycle town and—to the detriment of our collective eardrums—many riders subscribe to the dictum of safety through a blisteringly loud exhaust system. Albuquerque is way more lenient than most cities regarding noise pollution, so our vehicles tend to register insane decibel levels. Nonetheless motorcycles still get hit by cars with terrifying frequency. You'd be surprised how many accidents involve motorbikes smacking into passenger vehicles who pulled into or across traffic without seeing the oncoming motorcycle. If you ride a motorcycle in Albuquerque, you must practice defensive driving with a passion.
After decades at the top of the national list of alcohol-related fatalities, New Mexico initiated a tough program to combat drunk driving. Anyone who's lived here for more than a month will probably know several people who've had the DWI experience. The legal limit is .08; while folks may not consider themselves intoxicated after a single beer, if your blood alcohol level is .08 after just one brew, you are considered legally drunk. If you then drive and are caught, you'll be saddled with great expense, an ignition interlock, probation and your mug shot in the Sunday Journal. And even if your blood alcohol level is below .08, police in Albuquerque have been known to arrest people on “suspicion of DWI.” Ain't that fun? To be clear, getting caught isn't the worst consequence of driving drunk; lives and limbs hang in the balance. Just don't do it.
In Albuquerque, Red Light Cameras is now merely the name of a local indie garage-pop band. If you venture into Rio Rancho, though, slow your roll because our neighbor to the north signed up for the privately owned, extra-municipal ticket-generating devices around the same time Albuquerque got rid of ours. Drivers will occasionally spot a City-operated speed camera, but by then it's usually too late, and you can look forward to a ticket in the mail. Keep the address on your motor vehicle registration current so you actually receive the citation; unpaid speeding fines will result in a bench warrant, and that will ruin your day.
A recent import to Albuquerque is the traffic circle, intended to be an improvement over stop signs or traffic lights at intersections with a history of certain types of car accidents. Residents loathe them, and most drivers don't seem to understand how to use them. In contrast to other cities with traffic circles, Albuquerque drivers follow no man's law nor common sense when approaching a roundabout—preferring, for example, to make the intersection of Eighth Street and Central into a nonlinear game of chicken with extra vehicles in play. Here drivers already in the circle are generally forced to yield to drivers entering the circle; city buses have right of way above everyone and are apparently encouraged to navigate through intersections with utmost haste. Pedestrians put their lives at risk each time they attempt to cross these city-planned nightmares.
Albuquerque also has its own peculiarities when it comes to parking. A more recent phenomenon—one that catches many drivers off guard—is private businesses' use of “the boot.” Largely a feature of the UNM, Nob Hill and Downtown areas, private parking lots and businesses will boot your vehicle if you don't pay the lot fee or if you're not actually shopping in the store whose lot you parked in. After an initial period of shady bootings, the City came down on these private booters and now enforces two main laws governing a practice that many consider extortion: There must be clear signage warning drivers they will be booted if they don't properly use a parking spot, and the maximum boot removal fee is $75. Do not ignore this signage, because that will cost you $75. Period.
Avoiding a parking ticket in Albuquerque isn't impossible. The City barely enforced parking laws 20 years ago. But if you park and don't feed the meter these days, there's a good chance you'll get a ticket. Albuquerque replaced many of its standalone parking meters with “single block” meters a few years back, and the one closest to where you park may be difficult to use, and it's often broken anyway. If that happens cross the street and pay at one that is working. If you do find your windshield decorated with a parking citation, don't treat it as a daylong parking pass. Parking enforcement officers may ticket your vehicle every two hours if that's the maximum meter time. Pay that ticket immediately. In the past, you had to mail it in or pay in person at the Plaza del Sol building (600 Second Street NW). Always two steps behind the rest of the country, Albuquerque only recently set up an online system for paying tickets.
So pay the ticket, because after five days, the fines double. After 15 days, the fine triples, and the city will issue a parking warrant, meaning the next time parking enforcement sees your vehicle, they will boot it. At that point you must pay outstanding fines at Metro Court (401 Lomas NW) and then go to the fifth floor of the aforementioned Plaza del Sol building to pay the boot removal fee. If you ignore the boot for more than 72 hours, the city will tow your car away, and you will accumulate the cost of the towing and storage fees. Another tip: Those green loading zones? Albuquerque doesn't have clear ordinances regulating the use of those and doesn't issue permits for their use. Many loading zones are paid for by businesses, and parking enforcement will happily ticket you first and ask questions later. If you want to contest any parking ticket, you must schedule a separate hearing for each infraction, so don't let them pile up unless you enjoy spending a lot of time in court.
A benefit of living in Albuquerque's thriving car culture is the astonishing number of salvage yards it sustains. Need a replacement throttle cable? Front seat? Windshield? Thingamajig that holds the trim onto the side of your car? Call around to the plethora of junkyards here, located mainly along South Broadway and, on the Westside, on Old Coors. Failing that many locals buy the cheapest replacement part available at a parts store and swap it out in the parking lot using a screwdriver and a pair of Vise Grips.We're also blessed with a multitude of towing companies so when you need a tow, call around for the best price and fastest service to be had at that particular time.
Let's be careful out there.