Taken for a Ride
Residents battle BMX and the city
From her living room window, 85-year-old Mary Trujillo has a full view of her newest neighbor, the Duke City BMX track. Her husband, 89-year-old Felix Trujillo, can hear announcements over the stadium loudspeaker booming through their bedroom, which is nestled in the middle of the house. Every Sunday, after morning mass, the Trujillos avoid going home, so as not to feel harassed by the noise, crowds and traffic BMX brings to their block. The open-air arena, which launched last fall, was erected to keep kids off the streets. Meanwhile, it’s driving the neighbors out of their homes—and into court.
The BMX (which stands for “bicycle motorcross”) track is operated by nonprofit Duke City BMX and is built on land owned by the city. Situated at the southeast corner of Buena Vista and Cesar Chavez, the dirt track is within walking distance of The Pit and Isotopes Stadium and is a mere stone’s throw away from the residential Lomas de Cielo neighborhood. The arena holds events three days per week, 11 months out of the year, and seats up to 3,000 people. Construction of the track, funded by municipal bond money, cost taxpayers $4.2 million.
Resident Reed Easterwood, a law student at UNM, is suing the city and Duke City BMX on behalf of his neighborhood. Easterwood, who lives across the street from the arena, says the project was “pitched as a great resource for kids” and that “the block understood that it would be an enclosed facility.” What was proposed and what was actually built, he says, are vastly different. The track, says Easterwood, “masquerades as a public park, but has private, commercial ventures behind it.”
Area residents complain that the track has ruined their quality of life and the value of their property. Isabel Cabrera, president of the Lomas de Cielo Neighborhood Association, attests that the noise, dust and traffic produced by the BMX arena has caused severe disturbance and distress among her neighbors. Parking, she says, “is already at a premium,” given the other sports venues in the neighborhood and, with the volume of traffic, the area is “unsafe for pedestrians.” Cabrera is also concerned about visitors who hold tailgating parties, become intoxicated and leave behind trash.
However, Liz Fernandez, lead organizer of Duke City BMX, holds that the sport attracts families, not ruffians. “It’s very family-oriented,” she says. “It’s not only for kids. It’s a family sport.” Fernandez, who says she’d rather not discuss the conflict with her Lomas de Cielo neighbors, preferred to focus on the benefits that BMX has brought to the city.
“Albuquerque is already a big cycling community,” she says. “This is just a piece of it. We’re bringing economic development and we’re doing a lot for kids.” Events are well-attended, she says, and host around 100 participants per race. Amid criticism that BMX is an elite, expensive sport, Fernandez says her organization welcomes all eager participants, regardless of their financial situation. “We don’t discriminate,” she says. “We’ll outfit anyone.” Duke City BMX requires that participants belong to the American Bicycle Association, which charges an annual membership fee of $45. Practice fees range from $2 to $5 per practice, and racers must also pay a race entry fee, which varies by event.
Fernandez notes that Duke City BMX “had no control over where the city put us.” Residents, including Cabrera, feel the city chose an inappropriate plot for the track. Like Cabrera, most feel that a more remote area, further from residences, would have been more suitable.
Apart from her other concerns, Cabrera feels the arena blights the neighborhood aesthetics. “It’s not attractive. It’s like a huge livestock auction barn. Sound travels from east to west through the neighborhood.” Like the Trujillos, Cabrera feels assaulted by constant noise on the days when BMX hosts races.
Cabrera’s biggest complaint, however, is that “there was a bait and switch.” When the city partnered with Duke City BMX, she says, she and her neighbors were misled. “We had no input. We were not at the table as stakeholders.” Initial plans for the three-phase project, dubbed the Albuquerque Veloport, show the BMX track’s location as being further west, nearer to Isotopes Stadium. These plans, published in December of 2004, showed that existing tennis and squash courts on the corner of Buena Vista and Cesar Chavez would remain intact, acting as a buffer between the residential neighborhood and the sports venues. In the interim, however, plans changed. The city, residents say, failed to inform them that the courts would be razed and replaced by the BMX track.
Jay Lee Evans, deputy director for the Parks and Recreation Department, maintains that the BMX track is “a world-class facility” designed to accommodate “lots of kids having a great time.” The city, he says, has made a “good faith effort” to communicate with neighbors and Duke City BMX to mitigate problems and lessen the impact on residents.
In response to neighbor’s complaints, Evans says the city has implemented a traffic management plan for the area and has attempted to muffle noise. The city has also blocked off traffic to surrounding streets during national events and has hired extra staff to police the area. Evans also points out that for the recent spring nationals race, held over Memorial Day weekend, Duke City BMX obtained clearance from the city’s special events committee. Evans says he is in frequent contact with Cabrera regarding problems and possible improvements.
The city’s attempts to pacify neighbors, however, haven’t satisfied Cabrera. “They’re just band-aids,” she says. “Their biggest mistake was not including us in the planning.”
Evans declines to comment on the city’s change of plans regarding the location of the BMX track. Although he expresses sympathy for the resident’s concerns, Evans says the city Parks and Recreation Department cannot accept responsibility for city planning. Their duty, he says, is to manage the property for its present purpose.
Since they bought their home, the first on the block, the Trujillos have witnessed tremendous change in their neighborhood. “We’ve been here since 1949,” says Mary. “Then, there was nothing here. We could see little rabbits hopping around. When we bought it, it was nice and quiet. But it’s changed.” Although the Trujillos would like to move, Felix’s poor health requires them to stay nearby to the hospital and the family members they rely on for support.
“We’re old,” says Mary. “It’s hard on us. At our age, what can we do?”