It's a project nearly two decades in the making, and as of yet there's almost nothing to show for it. Spend a little time walking around Nob Hill and you'll quickly get the gist—despite being one of the most pedestrian-heavy districts in the city, area merchants say that the space on Central running from Girard to Washington is far from friendly to those traveling by foot.
Nob Hill is one of the most historic districts in Albuquerque—boasting over 220 small businesses and some of the most unique retail shops the city has to offer (not to mention the coolest neon signs). It's home to a dozen destination restaurants and brew pubs, such as Il Vicino and Zinc, and will likely have a light rail system shooting down its center in just a couple years. Running down the list, it seems natural to assume that Nob Hill would be a mecca of new urbanism, replete with quality public transportation, retail shops, restaurants and living spaces all in one landscape. But despite all of its advantages, Nob Hill is still missing one vital component—a healthy pedestrian atmosphere.
But it's not for lack of trying. For years shop owners and area residents have appealed to the city, asking for better lighting, landscaping and, most importantly, crosswalks. Amy Henne, president of the Nob Hill Business Association and owner of Lavande Bleu, said that crosswalks are of particular importance to the community because, as it stands, jaywalking is a popular pastime in Nob Hill's shopping district. Even worse, it's a retail district dependent on pedestrian traffic that, without the necessary infrastructure, feels like a trendy neighborhood with a speedway running through it.
The community, comprised mainly of the Nob Hill Business Association, the Nob Hill Neighborhood Association and the Nob Hill-Highland Renaissance, has been trying to fix the situation since 1988, when the current sector plan for the area was created. The plan included many of the design elements that would make the stretch of Central more pedestrian-friendly, yet, 17 years later, most of them have yet to be implemented.
Marianne Dickinson, a founder and former board member of the Nob Hill-Highland Renaissance, said that ever since the plan was approved, every couple years the community has requested that the city make improvements, and, over the years, few requests have been fulfilled. Out of eight intersections that were requested to be redone, she said that three were actually worked on. In the mid '90s the intersection at Monte Vista and Girard was redeveloped, although the construction had more to do with safety and less to do with design, she said. In the late '90s the intersection at Monroe was embellished with improved sidewalks and pedestrian lighting, although the project wasn't completed. And just earlier this year, the intersection at Washington had curb cuts taken out and ballards added to the sidewalk to help define the walking space, although the final design is somewhat different from the original plan.
Dickinson, who is running for City Council in District 7, also said that over the years money has been allocated by the city to go toward other projects; adding that at one point over $1 million was set aside for different pedestrian improvement projects in the Nob Hill-Highland area. The problem is much of the money was never used, and Dickinson says that if funds sit for too long in the system they risk being reabsorbed.
City Councilor Martin Heinrich, who represents Nob Hill and wants the area to become a more pedestrian-friendly zone, compiled a team to track some of the money allocated toward streetscape improvements in the area over the years. Since 1999, $920,000 has been earmarked, but as of last year less than $120,000 had been used. To date, $573,880 has been used. Heinrich also inherited $380,000 from the last councilor in his district, Hess Yntema, which he says he is putting toward pedestrian improvements in Nob Hill. Heinrich added that he was also recently able to acquire $1.2 million, left over from a street extension project, a portion of which he is setting aside to go toward Nob Hill. The money will be spent on two new street signals along the Nob Hill corridor as well as pedestrian lighting, Heinrich said.
While area merchants are wondering why much of the money gathered for Nob Hill was never used until recently, and why there is still a sizeable chunk of it waiting to be used, they're also looking to the future. A study released in June by Steve Wheeler, a professor in the Community and Regional Planning Department at the University of New Mexico, puts forth a number of recommendations to make the Nob Hill area more pedestrian-friendly.
The recommendations, based on collaboration with street design expert Prof. Elizabeth Macdonald from the University of California at Berkeley and other planning experts, are currently being evaluated by the city to estimate their feasibility and cost. Recommendations mainly include adding features to Nob Hill such as pedestrian lighting, new crosswalks and stoplights, landscaping and bulb-outs (extensions of the curb and sidewalk space into the street). Wheeler said that if his or a similar plan were implemented, it would be relatively simple and inexpensive and could be finished within three to six months.
Ed Adams, Chief Administrative Officer with the city, said that the current administration is supportive of making Nob Hill more pedestrian-friendly, but that there are some concerns as to how simple and inexpensive the project would actually be. Adams' main concern is with drainage issues, and says that adding bulb-outs could require moving existing drain locations on the street—a potentially costly and complicated job.
The Nob Hill Business Association's Henne said that she would welcome Wheeler's improvements—or any other improvements the city can offer, as long as something is done. "These are serious issues that need to be addressed," she said.