ART just won't go away. As the project has rounded one bend only to encounter more road blocks, the mass transit project has had its share of controversy. And while things were quiet for a while, as the Keller administration worked on a big fix, things are heating up again, as our editorial noted last week.
One local political activist group, Dukes Up, was so frustrated by the whole affair that they used social media to call the nine-mile stretch of Central Avenue from Louisiana to Coors a “shit stain down the middle of Albuquerque.” While this might be harsh, shortly after his inauguration Mayor Tim Keller himself admitted that ART was “a bit of a lemon.”
The Keller administration did not squeeze the lemons, that was done by the former Richard Berry administration, but it did inherit the juice. Mayor Keller held a presser last week explaining Burqueños had better buck up and learn to live with the project while the city bean counters sweat out scraping together $75 million to recoup spent funds the city didn’t have when it went ahead with ART, hoping it might get the money from the feds, but didn’t.
Weekly Alibi was there at one of the first public input meetings in December 2012 when members of the Berry administration introduced the idea of a rapid transit line down Central Avenue. That meeting had about 40 people in attendance. Then Transportation Director Bruce Rizzieri told attendees that city bus ridership was up and nearly half of those riders took the Central Avenue buses. He said this project would move the Rapid Ride buses out of traffic and improve overall reliability of public transportation across the city.
Many people there at that meeting told Rizzieri that the buses along Central were pretty good already and it was the rest of the city that needed improvement—another basic mass transport problem in Burque that Weekly Alibi has strongly implied sorely needs attention. But some at the meeting said they would welcome the big city idea of abandoning automobiles en mass for reliable public transportation.
In City Council meeting after meeting, in the ensuing six or so years, former Berry administrators Michael Riordan and Rob Perry repeatedly defended the project and promised that the Federal Transportation Administration was going to approve the project and flood us with the millions of dollars needed to fulfill this urban dream. They said the City Council needed to show good faith and start the construction prior to having the money in the bank.
So far, all the money that the feds have sent came in the last few weeks, to the tune of a paltry $14 million, a far cry from the $135 million price tag.
Take a drive along the proposed designated 9-mile route. There are 41 signaled intersections to navigate and 20 stations from Louisiana to Coors. Weekly Alibi took that road. What we saw is a hodge-podge of varying degrees of blight, some businesses doing well, other businesses struggling—with bursts of new hopeful future development and construction here and there. There are enclaves of success and affluence, small bright oases, dotting this landscape.
But the empty, sometimes dilapidated properties are what really drew our attention. We saw at least a couple dozen signs advertising buildings or space for lease or sale. It’s hard to tie any of this directly to ART; yet the strained built environment doesn't always seem a match for ART's clean and shiny newness. The Albuquerque Office Marketview first 2018 quarter report put out by CBRE shows the Duke City leasing activity down 20 percent from the 5-year average with an overall vacancy rate of 20.4 percent.
One West Central Avenue restaurant owner made it clear how they feel about the ART project. The proprietor posted a sign in its parking lot that says ART parking is not allowed. We took that to mean they did not want folks parking their cars in their lot to jump on the new buses to go to another part of town while their car gums up their always popular parking lot. This brings up an important question, a corollary to ART's future success: Where are the parking lots to hold the cars that people drive to catch the bus?
One of the biggest issues driving the project seems to be the double yellow lines, or worse, the actual cement medians, barring left hand turns except at intersections. Left hand turns from side streets without signals is also a no-no. This means commerce along the route is going to be constrained by the fact that drivers simply cannot easily get to the businesses they want to visit. Drivers will have to make a U-turn at a light, which is sometimes a quarter-mile away.
So don’t even think about driving across the bus lane anywhere in between signals or an overworked police officer with any number of better things to do will slap you with an $80 ticket, plus you could be hit by a speeding bus. And for those of us on foot or bikes, apparently, the only place we can cross is at one of the 41 signalized intersections or at one of the 20 ART stations, which may or may not be at a signal. This means pedestrians also have to go many steps out of their way to cross Central anywhere along the route; that’s as likely to happen as is the project getting up and running before year’s end.