Silver, 14th, Mountain, and Alcalde are in for some changes under a new bike boulevard plan

Mini-roundabouts, fewer stop signs, and a two-way cycle track on Lead are among the recommendations.

But a pedestrian-bike overpass for I-25 is not in the plan, disappointing some advocates.
Several key Downtown-area streets could look a lot different in the coming years under a sprawling new overhaul of the bicycle boulevard currently working its way through the City Council.

The bike boulevard is a specially-designated network of neighborhood streets meant to attract casual cyclists less inclined to deal with automotive traffic. The 98-page plan contains recommendations for improvements both large and small - everything from new signs to mini-roundabouts to a new connection to the bosque trail via Iron and Alcalde. It even attempts to solve one of the most vexing problems in Albuquerque cycling: Finding an attractive route between Downtown and the UNM/Nob Hill area.

The plan doesn't include any funding to complete the laundry list of projects, which range in price from less than $10,000 up to $100,000. But if passed, it would become an official city policy in an era when politicians at all levels may well turn to infrastructure projects as a way of stimulating the economy.

The proposal is now waiting in a city council sub-committee, where it will eventually come up for a public hearing (the panel hasn't met since the lockdown started). City Councilor Isaac Benton, whose district encompasses just about the entire area detailed in the plan, told DAN that he supports the recommendations.

Here are the highlights:
For crossing the tracks on Lead, an unusual two-way bicycle street
Traditionally bike lanes run with traffic, but to guide people across the tracks, planners are proposing to put a kind of two-way street for bicycles on the Lead Ave. bridge, separated off from car traffic by some sort of physical barrier. Here's an example of what that arrangement could look like: 
The two-way lanes would empty out at 2nd, where a more typical bike lane arrangement would help cyclists go north to Silver.
Silver in the Downtown core: A very different parking situation
Between 2nd and 4th, the plan calls for replacing all the existing parking on both sides of the street with "back-in angle" parking on one side. That style of parking is considered safer because it maximizes visibility when pulling into traffic while eliminating the possibility that somebody could open a car door into the path of a cyclist. Potentially, the method also allows for more total parking spaces.
Two mini-roundabouts on 14th, at Park and Roma
Both intersections are currently governed by stop signs.
The city's goal here is to reduce the frequency of stops along the bike boulevard while simultaneously discouraging speeding. Unlike their larger and more elaborate cousin at 8th and Central, these mini-roundabouts are relatively easy and quick to install, costing less than $100,000, the report said.

The Roma roundabout is generating some early opposition. Downtown Neighborhoods Association President Holly Siebert told DAN that some neighbors in the immediate area are concerned that visibility is already a problem when lots of cars are parked on the street and that taking away the stop signs would increase the odds of a crash. She said the DNA would be writing to Benton about the concerns.

The mood seems to run in the opposite direction for the roundabout on 14th and Park. Raynolds Addition Neighborhood President Margaret Lopez said the board hasn't taken an official position on the matter but that she's heard generally positive comments about it and is personally in favor of the idea.
Along Silver and 14th, fewer stop signs
Along Silver, the east-west stop signs would be removed at 4th and 5th, and the signal would be removed at 3rd. The city's general goal is to reduce the frequency of stops for riders.
On 14th, the stop signs at Fruit would be switched from north-south to east-west.
Mountain Road: East of Rio Grande, a bit problematic 
In theory, it makes sense to designate Mountain Road as a bicycle boulevard because it's a straight shot to the bosque trail. But in practice, Mountain attracts a lot more traffic than a neighborhood street, often at speeds much higher than the posted 18 mile-per-hour limit. That runs counter to the idea of the boulevards as a quiet bike oasis, so planners are suggesting that the designation be revoked for Mountain between 14th and Rio Grande and that the bike boulevard be eventually rerouted elsewhere.

Benton thinks that idea will take another study to flesh out but speculates that it could be done with a route on Marble or Granite that leads to Old Town then crosses Rio Grande at a yet-to-be constructed crosswalk at Hollywood. From there it could proceed down Hollywood, returning to a much calmer section of Mountain near Reginald Chavez Elementary.
An extension to the bosque trail, via Iron
The study recommends extending the bicycle boulevard from its current route (green) to make another connection to the bosque trail (orange) along Iron and Alcalde. For most of the extension, new signs and unspecified traffic calming strategies would be enough to make it work. But at Alcalde and Tingley...
...things get tricky. Right now, cyclists often use a pedestrian crosswalk or adjacent sidewalk (maroon) to get onto the bosque trail. The plan calls for making access easier either by widening the sidewalk on the south side of Alcalde or turning it into a two-way trail. Another option could be cutting through the median on Tingley (orange), giving westbound bicycles another bosque trail access point.
The I-25 conundrum: Will anything less than an expensive overpass get the job done?
The bicycle boulevard is a pleasant-enough way to get around Downtown and neighborhoods to the west, but as of now it's less convenient to get to the UNM/Nob Hill area because crossing under I-25 is generally thought of as a hair-raising experience.

So how best to gracefully guide riders past the freeway? The plan considered a massive bicycle/pedestrian overpass, an option it estimated would cost several million dollars, but it ended up recommending converting nearby sidewalks into two-way multi-use paths instead, as illustrated here in orange:
That sets up a debate over which option would most effectively attract casual riders, a somewhat fraught discussion that involves predicting human behavior and the future.

On one side of the argument, Benton favors the path option.

"For fairly low dollars we could really get a good connection with this plan," he said. And besides, the steep incline that an overpass spanning I-25 would require would be a tough sell for users: "As a cyclist myself, climbing up something like that is not particularly appealing," he said.

For others, like Dan Majewski, the chair of the Greater Albuquerque Bicycling Advisory Committee, dealing with traffic entering and exiting I-25 is a dealbreaker for casual cyclists and families. While he generally supports the rest of the plan - particularly the bosque trail connection along Alcalde - he says the I-25 path option doesn't represent much of an improvement over what exists right now. 

"By crossing those frontage roads you're losing what a bike boulevard is," he said. 

Overpasses may be the most expensive option, he added, but that hasn't stopped the city from building them elsewhere in town, sometimes in areas where cycling is generally less common.

The expense is also worth it to Scot Key, an avid cyclist who writes the Better Burque blog. He reckons that an overpass is the only thing that would persuade a family with kids to make the trip, but concedes that the whole process involves some unknowns.

"Most all of these reports/recommendations are made by current users as opposed to anticipated users," he says. "That anticipation is always done with a lot of guessing."
Downtown Albuquerque News covers greater Downtown, which we generally define as the area created by I-40, the Rio Grande, and the railroad tracks. We publish weekdays except for federal holidays. If someone forwarded DAN to you, please consider subscribing. To subscribe, contact us, submit a letter to the editor, or learn more about what we do, click here. If you ever run into technical trouble receiving DAN, click here.
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