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Fact Checking a Published Opinion about Albuquerque Rapid Transit

ABQ RIDE fact checked a published opinion about Albuquerque Rapid Transit. We are addressing some of the inaccuracies it listed, or the facts it left out.

Rapid-transit plan would be too disruptive (ABQ RIDE responses in bold italics)

Advocates of market-oriented public policy rarely have anything complimentary to say about transit systems.

Government-owned trains and buses are fiercely protected by politicians and powerful lobbying groups, despite runaway costs and consistently unimpressive ridership numbers. But in Albuquerque, at least lately, transit is a different story.

In 2004, the city’s bus system began to add express routes along Central Avenue. “Rapid Ride” features “60-foot long, articulated buses that accommodate up to 86 passengers.”

The service is “loaded with new technology,” including WiFi, automatic announcements, “a global positioning system to aid in the transit applications that help passengers locate their bus in real time,” and state-of-the art security cameras and microphones. In addition, most Rapid Ride stations have “a structure which allows passengers to wait in safety and comfort.”

Route 766, which runs from the Uptown Transit Center to the West Side, saw passenger growth of 25.8 percent since its introduction. Route 790, which links the University of New Mexico’s main campus to the Northwest Transit Center, experienced growth of 87.2 percent. Route 777, connecting Tramway Boulevard to Downtown, saw growth of 135.6 percent.

In its “Futures 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan,” the Mid-Region Metropolitan Transportation Organization concluded that increased boardings on the Duke City’s overall bus system were “directly attributable” to the three “Rapid Ride” lines.

At least in terms of demand, express bus service appears to be working in Albuquerque.

So why does the city want to scrap a good thing? The city will be improving service. ABQ RIDE believes it can better serve riders in a timelier manner along Central Avenue, which carries 42% of ABQ RIDE’s ridership and is by far the city’s busiest public transportation corridor. After all, that’s why ABQ RIDE added the two Rapid Ride routes in the past 11 years.

Transportation planners are seeking to replace Rapid Ride with “Albuquerque Rapid Transit” (ART), which combines “many features of rail transit with the flexibility of buses.” The city soon will request federal funding to cover 80 percent of the costs of Phase 1 of the project, which is slated to run between Louisiana and Coors. ABQ RIDE submitted the application for Small Starts money from the Federal Transit Administration on Aug. 3.

ART would eliminate one traffic lane, each way, in order to create a dedicated bus guideway. This is an inaccurate generalization of the proposed ART route. Central Avenue will have different median configurations. Some areas will have two lanes of general purpose traffic in each direction. Some stretches of Central will have only one lane in each direction (one of the conclusions of an independent study commissioned by Nob Hill merchants, which also recommended narrowing Central Avenue through Nob Hill and lowering the speed limit from 35 miles an hour to 25 miles an hour through the area, in an effort to improve business). All of this came about through neighborhood and business input along different stretches of Central Avenue.

It’s a shift the Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole believes is unwise: “Dedicating two entire traffic lanes on Central Avenue to buses and giving those buses priority at traffic signals will do far more to increase congestion than any relief provided by the few cars taken off the road by the bus. Why should a few hundred bus riders a day be given these privileges while tens of thousands of people in cars are forced to sit in traffic?” There will be different lane configurations for different parts of Central, many of which will include two lanes of traffic in either direction.

Don Hancock of the University Heights Neighborhood Association thinks ART’s plan to eliminate the median strip will cause “bicycle/pedestrian safety problems … to increase dramatically.” Walkers and cyclists trying to cross the guideway, he said, are “continuous accidents just waiting to happen.” Within the section of Central Avenue that transverses the University Heights Neighborhood Association, the median section is not being removed; this was a consensus decision reached through discussions with the UHNA. Along Central Avenue from Coors to Louisiana, every ¼ to ½ mile pedestrians and bicyclists will be able to cross Central at signalized crossings. ART is improving pedestrian safety along Central Avenue.

Thus far, ART’s supporters have ignored questions about their project’s public-safety and congestion-creation issues, preferring to focus on transit’s alleged ability to attract professional millennials. But polling data are beginning to show that young adults’ housing preferences resemble previous generations’ inclinations.

Describing a recent survey, an economist for the National Association of Homebuilders wrote that two-thirds of millennials “wanted to reside in a suburban neighborhood, compared to 10 percent wanting to own a home in a central city. Nearly a quarter of residents wanted to be outside large metropolitan areas entirely, preferring rural housing.” These results are contradictory to the results of a 2015 survey by the Urban Land Institute (ULI). One of the findings of this survey is that just over half of all Americans and 63% of the millennial generation would like to live in a place where they do not need to use a car very often. (http://uli.org/research/centers-initiatives/terwilliger-center-for-housing/research/community-survey/)

While recent college graduates continue to be drawn to places such as Washington, D.C., they are also flocking to “sprawling” metro areas such as Houston, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Nashville and Las Vegas, Nev. Except for Oklahoma City, these cities have either light-rail, commuter rail or bus rapid transit, or a combination of these transit services. Individuals who live within or adjacent to a transit corridor served by one of these services do not need to use a private vehicle as often as they would need to, if they lived in an area not served by transit.

Will ART be affordable? Check the record. In the words of Veronique de Rugy, a researcher with the Mercatus Center, “Infrastructure spending tends to suffer from massive cost overruns, waste, fraud, and abuse.” The term “infrastructure” covers a wide range of projects and project costs; water and sewer, harbors, airports, subway, light-rail, etc. It is inappropriate to apply a very general description to a specific project.

And while ART is not a rail line, building it will nonetheless be a complex undertaking, involving ripping up medians, improving sidewalks, constructing stations and relocating utilities. Any construction, roads, bridges, homes, buildings, causes temporary headaches. By coordinating work efforts and communications with the contractor, the neighborhood associations, businesses, and other affected individuals and institutions, these headaches are mitigated.

Citizens in Abilene, Anchorage, and Atlanta shouldn’t be taxed to support a project of dubious benefit to Albuquerque. Funding for Small Starts projects-ART is a Small Starts project, is approved by Congress during the annual federal budget process. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) recommends projects for funding. The FTA recommendation is based on a national competitive review and recommendation process.

The federal government should deny funding to ART.