Why ART?

Letter from Councilor Diane Gibson about Albuquerque Rapid Transit

The ART project created one of the most notable debates in recent Albuquerque history. I received communications from opponents and supporters of the project, most with thoughtful reasoning and insight. I believe Chris and I responded to everyone. We certainly tried to do so. After the Council voted to accept federal funding via the Small Starts grant, I promised to put this narrative on the D7 website. I hope it will answer some remaining questions about the project and explain my vote.

The ART project is the result of many years of planning.  In 2001, the Council incorporated the “Centers and Corridors Plan” into the City/County Comprehensive Plan, the over-arching plan for the region, and in doing so designated Central Avenue as a “Major Transit Corridor,” making transit the priority transportation mode in that corridor.  A subsequent 2002 resolution by Council designated Central Avenue as the top priority corridor for the development of a high-capacity transit project. It directed the City Transit Department to proceed with analyses for the corridor in preparation for funding authorization under the (then) National Surface Transportation Act. Since then a number of transit and economic studies have been conducted for the route along the Central corridor. Many of the results can be found on the ART website. Here is the link -- brtabq.com

As you may have already heard, ART is the Mayor’s project, part of “Albuquerque, the Plan.” Council has never been consulted or asked for an opinion. And since 2002, except for approving bond sales that included many other critical City needs, and accepting the federal Small Starts grant, Council has not otherwise voted on the project. Unfortunately, and even with 18 public meetings on the corridor, community meetings, and news coverage, the administration has had a hard time getting the word out about the project. And, to be fair, there was a concerted push of misinformation and disruption of public meetings that made it nearly impossible to discuss the project in a productive way.

I will try to address some of the concerns that have been raised:

  • Trees will be removed from the medians, but more trees, one for one and over 1,000 new shrubs will be planted near ART stations and along the sidewalk.
  • Left turns will be permitted at signalized intersections every quarter to half a mile.
  • Transit riders will cross no more traffic lanes with ART than they do now for a round-trip.
  • The reduction of through traffic to one lane appears in places along Central about 26% of the entire route. Reduction to two lanes is 29% with 45% of the corridor actually staying the same as it is now.
  • I also have concerns about bottle neck traffic; however, I understand the level of service will be maintained at the City established traffic movement standards.
  • The ART lane will not be segregated physically from the through lanes (no concrete barrier). If necessary the lane could be used to pass a parallel parking car, and first responders will be able to use the ART lanes to by-pass traffic.
  • The ART will also provide direct service between Uptown, Nob Hill, UNM, Downtown, Old Town, and the Westside, connecting some of our busiest, most important activity centers.

Our need for an enhanced transit system is apparent. Ridership on Central (with three existing lines) is presently sufficient to support the ART and the forecasts of increased future traffic support that fact. The last bridge to be built linking the two sides of the river was built over twenty years ago and only after heart-wrenching opposition. It may well be the last for decades to come. Still, growth on the west side continues, as will projects east of the river. Infill development is ongoing in the Uptown area and on Central. The congestion we experience today at both ends of Central and all other river crossings, as well as in the Uptown area during regular commute times calls for a more transportation options. The ART can fill the demand along Central. MRCOG is already planning for a subsequent line from the Sunport north along University and servicing CNM, UNM, and UNMH; that line will provide the north-south connection with ART and conventional bus routes and will provide a convenient option for travelers, students, tourists and commuting workers.

Of course, two or three ART lines do not alone make a good transit system, but it does indicate a city’s investment and intention to create a system that is convenient, affordable and appealing to its riders. Many have pointed out the need for more buses on the north-south routes and parking options in Uptown and along Central so that they can use ART, and I emphatically agree. These are all critical issues the city must plan for in the near future. 

We are slow to recover from the Great Recession and fewer cars use Central than there were a few decades ago. Small locally owned businesses have been hit especially hard. We have all witnessed good ones permanently close their doors -- too many on the Central Avenue corridor. This will only continue unless bold positive action is taken. Our choice is to act now or hope things will improve without intervention. We must and we can save our local businesses with our patronage and our local government. A primary and essential role of municipal government is to create an environment in which businesses can thrive. Delivering customers to their doorsteps certainly fills that bill. The ART will do exactly that. The FY17 proposed budget contains $175,000 to help alleviate the financial impact on businesses. The ART construction plan includes a dedicated liaison for Central Avenue businesses and requires the contractor to immediately respond to issues arising during the build.        

I acknowledge the risk involved. There is no guarantee such a project will provide the sufficient and sustaining economic engine we desperately need. And clearly we are not Cleveland or Portland. However, we have resources and historical significance other cities can only wish for. I believe our failing is in being too passive. We are a City that has avoided risk at the expense of productive innovation. The ART project may well be our first step forward.  

Diane Gibson

Albuquerque City Councilor

District 7