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Don't blame ABQ pedestrians for poor road safety
Poor infrastructure and car domination endanger ABQ's Native, Hispanic, and Black lives
New Mexico is the most dangerous state in the US to be a pedestrian according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. With 3.75 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people, New Mexico leads the nation in yet another unfortunate statistic. At the top of the list is Bernalillo County with 31 pedestrians killed in 2020, yet I haven’t heard any holistic, preventative ideas coming from local government. The City of Albuquerque has their “Vision Zero” initiative and several promising projects on the horizon, but the city is lacking a holistic plan to make ABQ walkable again.
Furthermore, discourse around the topic has been awfully hostile toward pedestrians - like this article from KRQE titled Jaywalkers pose danger along ART lane by the University of New Mexico. A person and a car collide in the road and we somehow have empathy for the hunk of metal?
The KRQE article included a quote from a pedestrian:
[Jaywalking]’s just convenient. I guess it is pretty quick compared to the crosswalk. Sometimes the crosswalk takes two to three minutes and people are on tight schedules, you know.
I do know. It’s so inconvenient to be a pedestrian in Albuquerque that people are opting to risk their lives dodging F-150s. Albuquerque sidewalks, especially in older and poorer neighborhoods, are narrow and few and far between. Even in the updated Nob Hill area where the ART line runs, the distance between crosswalks that connect pedestrians to the median/bus stop can reach up to a quarter mile:
On top of the distance, the 2 minutes spent waiting at the crosswalk would make anyone want to jaywalk to catch a bus, get to class, or grab Dunkin’ Donuts.
Many crosswalks in the city are half a mile or more apart from each other, and most areas are sprawling/unwalkable. Those that can’t pay for the upkeep of a vehicle have to try their luck walking the inhospitable stroads.
Below is a picture of a shopping development on Coors Boulevard where there is more parking than not and two crosswalks almost half a mile apart. This stretch of Coors is a hotspot on the pedestrian fatality heat map above:
Unfortunately, the rest of Coors looks the same, and there are few places in the city that look better.
Pedestrians may blame speedy drivers and drivers may blame jaywalking pedestrians, but the real culprit is the lack of pedestrian infrastructure. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Today, that game goes a little like this: You buy a car once you turn 16 and again every 3-15 years. You also need to buy gas, insurance, and upkeep totaling, on average, $11,280 per year. If you don’t buy a car, you essentially don’t have access to food, housing, jobs, family, etc., and you become more likely to get hit buy a car. If you are a pedestrian that gets hit by a car, chances are you are Native American, Hispanic, or Black.
Systemic racism comes in many shapes and policies, and one of them is urban design. We’ve built cities for car owners, who are typically white, and we made it illegal and dangerous for everyone else to navigate the city any other way.
Jaywalking is a crime that targets poor people of color trying to simply get around their city. Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller seems to understand this as ABQ has some major infrastructure projects lined up.
Don’t get me wrong, the Duke City has a few walkable areas. They’re all a far cry from Amsterdam, but they’re walkable and bike-able nonetheless. Downtown is the first area that comes to mind although it’s still dangerous for pedestrians and sentiment towards ABQ’s downtown has been pretty low for a long time as the homeless population, crime, and open drug use has been a problem (I saw someone shooting up via their neck on 2nd street yesterday). There are other walkable areas - Nob Hill, Barelas, Uptown, etc. - but they’re all still very-much-so dominated by cars and dangerous for pedestrians.
The City and County have announced a couple projects that should make Abq safer for pedestrians - a BernCo project to slow traffic and add bike, bus, and walking lanes on Coors:
And another State-funded project to enhance pedestrianization on 4th street in Barelas:
These projects will surely bring safety and economic development to Coors and Barelas, but what about the rest of the city? Like I said, downtown is arguably the most walkable place in the city, yet there are more pedestrian deaths there than anywhere else in town.
Albuquerque needs to take their pedestrianization a step further:
Ban cars in key areas of downtown;
Add raised crosswalks everywhere, but especially down Central;
Add more bus service (and pay bus drivers more); and
Build light rail/streetcar service to the west side, heights, airport, and international district
Albuquerque needs a holistic vision that takes cars out of the equation
If people keep getting hit by cars, you can either drive the people away (typically black and brown people) or get rid of the cars. I vote to replace the cars with walkability, transit, and community so more people feel safe in the city. Pedestrianization is good for a city’s economy, health, safety, sustainability, equity, and more, and New Mexicans are tired of being at the top of these “worst of” lists.
Contact your City Councilor today to make pedestrian safety a priority in Albuquerque.