Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Great Paseo Brouhaha

I remember back in the early to mid 1990s when Marty was pushing through the Paseo "Freeway" to the westside. I was in middle school and so incredibly excited that our city would have another freeway. That nearly made us like a big city!

15 years later, that freeway has fed into the sprawl machine that has pushed most new growth to the northwest mesa and Rio Rancho. I say sprawl as though it were a vile word but I have to admit that I don't truly see it being the devil, per se. However, in this day and age, feeding this 20th century "solution" to growth and traffic management seems a bit naive.

The biggest cheerleader is wanna-be mayor Cadigan whose constituents, obviously, want to cross the river much quicker and dislike sitting in idling traffic. Who doesn't? Here lies my inner communist planner: these people made the decision to move to this area with limited routes into "the City" (that makes it sound cool when you say it like that), they should not be bailed out of their poor decision. Cadigan, being the enlightened individual that he wants to be, balks at the mayors attempts at investing in the stagnant downtown (see: arena, streetcar) because of budget constraints. Yet, he is aggressively pushing for a short term solution that puts us further in the hole, financially, than this "boondoggle" choo choo. I want to qualify my "short term solution" statement by forecasting an increasingly growing westside and increased commuter traffic into "the City." This growth will put us right back to our current situation but only on a larger scale. Therefore, this $250 million dollar solution is not, in fact, a solution, but a very expensive, parasitic, band aid.

When will people wake up to the world around them? Albuquerque is already tip-toeing the line of excessive bad air quality days. We're using far more water than we planned. And our educated youth are leaving in droves.

I was recently given a presentation by a Chinese planning firm that stated what everyone seems to acknowledge (even in rural, northwestern China!) - that educated young adults are swarming to cities that exhibit smart growth practices and provide rich, urban environments. These places, in turn, attract employers looking for such talent. How do our city leaders not recognize this?

Screw quality of life, we need more roads, says Michael Cadigan!

Sorry, I can't help it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Transportation in America

PBS recently aired a terrific show on the subject. They use New York City, Portland, and Denver as their models to compare and contrast solutions over the decades and the ramifications of those decisions. Have a look-see.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Flooding Mitigation

My past two quarters (crazy quarter system) of education have been filled to the gills with hazard mitigation material. I won't lie, the codes and regulations bore me to tears some days. However, there is a ton of new techniques and technologies that are being employed regularly that are quite applicable universally which are exciting if you're a geek like me. (stick with me here)

For example, new forms of permeable concrete have been developed to aid in storm runoff reduction and aquifer recharge. Also, crazy (sarcasm) landscapers and engineers have learned to create parks and other attractive landscapes to double as retention ponds (hello engineers and the planning staff that designed and approved the ugly hole at Lomas and Broadway!). Even bioswales (fancy landscape architecture jargon for ditches) are being installed in urban areas to create green space and act as a natural filter for storm runoff in streets.

These techniques really add up to create a healthier environment when you consider the current, archaic methods we have used for decades. For years we have attempted to engineer our civilizations out of harms way. We design our storm drainage system to a 100-year flood capacity (in ABQ) with the belief and hope that THE big storm will never hit. We even shoot rainwater runoff down pipes (unfiltered?) to the Rio Grande!

Well, in 2006, I believe, that 100-year event hit us quite hard. Twice. Some will say, "well, obviously, it's another example of global warming." Others, "That's God blaming us for allowing gay marriages." And others, "It's a fluke, who cares?"

This week, I have been studying hazard mitigation in the city of Snoqualmie, WA and today we were given a tour of the tiny city by the mayor and other officials who shared their knowledge regarding the city's preparation for the next big natural disaster.

Around 10am (after the caffeine had kicked in) I began to draw parallels between what I was hearing and what I had seen in Albuquerque when the floods hit a few years back. A visitor of China asked the question, "Why did the natives of this city settle in this flood-prone area in the first place?" I sorta chuckled when he asked this. But I didn't expect to hear the answer the gentleman received. Apparently, this area was not historically susceptible to flooding until the logging industry ran amok in the surrounding mountains. Interesting. Go on you say? The forests were ravaged to such an extreme that storm runoff had increased enough to make that drastic of a change to the environment.

So, the mice in my head began to run and I thought, "Hrm, could maybe, just maybe, the runoff situation in Albuquerque be the result of an increase in urbanized area?" Could we have built up the our roadways, sidewalks, and homes to the point where we have increased runoff so that our storm system actually reaches capacity with less effort?

I don't know about you but I'm suddenly intrigued with hazard mitigation and the ways in which we can use natural processes and nature-sensitive technologies (don't I sound like a hippy?) to cure the problems we have created through naive manipulation and false confidence?

The city's form of development has been so greatly affected by homogenization and generic growth to the point where our innovation has seemingly been forgotten. But alas, there are solutions. These solutions are so very simple, yet they require everyone to change the way they were taught to do things...and that's the harddest part.

Rapid Ride

Seattle has just introduced a new fleet of BRT busses also called "Rapid Ride" with the same livery we've come to know. These would look quite sexy zooming down Montgomery, San Mateo, and Coors.