Monday, October 19, 2009

Regional Planning

I wanted to talk about this after my trip to Scandinavia but never got around to it. Tonight I should be reading for class but I need to finally get this out before I 'splode.

So...regional planning. We don't understand this concept. Most of our leaders still see each municipality as its own autonomous blob defined by a color on a map similar to the one above. All the while, our leaders bicker over their differences and build their municipalities uniquely and without regard for their neighbors in another blob zone, while reports and articles continue to be written stressing the importance of regional planning. Our assets as a city are pretty wonderful, but together as a region, they're great.

For example, the water authority currently refuses to allow a development to take place without assuring water rights have been secured. However, and herein lies the problem. We all suck water from the same wells below the sand. While Albuquerque is reducing its use, Rio Rancho and other surrounding communities are tapping new wells and selling off rights to developers wanting to develop whatever haphazard, water-sucking building forms they desire. Is this sustainable? Does it matter?

Well of course I'm going to say no and yes, respectively. This water example is just one layer of the complexities involved with trying to sync a dozen or so communities. Transportation/mobility would be the ginormous white elephant in the mix, however. Transportation more than any other infrastructure affects land use and land use affects our building form and our building form affects the way we live, work, and socialize.

MR-COG is our region's first attempt at regional cooperation. They're in charge of overseeing the transportation infrastructure for the region and one of those duties is the creation of a Metropolitan Transit Plan. This plan forecasts growth and prioritizes projects accordingly. Sadly, their published and approved plan is nothing more than reactive to the regions sprawling, unfettered growth toward the northwest. See map. This is their vision for 2030.

What they are proposing (large projects) is lane additions to our interstates as well as a loop road that wraps around the far reaches of the west side and dumps traffic directly into Rio Rancho's "downtown." This plan is engineering driven as it's sole purpose is the increase flows without thought to consequences beyond the traffic realm.

Regardless, it has been proven time and again that lane additions do little to reduce congestion, but instead, promote increased driving by citizens. The inner city roadway infrastructure cannot be increased to the meet the demand created by these enormous feeder routes. Therefore, citizens will drive further only to sit in traffic in the city while wasting gas and polluting the air.

Next, it is common sense that the most efficient city form is a radial pattern. Montano Rd and Paseo del Norte have allowed this city to push growth further out into the northwest mesa over the last 15 years. Now, we want to unclog the system, so to speak, by building a 350 million dollar interchange to alleviate congestion at the intersection even though we know that I-25 will only be inundated by increased traffic. The lights currently act as a moderator to the traffic entering I-25. So then what? More lanes on I-25? A second level, San Antonio and Austin style? The map clearly indicates minimal transit construction for the southeast quadrant even though their housing construction maps clearly show significant growth in that area.

So, while we know that transportation infrastructure drives development, it's clear that our policies are not working to create a more efficient, sustainable form of development. The center of our region has become the north I-25 corridor and yet we wonder why it's the largest employment center in the region.

This begs the questions: What about the southwest mesa? What about Los Lunas and Belen? Belen isn't even shown on the metro map above even though we know that tens of thousands of citizens from those communities come to Albuquerque for work, education, health, socialization, and shopping.

So what exactly is the plan? The city really needs to step up to the plate and understand what is at stake. This plan will directly feed into SunCal and Rio Rancho's plans. And not that their plans are terrible, however, their plans can be described as unfettered growth for growth's sake. This current plan will also lead to little centralization, densification and appurtenant sustainability within our region.

The RailRunner is a fantastic infrastructure that ties the communities together and thus, has brought the cities together for the first time. However, it only works when the type of cooperation is practiced at all levels.

As part of my seminar in Scandinavia, we met with the mayor of Malmo, Sweden as well as leaders and planners from Copenhagen, Denmark whom all extol the benefits of regional planning. Stockholm laid claim to most significant Scandinavian metro until Malmo and Copenhagen, along with their respective countries, came to the table to develop a regional plan that would create a linked region that is a now a competitive powerhouse amongst all of Europe's large metro areas. They built a giant bridge (see $) that carries auto traffic on the upper level and a lower level that carries high speed trains as well as metro trains that travel between the cities (and countries) every 30 minutes. The region is now seeing increased growth on both sides of the straight and that growth largely made up of large, sustainable developments that make our attempts at sustainability appear childish.

We have work to do.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

That's More Like It

Beautiful. The US High Speed Rail Association has produced a plan for phased high speed rail lines across the US by 2030. The best part about it: Albuquerque, along with Denver, would be the link between East and West coasts. This is HUGE. Imagine the kind of traffic you see in an airport on a given day making connections through downtown Albuquerque. Yea. Huge.

Now, this is just one group's idea for HSR across the country but it's important that Albuquerque is seen as a vital cog in the wheel. You can bet that El Paso and the state of Texas will be lobbying like heck to get that connection through their city. They'll have a good argument too when you consider the combined trade area of the El Paso region in addition to topography.

Regardless. This is fantastic. I just know the libertarians are burning mad over a plan like this. I'm sure our own little "foundation" has already crunched some skewed numbers to prove their point.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Satellite Student Housing...ON MARS

Shit is hitting the fan. Raise hell, people!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

What an Effing Disaster

I'm appalled and speechless by the election results.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Bicycle Friendly Albuquerque

Over at the Bike PGH (Pittsburgh) website, they've got numbers showing commuting data for the country's 60 largest cities. Our little gem of a city came in #9 in bicycle commuting as a percentage of total commuters. That's fantastic! We're ahead of places like Boston, Denver, Philly, and Austin which makes me happy.

Unfortunately, using the same data from their nifty spreadsheet, the numbers show that we rank #36 in walkers, #35 in single-occupancy vehicles (behind Dallas!), and #43 in public transit ridership.

So, what this tells us is that for a city our size, we're doing a decent job with our bicycle infrastructure but a poor job with our mass transit. Also, our built environment is not made for walking, sadly. This data should be taken seriously by our future mayor and the planning department as it really gives some indication of our quality of life and where we're missing the boat in terms of infrastructure.

After returning from Copenhagen, where their local government is working very hard to improve mobility for their citizens, it proves that there is so much work to be done even in cities like Portland and San Francisco.

Now, I don't want to be labeled as one of "those people" that goes places and returns believing our precious city should be just like another place. I think I've been indirectly accused of this over at this extinct blog. The point isn't to go to other places and duplicate the things you see, but instead, observe, learn how and why it works, and taylor SOME of those things to work for Albuquerque. Just because light-rail works in Denver doesn't mean it's right for ABQ. Just because New York has converted former street intersections into public spaces doesn't mean Albuquerque should either....yet. I'm tired of people saying, "Oh, this is Albuquerque, we just do things different." Ok, fine, but doing things for the sake of being different and using it as an excuse to do nothing both rub me the wrong way. Cities all operate in the same manner. Transportation and land use affects people in Portland the same way it affects us. The fact is, our planning is in need of a major overhaul and learning from other cities can help us to skip the hardships other places have endured.

So, back to Copenhagen, they do an incredible job maintaining commuter data in an effort to track their progress. Currently, their mode share is 37% biking, 28% transit, 4% walking, and 31% driving. They set goals and pragmatically determine how to improve each and every year. I can hear the naysayers now, "Yea, but that's in Europe. They're different." Are they? How so? In the 1950s, Copenhagen was as car-happy, congested, and polluted as any American city. Their weather is horrible (don't get me started on their cuisine) for most of the year. Where they are different from us is they actually set goals and milestones. The citizens demanded change and held their government liable. They also took the initiative to change their lifestyle to reflect their ideals instead of telling others how they should live.

After reading V.B. Price's piece in the Independent, I can't help but think about how our politicians are leading us astray at the worst possible time. It's up to us to demand change and now is the time to vote for politicians who understand the real issues at hand.

PS. Vote for Benton and Cadigan!!! You all know I have my issues with Cadigan's westside, westside, westside mantra but at least he stands up to SunCal who isn't exactly looking out for the citizens of Albuquerque.