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.


Anonymous said...

I would love to see a a half radial city development boundary that goes around rio rancho down to the I-25 elbow near Isleta casino. Let the mountains be the eastern boundary. East Mountain developments then needs to be stopped or highly restricted. At the State level I would enact a development restriction on all other cities and land areas in the state so sprawl is simply not relocated. Once city boundaries are set, let a half loop be built..a north to south loop along metro's western boundary. Build transportation veins from the center(ish) (Big I) to the outside loop. Let us build the transportation patterns and solutions that dictate development, instead of development dictating transportation.

Tim said...

Amen! Unfortunately, sprawl will happen. But we can still dictate the reurbanism of our existing built environment.