Ready to talk in more detail about how future development might evolve along and among the neighborhoods of the Central Avenue Corridor?
Monday night’s wrap-up of our consulting team’s weeklong design exploration provided plenty of conversation starters.
Some key points to remember:
Everything presented for review Tuesday night is intended to inform next steps. “These are concepts to get us all thinking,” said Albuquerque City Council president Isaac Benton. “These are not final plans. What happens next depends on us.”
Contracted through a federal grant for transit-oriented planning, a team led by PlaceMakers principal Susan Henderson was made up of 20 specialists in design, land use and transportation planning, engineering, and economic development. Tuesday night, Henderson, a two-decade resident of Albuquerque, as well as an architect and planner, presented highlights of the team’s responses to research and discussions with residents and business people stretching back for years. “It’s been a 30-year conversation,” she said.
The idea, she told some 60 attendees at the KiMo Theatre, was to provide ways to visualize the implications of approaching policy changes designed to maximize the benefits of the new bus transit system along Central. Already in the works is a new comprehensive plan and a zoning rewrite.
A video recording of Henderson’s presentation is being edited for posting on this website. And a more expansive, detailed report is forthcoming.
Download and review the closing presentation here. (Note: 23mb .pdf)
To visualize potential development over time, the team chose familiar neighborhoods along the Central Avenue Corridor as areas of focus.
While each neighborhood is unique, geography, history and culture connect them. Which required the design team to acknowledge and honor certain shared priorities for meaningful engagement.
Deeply Held Beliefs about Historic Neighborhood Character
If there was one big theme running through community conversations leading up to the workshop week it was a determination to recognize and celebrate the historic character of both the City of Albuquerque and its individual neighborhoods. So every recommendation by Henderson’s team was considered with that in mind.
The Need to Visualize Density in Regional Context
Many of us equate density with overcrowding. Yet when we’re asked to name places we find most appealing, they’re often places that cluster people and the services they need or want. Albuquerque already has examples of appealing, economically vibrant neighborhoods that deliver compactness at a range of scales appropriate to their locations and to neighborhood character.
Here’s a slide selected from the presentation that shows familiar Albuquerque building types that contribute to a range of densities measured at dwelling units per acre.
21st Century Aspirations vs. a 20th Century Commitment to Auto Dependency
Like many other thoroughfares in the West, Albuquerque’s streets are often wide expanses suitable exclusively for getting around by private automobile. Streets designed for moving cars quickly through neighborhoods not only makes walking and bicycling unattractive — and potentially dangerous — it also hinders the development of compact, mixed-use environments that support economic growth. So in each of the study areas, the design team explored a range of strategies to achieve more complete streets, ones that allow for walking, biking and transit, as well as car travel.
You can see how strategies were customized for thoroughfares in each of the neighborhood areas by checking Henderson’s full presentation. But here are some key examples.
A highway-feeling, too-wide street to boulevard conversion (Coors Blvd. near Central Avenue and the Coors ART station):
A thoroughfare resembling a divided highway transformed with street trees and a dedicated bike lane protected by reverse angle parking (Campus Blvd. in the University area):
A local street made more neighborly with trees, bike lanes and more appealing pedestrian life (Carlisle Avenue in Nob Hill):
A Need to Score Goals Fast
Years of discussing all the ways to get from where we are to where we want to go has created a certain amount of “vision fatigue.” By their nature, land use and transportation planning require a long view. Years — often decades — elapse before plans yield measurable change in the built environment. Understandably, citizens can become cynical and suspicious. So every ambitious long-range plan benefits by at least a little short-range achievement.
For every area the design team members considered, they came up with neighborhood specific “hat tricks,” three short-term actions aligned with long-term strategies. Things that could be done quickly without a lot of resources or even expertise. You’ll see the complete list in Henderson’s presentation. But here’s a taste, a hat trick of hat tricks:
- Experiment with “tactical urbanism,” a fast, temporary intervention that proves the worthiness of a permanent change. For instance: A test striping for parking or a bike lane to demonstrate the power of a simple change.
- Create an instant festival or food truck site after a community clean-up of an underused public space.
- Plant and maintain street trees in a high profile area to demonstrate simple impacts on walkability.
You’ll see more detailed interventions neighborhood by neighborhood in the full presentation. To get a sense of how the design ideas are customized by location, here are selected examples, going from west to east along Central.
Parts of the neighborhood have a fine-grained street grid that is predominately residential, with the commercial parts more auto-oriented with strip centers and big box stores.
Taming the highway feel of Central in the western neighborhoods and expanding options for walking and biking should help evolve environments that welcome more people and more of the mom-and-pop businesses that feel appropriate here.
Here’s a look at proposed bike routes:
And pedestrian crosswalks:
The neighborhood might, over time, consider an internal main street on the NW corner of Coors and Central. Parks and community gardens — or civic spaces — can be part of the mix. And live-work units could work as ways to incubate small-scale businesses or provide rental opportunities to partially offset owners’ mortgages.
Here’s a before illustration:
And an after:
The neighborhood is well built-out. Some proposed bike lanes to the south are already planned, but some additional ones are suggested to get people to transit stops.
Right now, it’s about 1,500 feet between cross walks — or more than ¼ mile. This makes the street a significant barrier between the northern and southern neighborhoods. Potential crosswalk strategies:
Development over time might prioritize residential along the River and commercial along Central.
Possible future approach:
An iconic destination, but it needs a little love. It’s hard to find and needs to be about more than tourists. Safe and effective ways to get to the Plaza from residences will improve connectivity.
Possible bike routes:
It’s possible to whiz by on Rio Grande or Lomas or Central and not even realize how close you are to something spectacular. It might be possible to begin to urbanize the eastern approach to the plaza by putting buildings along the edge of a parking lot.
Potential future development pattern:
Downtown + Edo
Potential interventions on Copper and Mountain, including things like bike lanes and on-street parking.
Facing the rail line on the east side of downtown is currently an industrial space that most of us cross impatiently. It could be made into an amenity, almost like a beach front. Daylight and celebrate something that has been such a big part of the community for years. A big city version of the Santa Fe Rail Yards.
The Downtown sites most likely to redevelop are all in private hands. Suggested strategies include completing Copper and continuing Marquette to reduce the awkward ways to exit Downtown, particularly the loop around the convention center.
Edo has vibrant street life with great restaurants and historic hotels. The vision considers how to complete the missing teeth. Much of this would require structured parking.
Potential development over time:
ART Station concept for ways to provide shaded structure in historic context:
University has strong bike infrastructure proposals, but still has some gaps. The key destination of the university does not align with the cycling infrastructure or with the cross walks.
Existing and proposed crosswalks:
An improved campus circulation system:
Very walkable until Lead and Coal, and there is desire to turn these streets back to two-way.
Student housing over retail, plus parking structure on the east end, near Lower Nob Hill. Yale could become more pedestrian oriented, similar to Harvard.
Improved campus frontages:
Because of the area’s attraction in the region, there are growing opportunities at the pedestrian and biking scale.
A recent retail study recognizes “cross shopping” back and forth on Central. Which will require better crosswalk options:
One crucial intervention should be the transformation of the five-way intersection at Girard and Central to a typical four-way intersection to improve safety and relieve congestion:
Most lots west of Morningside Drive are unlikely to redevelop. A mapped study looks at what is allowed by the city’s new proposed zoning.
Birdseye illustration (note how street realignment at Girard and Central creates a more substantial public plaza):
As is the case with the western ends of the Corridor, Central Avenue east of the denser (and more economically active) neighborhoods begins to take on a highway character. So if there’s a wish for growth, future planning should provide appealing options for getting around other than exclusively by car.
Proposed bike routes:
There is a proposal to make the Fairgrounds an open space. And there are opportunities to evolve appropriate development on the north side of Central.
In this neighborhood, we heard that people want places to gather as well as grow their own food. A hotel on the SE corner could have an internal courtyard and share parking across the street. And there could be an opportunity to build on part of the parking lot at Talin Market, perhaps to create incubator spaces for budding entrepreneurs.
And finally, a birdseye illustration:
What Happens Next?
Whenever a planning initiative concludes and the euphoric sense of creation fades, participants are left with the most meaningful question of all: What happens next? In this video, City Council president Isaac Benton and deputy director, economic development, Deirdre Firth lay out expectations:
Updates will be posted in this space as they happen so stay tuned.
Thanks, everyone, for your participation and support.