Now normally, I'd just write this up on my Carless In Albuquerque blog and be on my way, but today I'm hoping for some discussion because I really don't have much to say other than put the question out there.

 

What if we closed Central to cars from 1st street to 7th street?  

Then what if we also closed Central to cars from Girard to Washington? Of course I'd say we don't do this one until after the Lead & Coal reconstruction is complete.

 

There is a growing movement for creating car-free cities, but I'm proposing is just trying to make two of our commercial centers more vital as commercial centers.

 

Thoughts.

Views: 23

Comment by Dan M on April 12, 2011 at 3:13pm

I have heard that the city is working on "road diets" for segments of Central east and west of Downtown (think EDo and Country Club area).  

 

Central is such a unique corridor.  Trying to figure out how to make it best for all users is tough.  I really like your idea, assuming "no cars" means bikes and buses instead, a lane for each perhaps.  If we prioritize space for these alternative modes, there could be a real shift to these modes.  However, we need to find a sustainable and permanent funding stream for these alternatives.  

Comment by Wade Patterson on April 12, 2011 at 4:02pm

This is a tough one. Recall that 4th Street has been closed to all but pedestrian traffic for quite a while (the 4th street mall - between Central and Civic Plaza). This was done with the anticipation of creating a pedestrian friendly downtown that was vibrant and active. But that has not happened and I'm not entirely sure why. Some have said that opening up 4th to traffic again (but curtailing the flow) would bring life back to that area as it will enhance access and enable through-traffic. Right now, I fear a lot of people simply avoid downtown and I am not sure I have a good suggestion for enhancing its appeal, but the idea of closing more areas to traffic in that area raises a fear of more dead zones like the 4th Street Mall.

 

For places that do have successful pedestrian-only areas like this, what elements make for their success? One thing we do not have in that area is a lot of residential density, for example. Sorry, no answers, just more questions...

Comment by Don McIver on April 12, 2011 at 5:11pm

4th Street has always been this riddle...and could never figure out exactly what they were thinking.  

 

When I moved down here from Boulder, CO, one of the things I missed most was the Pearl Street Mall and it just seemed that 4th Street just didn't have enough businesses that opened up on it and it just kinda dead ends at Civic Plaza.   Seems like opening it now would be a nightmare.   Now 16th Street mall in Denver is another example (though way to chainy for my taste), but they have a bus system that runs up and down it, so that seems like it could work on Central.  

 

And I could totally see Central in Nob Hill working as Pearl Street Mall does in Boulder.  

Comment by Don McIver on April 12, 2011 at 5:28pm

Actually Wade, I'm thinking we put a traffic circle and maybe a close sign so that buses can get through, but close it to cars.    Maybe that's what 4th street is missing?   Don't think so, I just think they picked the wrong street...they should've picked Central to begin with.

 

Comment by LaGuera on April 12, 2011 at 7:54pm

The residents on Copper, Silver, Lead, and Coal will be super ticked off when all those cars are shunted on to their streets. 

 

Comment by Don McIver on April 12, 2011 at 8:07pm

Indeed.  I would hope the city did more than just close down the street without doing something to properly divert the traffic to Lomas and Lead/Coal.   The Lead/Coal facelift is actually going to handle the same amount of traffic, if not more, with one less lane.   Traffic Taming....

 

I actually live on Gold and while they put up a traffic barrier to prevent people from turning on Silver off of University, they did nothing on my street.  So we're the impatient, frustrated driver's route of choice during this construction phase.  I'll be curious to see what happens when they finish.

 

Comment by Wade Patterson on April 13, 2011 at 10:15am

posted by Jeff:

the basic components are high-density retail/dining so that there is a heavy and sustained flow of pedestrians, and adjacent easy parking. since the downtown sector plan prohibits surface parking, you really need to have the closed street next to a parking structure; ideally tied into it.

 

I think you are correct about the elements, but how to jumpstart the process is the conundrum. 4th Street, for example, IS adjacent to a parking garage located on Copper - you can even leave the garage and empty out right on 4th. However, the high density retail and dining is lacking. One of the challenges in attracting "anchor stores" (which are often seen a s a lynchpin in achieving this high density retail) is that most of them determine the viability of location based on car traffic and many really don't know how to deal with only foot traffic. ABQ Uptown, for example, does have a lot of pedestrian emphasis, but it also is located directly on Louisiana where a LOT of traffic passes by and drivers can easily see the names of stores located in there. Without that, I don't think many of those stores would have located there. It was a big gamble, evidently, for Lowe's (the home improvement store) to locate on 12th because traffic volume was low and its not very visible form the interstate (but it has been VERY successful).  4th Street  does not have this quality (heck, you don't even know its there until you are right up on it) and so it will be hard to attract a bigger retailer.

 

The current approach facilitated by the DAT has been to use the bars to generate critical density of visitors. This phase would supposedly be followed by additional and more diverse retail that builds on that traffic, but I don't buy it. Those drinking establishments don't operate at the same hours as a clothing retailer, for example. How are those complimentary? That seems a misguided approach to me and, indeed, 4th street in that area has not taken off as expected. 

 

I also think that south 4th (in Barelas) suffers from the fact that 4th is closed to the north (all the way past Civic Plaza) - a holdover from Urban Renewal and the creation of super blocks downtown that broke up the nice, small-block grid. That area is very much cut off from the rest of downtown and despite a large investment in improvements there (and it looks great) the area still languishes.

 

It also doesn't help the image of the area that the Anasazi is sitting there decaying before our eyes, or that they still have not filled the Gold Street lofts, or that there are so many vacant lots. With so many interconnected factors necessary to create vibrancy, its hard to know where to start. I also think its worth noting that Albuquerque is a city with a population that does not, by and large, have a lot of expendable income and that also makes it hard to stay in business. Nob Hill has been very successful, but there aren't many other places in town with that level of success. A city like Austin, has a much wealthier population and you see that reflected in the plethora of small, independently owned restaurants. This is not to denigrate Albuquerque, but its an economic reality we have to work with to make this a better place for all.

Comment by Wade Patterson on April 13, 2011 at 11:08am

Hey, I completely agree with you about ABQ Uptown. Its a Disneyland and claims of it being "mixed use" because it is adjacent to a new apartment complex are a joke, at best. My point was simply that the retailers that agreed to go in there did so only because it is adjacent to the high traffic counts of Louisiana. Downtown Albuquerque is a much harder sell for these anchor stores because of the relatively low daily traffic flow. The "pedestrian friendly" claims of ABQ uptown are further eroded by the fact that this area has one of the worst (if not THE worst) air pollution indices in the entire city.Cough cough, choke choke.

 

As for the city taking the lead downtown, I'm sure a lot of folks would point to the Downtown 2010 Plan (recently updated) that is an attempt to make development there more friendly (through the adoption of a form-based code), direct desired development, build a slew of parking garages (which they have done) and attract private investment through the establishment of the Downtown Action Team and the HDIC. Yet, still, somehow, the area languishes (while Chris Lineberger enjoys his position at the Brookings Institute an claims this on his CV). And I still am not entirely sure why. I even live downtown and I rarely go there except to see a show on occasion. Definitely not for any regular shopping. I don't go to Old Town, either, but I think that is more because it seems like a place more geared toward tourists. Regardless, Albuquerque has been down this road so many times with respect to downtown and yet, here we are, STILL trying to get it right. What are we missing? If the City were to take more of a lead, what would that look like and where would the money come from? Tough questions with no easy answer.

 

But a great discussion!

Comment by Phil_0 on April 13, 2011 at 1:24pm

It seems like there are a lot more failures than successes when it comes to permanently closing streets for pedestrian use...Chicago recently returned traffic to a former pedestrian mall in the downtown area, and I know other cities have done the same. Here in NM, Las Cruces has been trying desperately to resuscitate their former "downtown" after essentially killing it with an ill-conceived pedestrian mall project in the 70s.

 

In addition to the necessary elements Jeff points out, it seems like you also need a large enough population of willing walkers in the immediate vicinity to sustain traffic through an area once the loss of traffic flow removes immediate car access. Frankly, I don't think any of Albuquerque's more pedestrian-friendly zones have that kind of foot traffic, even with car access: Nob Hill is reasonably successful as a somewhat walk- and bike-friendly shopping district, but it doesn't exactly see throngs of pedestrians. Same goes for downtown. Shutting down Central in either area would seem much more likely to choke off visits to existing businesses than transform them into some sort of pedestrian-focused mecca. 

 

I would much rather see the city focus on improving things for walkers and cyclists within the existing traffic system - through some of the things Wade mentions - than delve back into (largely failed) 1970s experiments in pedestrian-oriented urbanism...

Comment by Phil_0 on April 13, 2011 at 3:26pm

As far as large, open pedestrian-oriented space goes, Albuquerque may soon have a great opportunity to develop something special downtown. The Railyard property extends from south of Bridge all the way to the edge of the current Alvarado transit building, and includes acres of defunct tracks and former outdoor yards, much of which I imagine will ultimately have to end up as open space.

 

As it is, the Railyard is a little isolated from downtown or major streets, so creating a robust pedestrian corridor that feels safe and really integrates it into the existing downtown fabric will seemingly be a very important component of making the redevelopment project work...it's a huge area and could really be something cool (grower's markets, street food, performance spaces, fairs!) if done right. I'll be excited to see what Samitaur comes up with.

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