Fact Checking

“Overall, this analysis concludes that in the Build Condition, the operational performance at several intersections would be deteriorated [compared with No Build]. Several segments would have diminished operational performance, thereby increasing queuing and congestion along the Central Avenue corridor. This can clearly be attributed to the reduction in capacity of the general purpose lanes along the majority of the corridor.”

– Parsons Brinckerhoff


Fact checked by SAVERT66.ORG

KOB TV’s Nicole Brady Interviews Mayor Berry, others, regarding A.R.T.
Eye On NM: Looks at plans for a Rapid Transit bus line on Central Avenue

Broadcast September 27, 2015
via http://savert66.org/updates/
Bruce Rizzieri
Dayna Crawford
Stuart Dyson

Ms. Brady: Good morning and thank you for joining us today for Eye on New Mexico. We have a number of important topics on tap, starting with something that is going to change a well-known area of Albuquerque. We have told you about Albuquerque’s ambitious plan for a rapid-transit bus line right down the middle of Central Avenue. It’s a $100 million project stretching for about ten miles from Coors on the West Side all the way to Louisiana on the East Side. City officials have applied for a federal grant that would cover $80 million of that, 80 percent of that cost. The City Council of Albuquerque has approved a funded bond package to cover the other $20 million. Construction could start, if that federal grant comes through, pretty soon, and service might begin by the fall of 2017.

There is opposition to the plan, though, and some simply wonder why would we put all these resources toward public transportation when most commuters in Albuquerque use their cars.
So joining me to answer some of those questions today we have Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry.

Mayor Berry: Morning.

Ms. Brady: Thanks for being here, Mr. Mayor, as well as Transit Director, Bruce Rizzieri, and Deputy Director Dayna Crawford. Thank you both of you for being here today.
Let’s get right into what this system will look like, you know, both for the people who use the bus and people who don’t, who just know Central Avenue pretty well. Bruce, let’s start with you, being the Transit Director, what will this look like?

Mr. Rizzieri: This will look very accommodating, very futuristic, ah, the characteristics of a rapid-transit system is take the best elements of a light-rail project and put them on the bus system at a very economic method. The question is economics. Both the light rail and the bus rapid transit are very expensive compared to improving the present under-utilized bus system. Level boarding, doors on both sides of the bus, distinctive branding (looks), distinctive looking vehicle (looks). An announcement system which provides information (can be added to present bus system). And the dedicated lanes (the median and two traffic lanes in the middle of Central), which means which you have more predictable transit travel time (means that there will be no left turns on Central except at certain traffic lights and U-turns at certain lights).
The proposed bus rapid transit system will increase congestion in the Central corridor according to Parsons Brinckerhoff, consultant tasked by the City with looking at the proposal:

We avoid the congestion at intersections. Imagine this intersections: Left turn signal east traffic, right turn signal west traffic, left turn signal north traffic, right turn signal south traffic, U-turn signal east bound, U-turn signal west bound, an east bound BRT bus, a west BRT bound bus (both with traffic light controls), ABQ Ride or Rapid Ride bus in auto traffic lanes, and pedestrian signal lights for crossings in this intersection. This condition will be at every traffic light intersection allowing U-turns on Central. It is hard to imagine that anything can be completed in “30- and 90-second delay” City statement. In addition, with congested and slower traffic, the intersections ahead or the intersections behind will interfere with the coordination and timing of buses, cars, lights, and pedestrians.

And we’re also going to be improving the sidewalks and putting landscaping on the sidewalks to improve the pedestrian environment and the bicycle environment. There is hardly room for bicycles on Central now. With fewer lanes of traffic, dedicated three lanes for the BRT, parking lanes, widened sidewalks… where does the City propose to put this dangerous path for the bicyclists?
Ms. Brady: Yeah, we have some pictures that you saw their briefly, and we can pull those up again, of what this might look like at some intersections along Central, and these are, these are ideas right now, but you can see that station in the middle. So the bus station is in the middle, the bus stop, I should say. The bus lanes on either side, and then car traffic, ah, fills those, those other lanes there.
You know, this is pretty different than what we have now, where the Rapid Ride buses use regular transit lanes. Dayna, is this going to significantly impact the speed of travel along Central, do we think?

Ms. Crawford: Well, part of the idea for the project is to, ah, it’s a transit project while it’s also an economic driver. It has only been an economic driver where a city, like Cleveland, puts up $190 million of city tax payers money to buy the land to start the “economic development”. Recently Nob Hill brought in a national retail, ah, administrator or professional who gave them several ideas as to what would really improve, ah, economic development in their corridor, and included reduced traffic speeds, ah, widen sidewalks, provide better pedestrian services. And then provide an option for people to get down there and, and enjoy the areas. Widening the sidewalks narrows the available space for automobiles and may eliminate the street parking. Reducing traffic speeds would be accomplished with narrower lanes but it also would reduce the traffic into the stores. This example happened on July 17th when the city closed down traffic to a single lane in each direction on Central when preparing for Summerfest. The buses that already exist on this route were running and getting people “down there”. Yes there was slower traffic on the street and in the stores.

The expert did not cover the solution for getting people out of their cars, how to create better pedestrian services, or his expertise on preserving national historical corridors such as RT66. The retail expert is no transportation expert.

Ms. Brady: So really this is a– this potentially reduce speed —

Ms. Crawford: Yes, it does. Slower traffic means less efficient fuel burning which causes pollution, fouled air, and general lack of quality of life at outdoor eating place, in nearby neighborhoods, and for people walking on the streets near this car and air congestion.

Ms. Brady: — and that’s something we want, you’re saying, and it makes it more pedestrian friendly as well as bus rider friendly. The pedestrian and bus rider demand studies have not been shared by the City.
Ms. Crawford: Exactly, exactly. Well, because, service, you’ll be able to count on the service. Rather than a 15-minute-ish window, you’re looking at more of a seven to eight minute. This could also be accomplished on the present system with pay stations and phone apps to check on times. There are transportation analysis software packages (i.e. Transit Labs) to analyze the present transit systems and make them better. Present buses can be outfitted with Wi-Fi to keep patrons up to date on schedule times. There are also automatic vehicle locators or AVLs that can show where buses are at all times. You can go out there. You don’t have to have a schedule. You’ll know that in peak time, every seven to eight minutes, there’ll be a bus going in one direction or the other, so you can count on it to get to work, to get to your health appointments, to get to school, what have you. According to the majority of the 160 retail businesses surveyed by SAVERT66 on Central, there are few or no bus patrons entering their business from buses. I mean, part of our success with the Rapid Ride — it was introduced in 2004 — is it’s just grown phenomenally, and there’s standing room only at this point. The City has not provided bus route numbers or times when this situation occurred. What is preventing transit planners from adding a bus to that route to solve the problem? So it’s an important upgrade for all our services for the citizens of Albuquerque. SAVERT66.ORG agrees that an upgrade would be beneficial and possible, using the present under-utilized bus system.

Ms. Brady: I don’t think you’ll hear too many complaints from the people who use the bus service here, but for all the people who don’t, a lot of them — and some business owners on Central — we’ll get to all the critics and some of the questions there — but Mr. Mayor, what — I mean, why is this important to bring to our city when a lot of people will say, well, I use my car to get around.

Mayor Berry: Sure, well, let’s go back a little ways. When I ran for mayor, I ran against the light-rail system, and I ran against the light-rail system because it was extraordinarily expensive, and as I did my research as a candidate, I couldn’t find the rationale that it was really gonna move the needle for us. It was gonna really be something that would, it would improve transportation and to the economic development for the dollars that were gonna be invested, so when I got elected, we hired some national experts and I asked them a very simple question: what is the next logical step for public transportation, and what could that do for us. The City could have easily used the Innovations in Public Involvement for Transportation Planning published by the U.S. Department of Transportation to help them survey, evaluate and analyze any “transportation problems”.

So this isn’t a romantic notion for me as a mayor, this is simply going to the experts and saying, our city, if we want to progress, if we want to be a forward-thinking city (City plan to improve the present system), and if we want to get transportation to compete with our neighboring cities (the congested and dense Dallas, Houston, Denver, Cleveland, Boston, and San Francisco?) and our neighboring states, what do we need to do? Bus rapid transit came to the forefront, ah, [for?] the experts. “A national retail, ah, administrator or professional” is not a transportation expert.”

We have an interesting situation in Albuquerque where we have almost half of our ridership for our entire transportation system on Central Avenue. That’s why Central makes sense. This begs the question as to what is or should be the proper level of ridership. As an example, the ridership on Central should be even higher and there should be more feeder lanes with higher ridership on the north-south rib routes to Central. The “interesting situation” has nothing to do with actual ridership boarding’s. Information on where people get on and off, how long they ride and their demographics could be used by an analytical tool to evaluate the “interesting situation” and improve the present transit system.

Ms. Brady: Okay.

Mayor Berry: We have about 15,000 people a day, each and every day that ride the Rapid Ride system and the bus system on Central. We’re maxed out. These statements are difficult to analyze without statistics, comparisons, survey data, and sources. “Maxed out” is even more difficult to comprehend when watching Central buses passing by daily with few passengers or bus stops with few riders waiting for a bus. So we think that we can increase the capacity for public transportation, but we also know from studies that have been commissioned on this line that we could add two to three billion dollars, two to three billion dollars in economic opportunity up along this corridor (the Mayor neglects to mention that the other studies were in congested and dense cities who could also afford the additional tax payers money for startup money for economic redevelopment), and if you think about East Central and West Central in particular, aum, they really need some opportunities on both ends of that, of that system, and if we could tie the University together with Presbyterian Hospital, UNM Health Care, ah, Health Sciences Center, all the great assets that are up and down Central Avenue (this tie is already in existence and tied in as outlined in the Journal Business Outlook 10.12.15, pp 10-13, and redeveloped without a BRT), this is why Central make sense. Not, not because I say it makes sense, but because the people that we’ve paid, the experts tell us this is where it needs to be, and this is that next logical step for transportation in Albuquerque. The logic “the experts tell us this is where it needs to be” is because Central/ RT66 is part of the state roadway system. It appears that the transit system “needs” to be on a state highway system to qualify for Federal Transit Administration grant money.

Ms. Brady: Well, I, the, the — you bring up a — two questions I have, one about the businesses that are there on Central already, some of the smaller ones that I’ll get to, but, ah, you know, what about the businesses that are elsewhere in the city? I mean, this, this isn’t going to increase access to this sort of spread-out areas of Albuquerque in any way, and some people have said, well, Albuquerque just is a spread-out city. Ah, will this encourage more development right there on Central, you’re saying, [inaudible] —
Mayor Berry: Well, we, we have an all-things-included, aum, process in my administration for transportation. We just finished Paseo and I-25 that certainly made that intersection safer and created a 5 minute faster route in each direction (channel 7 news). That’s another project that can spur billions of dollars in economic development (quantitative data not provided), and about 20 percent of our work force works in that area of town.

Ms. Brady: [inaudible].

Mayor Berry: We’ve done Lead and Coal Avenue. Few businesses survived there. So this is, this is part of a multimodal system (not mentioned or included in the City’s Comprehensive Plan or Vision). You cannot be a city that’s going to progress and thrive if you don’t have a multimodal transportation system especially if it is not planned for and integrated into the bigger plan for Albuquerque’s future. And sometimes, in America, and in Albuquerque, we’ve always kind of thought of public transportation as a subsidy for the poor. But if you look at cities like Dallas, a very conservative place You look at cities like Phoenix, a very conservative place. They’ve kind of figured out — even Ft. Collins, Colorado, Denver, and other places, — Oklahoma City, places that you would consider to be kind of stalwarts of conservatism, they’ve figured out that public transportation really matters, and if you can put a system in place that will help businesses thrive, help people get where they want to go, you can change the dynamic, and that’s what we’re trying to do with this project. It is not just conservative cities that need businesses to survive and thrive. Conservative is not the issue here, it is congested traffic and dense populations. All cities need to take care of their future and the “Spine that supports the city body”…Albuquerque Journal Business Outlook. In Albuquerque that spine is RT66, Central, and the businesses of RT66. Public transportation really matters and the City needs to do the next logical step, improve the present system before destroying RT66.

Ms. Brady: Among some of the critics have been property owners and people with businesses on Central, some of them saying that they think this would devastate their businesses, as Stuart Dyson found out. We want to hear what they have to say.

Mr. Dyson: It’s because the high-speed buses would run down the middle of Central, taking over what are now left-turn lanes. In effect, taking away 50 percent of the traffic for most businesses along the way. Doug Peterson’s family owns a half-dozen properties on Central.

Mr. Peterson: Half of your, your customer you’ve had today won’t be able to conveniently access you. They’ll have to go to a very ridiculously circuitous route and do U-turns to try to get to you.

Mr. Dyson: Anthony Anellas’s family owns two blocks of Central property.

Mr. Anella: At a time when Albuquerque’s economy is severely stressed, the last thing local businesses need is to be further stressed by the consequences of poor design.

Mr. Dyson: Backers of ART — that stands for Albuquerque Rapid Transit — point to the rapid transit line on Euclid Avenue in Cleveland, where businesses are crowding in and begging for more space. City planners here say if you build it, they will come. With Cleveland tax payer’s money, $190 million, they bought the land to start their business redevelopment.
Ms. Brady: The city had several meetings on this leading up to submitting this application for the federal money, et cetera, just kind of getting the information out there to people. Ah, I assume business owners were part of that. Bruce, what have you been hearing from the public about this?

Mr. Rizzieri: Well, Nicole, we started the public-involvement process back in May of 2012. That included your traditional public meetings. It also included four or five workshops, were partnered with Urban Land Institute, Mid Region Council of Governments, and the Rio Metro Regional Transit District, excluding business stakeholders and Central businesses. And we brought in experts from Ft. Collins and Eugene, Oregon, and Cleveland, and El Paso, and other areas where the trend agency (?) is doing the same type of transformation. Land owners and developers. And we heard the goods and the bads and the challenges. That was part of the educational process. And during that educational process, I think we established a good baseline of knowledge. We also had property owners, business owners say this is a terrible project. And a lot of them, once they had more information, began to say, well, I’m neutral or, yes, I’m for it. Repeating: SAVERT66.ORG has almost 140 Central corridor businesses listed on their web site who are against the BRT system proposed on Central vs 6 who are for it. SAVERT66.ORG has also delivered additional signatures (1000+) on petitions to the FTA, City Councilors, the Mayor, and the NM Congressional delegation.

Any type of project like this is going to have some critics, which is good. We need the public discussion. Where were the public discussions and invitations to Central businesses (addresses available from City business licenses) to discuss this project? I think right now we are at a stage where I would guess 80 percent of the individuals, property owners along Central Avenue, are either neutral or favoring the project. To eliminate the guessing SAVERT66.ORG has identified almost 140 Central area business listed on their web site who are against the BRT system proposed on Central. Not listed are the 6 who have been identified as being in favor of the BRT. 95% of the contacted business in the Central corridor are against it. Not because it’s just — not because it’s a transit project — transit’s one of those elements. But they want to see the sidewalk improvement (replacement of old sidewalks is necessary). They [want to get?] landscape [and on the?] sidewalk where the customer want to walk (landscaping also eliminates walking space), where the customer want outside café tables (right next to congested streets). They want to see slower speeds on Central Avenue so that people can see their businesses (better seen when walking after parking). “Oh, I haven’t seen that before, I want to go over there.” And we’re improving in the lighting (fixing it first would help). It’s a complete package from building front to building front. It’s a plan that does not match the main complaints of businesses on Central. Number 1 complaint… there is not enough parking. Number 2 complaint… if you want us to ride the bus, where do I park my car? Number 3 complaint… the no left turns will kill our business traffic. Number 4 complaint… who is going to replace half of our lost income during construction. Number 5 complaint… we get little or no bus business patron traffic now. ART is going to help who? It’s a type of project we haven’t seen in Albuquerque in 40 years.

Repeating: As traffic slows down it creates resistance for other traffic to reach its destination thus moving traffic to another destination requiring less effort. The second consequence creates less customer traffic to the businesses on Central. A transit system and wider sidewalks take up more space and restricts the vital flow of blood (customers) to the Central spine known at RT66. Slower traffic means less efficient fuel burning which causes pollution, fouled air, and general lack of quality of life at outdoor eating place, in nearby neighborhoods, and for people walking on the streets near this car and air congestion.
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Ms. Brady: Good point. One of the criticisms I’ve heard, Dayna, from businesses is that, that turn lanes will be different. I mean, I don’t know if you can turn in front of the bus lanes then turn left, so is the access to businesses part of a concern here?

Ms. Crawford: It’s a different — it is different model, without a doubt, but it’s called a protected U-turn, so you’ll actually have a signal at the intersection that provides you with a safe, complete U-turn, rather than, you know, having to, to jockey with traffic and watching to make sure that, you know, somebody’s not coming — it’s protected and you can go [back?].
What we’ve — we’ve done some research and with all of the, ah, instances where people feel like they’re perhaps losing some of the direct access they’re used to, what we’re talking about is a 30- and 90-second delay. Because we have a place for people to turn about every quarter to half mile. Okay. What approach does the City use to calculate delay times at these intersections, when dealing with left turn signal east traffic, right turn signal west traffic, left turn signal north traffic, right turn signal south traffic, U-turn signal east bound, U-turn signal west bound, an east bound BRT bus, a west BRT bound bus (both with traffic light controls), the remaining City bus line crossings/stops, times to load the BRT buses, and pedestrian signal lights for crossings in this intersection? This condition will be at every traffic light intersection allowing U-turns on Central. It is hard to imagine that anything can be completed in “30- and 90-second delay” when the next intersection or the past intersection has to coordinate changing traffic and congestion levels as well.

Ms. Brady: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about what, what this looks like, Mr. Mayor. You, ah, you said, you know, that the development, ah, was — you know, some, some of the ideas are just making Central a more vibrant place,

Mayor Berry: Yeah —

Ms. Brady: That, that [adverse?] was saying, too.

Mayor Berry: This is a disruptive project,

Ms. Brady: Yeah.

Mayor Berry: — and any time you have a disruptive project, you have concerns. If we didn’t have concerns from businesses, number one, that would be unusual. Every city has them when we look at these projects. These folks, I’ve asked them to bend over backwards to work with the business owners, but the fact is, it’s still disruptive. When we did Paseo del Norte, it was disruptive. We did Lead and Coal, it’s disruptive. But we think that the net overall gain for the community moving forward is well worth it, including for these businesses. This is an assumption by the City, not backed up by any businesses we have talked to. Does the City have a list of the businesses impacted by the Paseo or Lead/Coal projects willing to testify to this assumption? Where is the written plan and City set aside money to compensate failed businesses and business revenue losses?
We, we just commissioned a $50,000 study that was not taxpayer funded, it was actually funded by a group called Living Cities that’s working with my administration on lots of different, and they tell us there’s two to three billion dollars (no quantifiable data offered). What does that look like? Well, it’s probably gonna look a lot like denser residential construction up and down Central Avenue because there’s gonna be a connecter between the University and the hospitals, and between east and west. This is already in existence and working according to the Business Outlook. It will incentivize and of course we’re doing some other things with zoning changes for parking that are gonna be integral to this. It can’t be just the bus line itself. It’s not the — it’s not the magic bullet by itself, you have to change zoning and things like this, that’ll reduce parking, parking that is already inadequate now… complaint Number 1. How about “How does the city plan to accommodate visitors to Route 66 Businesses that arrive by car, given the reduced traffic flow caused by the elimination of lanes? Parking is essential to business and increased parking will be necessary around shopping districts such as Nob Hill”. All these business owners, we may go to them and say, listen, we’re not gonna make you put acres and acres of parking any more, you can do a market-driven solution. The City hasn’t gone to at least 140+ businesses on Central and the City is certainly not listening to the businesses. His remarks are disingenuous at best.
We think that’s gonna help, and we’re also gonna put workshops together to help businesses that are existing, that are struggling today, that a project like this may, may really cause some harm to, we’re gonna try to help, ah, thrive as best that we can. Warning, Central Businesses, danger and destruction ahead. Market-driven solution… is going to harm you.
But we think it’s gonna first be a residential build out. Aum, think about apartment complexes. Think about denser condominiums, residential construction. Then most developers will tell you that when you have the roof tops, then you need the coffee shops, then you need the dry cleaners, then you need — then people are gonna walk to Walgreens versus drive to Walgreens, et cetera. Developers? Where are the private developers in the City Comprehensive Plan? Who has voted for this plan? Where is this residential density plan in the City Comprehensive Plan? So this has been well planned out (for the developers?). It’s been worked out in many, many cities before Albuquerque. It’s worked very, very well in other country — and that’s why we kind of settled on what I would consider very pragmatic thing to do, but let’s make no mistake, this is disruptive. We take these concerns of these business owners very, very seriously, and, ah, we’re gonna work with them to, to make sure that they can succeed through this process –None of the businesses SAVERT66 has spoken with have been given written concrete plans from the City in regards to how businesses will be financially helped through this disruptive path planned by the City.

Ms. Brady: And —

Mayor Berry: — as best we can.

Ms. Brady: What is the time line we’re looking at, because, as I mentioned, the idea was that this could be running by the fall of 2017, but would it be finished by then, I mean —

Mayor Berry: [inaudible].

Ms. Brady: — it would be — are we talking years of construction here?

Mayor Berry: Well, one of the things that we’re doing is, I’m a contractor by trade, as you know, and we’re, we’re going to a construction manager, ah, construction management risk contract, if you’ll call it that. So we’re gonna bring in the contractors earlier, aum, than just waiting til the design’s completely done. We’re gonna ask the contractors, and we’re gonna have some demands in the contract that you can’t be in front of businesses for longer than a certain amount of time. Weeks in front of businesses, not months in front of businesses. The City time frames mentioned for ART construction will take two years to do 10 miles from Louisiana to Coors. Lead and Coal took 2 years (for a 6 month plan) on the 5 mile Lead and Coal corridor, I-25 to Washington SE. The math for ART construction is more like 4-6 years.

Ms. Brady: Okay.

Mayor Berry: Now, we’ll have some of these stops that take a little bit longer, but we’re gonna do everything we can to make sure that we’re being the least disruptive, and we’re always gonna keep — there will always be lanes open on Central. The way we’re designing this project, Central will never be blocked off, it’ll never be shut down, there’ll at least be one lane in each direction at all times so people can get to these businesses. Congestion from construction for 4+ years. How many business failures? How many more unemployed in Albuquerque? Where are the City business impact studies for the planned ART construction?
Ah, the contractor in me wants to make sure this thing goes well. But once again — and, and the other reason I’m doing this now is because, as you know, I self term limited Ah, there’s no term limitation for mayor in Albuquerque, but I’ve self term limited. We want the next mayor to succeed. We want whoever he or she is — we want them to make sure that they can launch off of things that we’ve done, and really continue to move the city forward. (It will be the new Mayor who failed to do their best in finishing/implementing the ART plan and that’s why everything is going wrong. If the Mayor thinks this is such a good plan, why is he self term limiting himself?) I’m willing to take some heat the last couple of years of my time as mayor back, you know, [well?], people — this will be a project that will generate some of that, because we think it’s the right thing to, and all these businesses and all these mom and pops that are up and down Central, we just “think” in the long run, and it may take several years (of failed businesses, higher unemployment, depressed tourism, lower tax revenue for the city, higher taxes, higher levels of pollution, and congested traffic) to get that going, it’s gonna be the best thing for the city so that the next mayor doesn’t have to take the brunt of this, that they can take this — and there’s gonna be bus rapid transit and then next from the Airport to the Health Sciences Center, east side, west side, this is gonna be all over Albuquerque in ten to fifteen years.
Ms. Brady: Before I let Bruce and Dayna go, I did want to ask them, too, what, what does this mean for your department? Is this the new focus of transit in Albuquerque or — you know, many people watching may take the buses in other parts of town and wonder what’s gonna happen to those lines? Are, are you going to spend all your money on this? Lose, lose funding for that? How’s the equipment gonna be shifted?

Mr. Rizzieri: Nichol?

Ms. Brady: Yeah?

Mr. Rizzieri: There’s roughly 35 routes which intersect with Central Avenue going north-south.

Ms. Brady: Um-hmm?

Mr. Rizzieri: Improvements on Central mean shorter transfer times for those routes. This is an evolution for transit in Albuquerque, but we’re not just concentrating on Central Avenue. Over the past six years we’ve made improvements to routes in the Northwest, in the Northeast, and in the Southwest. So this is part of a building block for a better transit system in the future, but it’s also the spine, as the mayor said, 45 percent, 50 percent of ridership comes from Central, so if Central’s not working, we’re in trouble. Central works well, other routes are gonna get benefit from that, and then we can build off of that and start improving them a little bit better. Improving any system; transit, health, taxes, or police requires collaboration, integration of many planning parts, input of stakeholders, and a community desire to implement the changes. Fixing one street without a plan for the rest of the streets is putting the bus before the betterment of Albuquerque.

Ms. Brady: All right. Ah, well, thank you guys so much for —

Mr. Rizzieri: Thank you.

Ms. Brady: — for explaining this to our viewers today.
We’re gonna stay and talk with the mayor a little bit more about some other sort of out-of-the-box ideas, things you might not have expected of his administration, but I want to thank Dayna Crawford and Bruce Rizzieri for talking to us about ART or BRT, some people call it Rapid Transit, and we’ll be right back.
[@~16: 40, the chat continues with Mayor Berry is about making the city “age friendly”, SunVan]
Mayor Berry: [@ 18:10] so as I talk about an all-inclusive transportation system, it really does include our seniors as well. How many 65+ seniors ride the bus? And this Bus Rapid Transit, this ART line that we’re [bringing in?], really has that predictability that all the seniors want as well. So we [inaudible] – What ridership survey or source supports this statement?
The short, the short story is, we want to make sure that seniors feel like Albuquerque is the very best place for them to be. [continues along this line: senior centers, meals programs, more advanced than other cities our size in taking care of seniors, social connectivity, reasons to get up in the morning, doubling paramedic units. Keeping millennials in town, listening to learn how to lead, industry-taught curricula. Don’t give to panhandlers, give to agencies. Helping homeless find homes/jobs. ]


Letter from A.R.T. to area businesses and Save Rt 66’s Response (click to read)
 
Letter from A.R.T. 11/08/15 Response from Save Rt 66

 
 

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October 22, 2015; Fact Checking a Recent Newspaper Article about Albuquerque Rapid Transit

ABQ RIDE fact checked this article about Albuquerque Rapid Transit in a local paper. We are addressing some of discrepancies or facts it left out.
SAVERT66.ORG, fact checked the City’s ABQ RIDE fact checking of a recent newspaper article in the ABQ FREE PRESS about Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART or BRT).
https://www.cabq.gov/transit/news/fact-checking-a-recent-newspaper-article-about-albuquerque-rapid-transit.
We are addressing some of the discrepancies or facts the City’s ABQ RIDE left out. SAVERT66.ORG is not against public transit. We are against this transit system, this wrong solution looking for a problem, on America’s Highway, RT66.

Berry’s Bus Rapid Transit: Boon or Boondoggle?

(Abq Ride Responses in black bold italics)
(SAVERT66.ORG responses in red)

It’s Mayor Richard Berry’s $100 million gamble – a bet he wants to make with taxpayers’ money to upgrade a mode of transportation that almost no one uses. The use of the term “almost no one uses” isn’t accurate. Since FY12, ABQ RIDE has consistently recorded in the neighborhood of 13 million passenger boardings a year.
This is the equivalent of every man, woman, and child in Albuquerque boarding a bus approximately 23 times a year on average since FY12. Interesting.

It’s called Bus Rapid Transit, and Berry wants to spend $10 million a mile to carve out dedicated bus lanes and bus stations, color-splashed, tent-like awnings, plus 8, 50-passenger buses that sort of look like trains along a 10-mile-long stretch of Central Avenue.(from Louisiana to Coors).

To its supporters, BRT will revive Albuquerque’s stagnant, federally dependent economy, lead to redevelopment along Central, and transform Albuquerque into a hip, happening city that attracts businesses and millennials. This federally dependent economy could get another $80 million of federal money for this BRT installation, plus additional Albuquerque taxpayer’s money for any overrides, mistakes, or replacing City revenue losses.

To its critics, Berry’s plan is a waste of money that will destroy small businesses along Central, make the already traffic-congested street more so, and do nothing to build a thriving, private-sector economy while replacing an existing system – Rapid Ride – that works perfectly well. The Rapid Rides have operated efficiently in transporting riders on Central Ave., However, they can get stuck in traffic during key, rush hour periods. This getting stuck happens during rush hours regardless and will be even worse with congestion surrounding planned U-turn intersections.Albuquerque Rapid Transit would be timelier in serving passengers’ needs. This statement is an assumption not demonstrated with evidence. The evidence provided by the Brookings Institute indicates a 14 minute wait in any rush hour transit vehicle in Albuquerque. As for whether such a system can building a “thriving, private sector economy,” we use the example for Fort Collins, CO, which opened its five-mile version of Bus Rapid Transit in May, 2014. It is already producing $148-million in development. (see later fact check on this misdirected “development” information) along its route. (fcgov.com/maxconstructionfcgov.com/mason)

The important missing information is that these bus system are never installed to run on a main corridor such as Central Avenue, except in congested and dense CITIES. The Ft. Collins system is one block off a main corridor, S. College Ave. Central is already heavily commercialized and has many major institutions and attractions. A different route like the one in Ft. Collins might be compared to putting such transit on Silver SE or Campus/Copper NE, a proposal not supported in any neighborhood.

One of the proposal’s critics said it’s a smoke-and-mirrors attempt by Berry to draw attention away from his lack of a track record in economic development in his six-and-a-half years in office. Support of the proposal appears to be lukewarm.SAVERT66 has almost 120 business in the Central corridor and many neighborhoods who are against it listed on SAVERT66.ORG web site home page. Over 1000 individuals have sent postcards to the Federal Transit Administration stating their opposition. Many copies of these same postcards have been delivered to City Council, the Mayor, and the Congressional delegation.Several city councilors who have bought into the idea said they are concerned about its cost and its potential to drive small businesses away from Central. Yet, City Councilors agreed to issue $13 million dollars of gross receipts tax revenue bonds for this project.

So why, are the Councilors for this transit system, and where is the data to support it? SAVERT66 has identified 6 businesses on Central who were contacted by City staff and who indicated their support for ART. SAVERT66 has talked to more than 120 businesses from Louisiana to Coors who were not asked for their input and have added their business, as against ART, on the home page of SAVERT66.ORG.

How we get to work

Workers 16 and over 311,764
Car, truck, van – solo 247,898/ 79.5 percent
Carpooled, 29,838/ 9.6 percent
Public transp. 5,018/ 1.6 percent
Walked 6,393/ 2 percent
Other means 10,272/ 3.3 percent
Worked at home 12,345/ 4 percent
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Commuting Habits in the First Congressional District.

What this statistic doesn’t tell you is that the First Congressional District isn’t just Albuquerque. It also includes rural Torrance County, plus parts of rural Santa Fe, Sandoval (including Rio Rancho) and Valencia Counties. Only a few buses operate in those areas. When you use the U.S. Census’ own census tract and census block group levels between Tramway and the Rio Grande, the figure of people using public transportation in Albuquerque is between 5-9 %. Translation: 91-95% of everyone else doesn’t ride the buses in those areas. That’s quite a difference. Also, the Census data used in this article neither provides the year this survey was published, nor the year that this information was gathered. That has a big effect on the “statistics” cited. The question is, what are the City’s statistics/data that they are not sharing? Apparently the City has no comparative information and chooses to be critical instead of helpful. The Census Bureau starts with a census base line in 2010 and normally does annual updates published on line.

Berry is betting on a form of transit that almost no one uses. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 1.6 percent of people over the age of 16 in the First Congressional District now use public transportation to get to their jobs. Seventy-nine percent take cars or trucks to work. Since FY12, ABQ RIDE has consistently recorded in the neighborhood of 13 million passenger boardings a year. Even the Brookings Institute, a Washington, D.C. public policy organization has ranked Albuquerque among the top ten cities in the nation the past few years when it comes to connecting workers to jobs using public transportation. The Brookings Institute data published on line indicates a 73% coverage share of working-age residents near a transit stop and a 14 minute wait in any rush hour transit vehicle. http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Series/jobs-and-transit/AlbuquerqueNM.PDF . Census data further reports that of everyone who is employed in this area, only 1.6% of employed people take the bus.

Berry’s idea involves about $20 million in local tax money and $80 million in federal money and has yet to be approved by the Federal Transportation Administration. The BRT would basically run train-like, rubber-wheeled buses down the two middle lanes of Central from Louisiana on the east to Coors on the west. Albuquerque just submitted its application to the Federal Transit Administration for funding. Among the information the application had to provide: a Ridership Forecast, Financial Plan, Traffic Analysis and Compatibility with Land Use Regulations. Unfortunately, the City of Albuquerque did not do an economic impact study, did not survey Central businesses, did not survey Albuquerque residents, did not consult the Tourist industry, did not evaluate the loss of our RT66 cultural history or heritage, and certainly did not engage in “thinking before you leap” processes.

The street’s medians would be turned into bus stations every mile or so, and those two center lanes would be for buses only, meaning that for most of that stretch, auto traffic would be reduced to one lane in each direction. The plan also calls for widening sidewalks and improving landscaping along the 10-mile stretch.Some stretches of Central will have different median configurations. Some areas will have two lanes of traffic in each direction. Other sections of the proposed ART route will have a bi-directional guideway to allow for two lanes in each direction.Not mentioned here is that there will be no left turns in either direction except at intersections with lights where U-turns may be available also. All of this came to be through neighborhood and business input (SAVERT66 has identified 6 businesses that the City staff talked to and almost 120 businesses from Louisiana to Coors (see homepage of SAVERT66.ORG for names of businesses) who were not given the opportunity to give input) along different stretches of Central Avenue.

The BRT buses themselves would run from Tramway on the east to Atrisco on the west, but it’s that 10-mile length of dedicated bus lanes and stations in the middle of the street that has many business owners along the route fuming. The dedicated lanes will reduce auto traffic, eliminate many left-hand-turn lanes which provide access to side streets and their businesses, and reduce or eliminate parking on Central, critics argue. ART buses will run from Tramway on the east to Central and Unser on the west. We have met and continue to reach out to business owners along Central(leaving out almost 120 businesses unmet by the City and identified so far, as against this plan, on home page of SAVERT66.ORG).Many of those businesses (15?)have written letters of support for ABQ RIDE’s application for funding to the Federal Government. Most of the intersections will have protected left hand turns and protected U-turns. Plans also include protected pedestrian crossings(present crosswalks, additional, or only at traffic lights?),making Central safer for pedestrians. These are the same intersections where U-turns will be allowed, thus confusing the issue of safety for pedestrians.

Supporters say it will make Central more pedestrian-friendly and be a magnet for people who don’t want to use cars to get around. It will also spur economic development along the route and in Downtown Albuquerque, they say. Pedestrian-friendly comes with pedestrians who were able to find parking, parking not supported by new IDO zoning plans to be less strict on parking requirements. This scenario enhances traffic congestion, supports bad mixes of businesses and restaurants on Central and could create the new Coors restaurant corridor, i.e. the Central restaurant corridor. Present restaurants might not like new restaurants encroaching on their very limited parking and present businesses might not like less business with even less parking available from all the added parking competition. This does not create a magnet for mass transit or travel to an area unavailable to customers or tourists. Supporters are not thinking about the congestion and pollution level increases due to buses taking up 30-50% of the auto travel space now available on RT66. Additionally, the economic development comes at the expense of the business failures on Central, i.e. like in Denver and on the Lead and Coal rebuild in Albuquerque. Or the development comes from taxpayer’s pockets (more gross receipts taxes to give to developers, like in the Cleveland example, where Cleveland purchased $190 million of land for the developers, as cited by the Albuquerque City planners).

“My one and only concern is that we protect accessibility to businesses and make sure it is very smooth and efficient while maintaining, wherever possible, on-street parking,” said City Councilor Isaac Benton, who concedes he has concerns the project will interrupt the spate of recent redevelopment projects along Central between Downtown and Old Town. City Council appears to only see a small portion of the big picture they need to be concerned about. To make it clear, SAVERT66 is concerned about the City of Albuquerque, RT66, improving present public transportation and the consequences of disrupting an already shaky economy. There is no economic sense in increasing unemployment, decreasing gross receipt revenue, and killing tourism in Albuquerque.
Real estate broker Todd Clarke of New Mexico Apartment Advisors, Inc., said he believes BRT will attract millennials to the area. Beliefs are not evidence and should be addressed as opinion until determined otherwise.

“You need a transit system that really appeals to white-collar workers; the Central bus is not exactly a white-collar crowd,” Clarke said. “What we have learned with the Cleveland BRT is that you need to have something that feels more like a train.” And just like a train, it does not travel down the main street of a city. In addition, the Cleveland BRT does not run on the main street of Cleveland as the City of Albuquerque is proposing to do on Central (RT66).

City Councilor Rey Garduño said Central is a commercial, and not an automobile, corridor, and that if motorists want better traffic flow they should drive other east-west streets.
“Some people are concerned about vehicular traffic, but Central was never built for that reason. We have Gibson, Menaul and Lomas [for people who want to drive 35 mph or faster],” Garduño said. Central is RT66. This is “America’s Highway”. This is the road traveled by all the people escaping the dust bowls, leaving the Great Depression behind, and moving the military effort in the Pacific theatre in World War II. RT66 moved the most people in U.S. history to the west and is the most traveled automobile corridor in American history. This is not about traffic flow, this is about history and heritage that needs to be saved, preserved, and honored. Ask any tourist. Ask any citizen of Albuquerque before you make decisions that can destroy RT66.

In 2008, the World Monuments Fund listed Route 66 on the “Watch List of 100 Most Endangered Sites”.

A boondoggle?

Among the BRT’s detractors, none is as vocal as Greg Payne, a former city councilor who served as the city’s transit director from 2005 through 2009. “It’s an absolute boondoggle and a rip-off of taxpayer money,” Payne said.

“I think most people would rather see us focus on getting the economy back on track, and getting the Albuquerque Police Department back on track,” Payne …served as transit director under then-Mayor Marty Chavez. When Berry ran against Chavez in 2009, Berry opposed Chavez’s plans to build a light rail system in the city. BRT isn’t far away from light rail, and has a similar price tag, Payne said. Approximately $100 million for the proposed Albuquerque Rapid Transit project compared to an estimated cost of $224 million for a street car project. Albuquerque Rapid Transit will be more effective and cost pennies on the dollar compared to light rail. $224 million is too much and so is $100 million. This misdirected point of cost comparison doesn’t address another transit solution , which costs even less. The answer is improving the present system for much less than the $13 million the City Council voted to put in a bond package to match federal grant money for ART.

“It’s the political hypocrisy of R.J. Berry demonizing light rail and modern streetcars and turning around with a proposal that is every bit as expensive and less effective,” Payne said. He added that Berry’s proposal is like “Rapid Ride on crack.”
Doug Peterson is the principal of Peterson Properties in Albuquerque. The firm owns 15 properties on Central from 102nd Street on the West Side to San Pedro in the mid-Heights. He opposes the BRT on grounds it will eliminate the ability of cars to make left-hand turns and reduce access to as many as 140 properties along the route.Along the Albuquerque Rapid Transit route, there are not only signalized left hand turns, but also signalized U-turns every ¼ to ½ mile along the route. A signalized U-turn will only delay travel time by anywhere from 30-90 seconds.This is only the U-turn traffic, then there’s the straight ahead east/west traffic, then there’s the turning east/west traffic to north/south directions, then there’s the north/south traffic straight ahead traffic, and then there’s the north/south turning traffic to east/west bound directions, and then there are the buses going in both directions, east/west, and this is just at one intersection. When do pedestrians get to go across the street or get on the buses? What about the backed up traffic congestion and the slowed down intersection congested traffic at the other intersections? What about the traffic that misses their turn and has to drive back and forth because of no left turns? and …. Who really pays for this traffic system besides the drivers/pedestrians who have to endure it? Sounds like a great economic plan for business failure. Great payment plan.

“This design drastically reduces the number of customers visiting the affected properties, as customers will likely avoid driving on Central altogether or, if they do drive on Central, they will simply choose a different business to satisfy their need as opposed to taking a ridiculously circuitous route,” said Peterson, who served for six years on the Albuquerque Environmental Planning Commission. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and others have studied the impacts of similar projects on businesses and safety. Some of the important results of this research are:

• The vast majority of businesses have as much (or more) business after projects that reduced left-turn access; the no left hand turns in Downtown Albuquerque started in 1988 has made daylight downtown a ghost town and turned it into another restaurant corridor. How many retail stores are on downtown Central?
• Customers do not have a problem making U-turns to access a business; Translation: This assumes customers will be attracted to a business in a very congested area where cars are looking for a parking place. Like water when it meets resistance, flows elsewhere. Imagine what customers and tourists will do when faced with resistance.
• Left-turn restrictions do not significantly impact property values It is not property values that concern businesses, it’s the lack of customers and the increased congestion that leads to even fewer customers, leading to business failure.(http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/amprimer/access_mgmt_primer.htm.)

“The city has sparse credibility when it comes to telling us that a major initiative will increase private development,” he said. “I’ve read every sector plan, corridor plan and overlay zone the city’s created. All but a handful have failed to benefit the areas they cover, and nearly everyone stated that it would spur development. ABQ RIDE doesn’t develop sector plans or overlay zones.This indicates, just as City Councilors only see a part of the puzzle, that there is no concerns about the linkage pieces, no planning for the interactions, and no awareness of the big picture. The old adage of “measure twice before you cut” is an important tool. To this concern about benefits, SAVERT66 would be interested in the City survey of bus riders who frequent businesses on Central or a City study of businesses about bus rider patrons.However, we have improved ridership along Central Avenue with the introduction of the Rapid Ride service, and we believe(beliefs without evidence is again just an opinion),that transit will again be improved with the ART service (at what cost to present businesses on Central and to Albuquerque taxpayers as a whole?).As far as development, there are numerous cities that have seen development increase in conjunction with a Bus Rapid Transit system. For instance, in a 2013 report on transit-oriented development, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) concluded that per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, Bus Rapid Transit leverages more transit-oriented development investment than Light Rail or streetcars (Misdirected comparison having nothing to do with Albuquerque).As for potential for transit-oriented development, a city like Eugene, Oregon (roughly a third the size of Albuquerque) is listed as having $100 million worth of transit-oriented development since the opening of its EmX (Emerald Express) BRT system in 2007. Central Avenue is already commercialized. Streets off of a main street are the areas available for development. Size and population is not a criteria for a BRT. The criteria for a BRT is a city with congestion and density and parallel street availability.

Development comes with city, state, and federal dollars in most of this “development”, i.e. City of Cleveland spent $190 million on land purchases on Euclid, the BRT corridor, to start the “development”. (http://media.metro.net/projects_studies/tod/images/IDTP%20%E2%80%93%20More%20Development%20for%20your%20Transit%20Dollar.pdf)

“To verify that (The City of Albuquerque has sparse credibility),spend some time on the city’s website reading such duds as the East Gateway Sector Development Plan, the North Fourth Street Rank III Corridor Plan, or the South Yale Sector Development Plan and reflect upon the empty promises in their opening pages.”
Randal O’Toole is a transportation expert with the Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank. He said Berry’s BRT proposal is a mistake for several reasons – one of them being the city’s suburban, spread-out nature.
• “Transit will never be important in Albuquerque because Albuquerque jobs and residences are too spread out,” O’Toole said. “Cities with high transit usage, such as New York and Chicago, have hundreds of thousands of Downtown jobs. But only about 44,000 jobs are located in Downtown Albuquerque and the rest are so finely distributed that transit is not a viable option for most people.” Central Avenue is not a suburban spread-out development. It has a complete, corridor development project with improvements for traffic, wide sidewalks for pedestrians, improved lighting, etc. Translation: Yes, and? The answer is on the UPDATE page of the SaveRT66.org website. Deconstructing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) video. This video not only answers the transit issues but defines the answers to the history of transit in the world, the U.S., and Albuquerque. It also includes economic development scenarios and intelligent city planning for the future.

Duplicative?? The City is going to continue one of the present bus systems in the auto traffic lanes in addition to the BRT system. What is the additional level of congestion in the traffic impact study?

The question that many ask is why BRT is needed along Central when the city’s Rapid Ride buses do the same thing – provide an express-like service with fewer stops and increased frequency than regular buses.

The three Rapid Ride routes, two of which run mostly on Central, leave every 11 to 15 minutes and stop about every mile or so at dedicated stations. They now account for 3.4 million boardings a year or 50 percent of all the bus boardings on Central, according to ABQ Ride figures.

BRT buses would be about the same size as the articulated, 60-foot-long Rapid Ride buses, but they would run every seven-and-a-half minutes, said ABQ Ride spokesman Rick DeReyes.
“More buses will not revitalize Central. It’s already the one area in town that has the highest level of bus service,” Payne said. “If Central was going to be revitalized, it would have happened with Rapid Ride.” ART is more than just improving bus service. It is also about assisting in corridor development. In Nob Hill, an independent study by Detroit-based Gibbs Planning Group (along with the Urban Planning Institute) concluded that to improve business in Nob Hill, several things had to occur. Looking at the Planning Group work history, it is not apparent they have planning experience pertaining to historical roads such as RT66. We saw no corridor work experience in their home city of Detroit (a city losing population and business at a rapid rate). Their suggestions are suspect when…They included, among other things: slowing traffic on Central through Nob Hill to 25 mph, wider sidewalks, more pedestrian crossings, more traffic lights, reduce traffic to one lane each way and encourage more high density housing. These are all hallmarks of Albuquerque Rapid Transit’s plan for the area.Hallmarks that all can be addressed with the businesses and the present transit system on RT66 first: with a visit or a survey or an open invitation (use City Business License database) to work on solutions, not destructions of business and RT66.

Councilors Garduño and Benton argue that BRT, with its dedicated lanes and pre-boarding ticket purchases, will shave several minutes off the run times and get riders to their destinations along Central more quickly. If times are an issue, many have suggested it could be solved on the present system with advanced pay stations. Payne isn’t sure why Berry decided to pursue BRT, especially when he campaigned against mass transit in 2009. Mayor Berry pursued Bus Rapid Transit because it was the most cost-effective way of creating a timelier service along the city’s most utilized transportation corridor. The Mayor has stated often in the past that if a streetcar or light rail or another option had been the most cost effective, he would have pursued that system for Central Avenue. Compared to costs for a light rail system, ART costs pennies on the dollar. Cost and cost comparisons are not the issue and BRT is not the issue. The issue is improving the present transit system, creating parking which gets people out of their cars to walk to entertainment, to shop, and to eat; thus improving the revenue, the businesses, and city gross receipts and improving the quality of life for the patrons, the tourists and citizens of Albuquerque.

“He [Berry] has been here for seven years and we’ve had dwindling population (like Detroit), a sinking economy (like Detroit) and the worst police department in the nation for excessive-force lawsuits,” Payne said. “Having failed in every other area, he feels like he needs to fail in this one.” Listening to a Detroit consultant is like the blind leading the blind. The Mayor has problems with the police department, the planning department, and the transit department. The mayor has problems listening to the people of Albuquerque, he listens to experts who don’t live here, and he’s asking the wrong questions. There are so many people in Albuquerque that have years of experience, knowledge, and business know how, and are great problem solvers. The question is, why is this immense pool of talent being ignored and left out of the process?

SAVERT66.ORG is not against public transit. We are against this transit system, this wrong solution looking for a problem, on America’s Highway, RT66.