Creating Safer Streets in New Mexico’s Largest City

  • Author: Laurel Schwartz
  • Date: March 26, 2024

This multi-use trail project, funded by a Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) Grant, is designed to reinvigorate New Mexico’s largest city’s downtown while creating safer streets, a more environmentally sustainable environment, and improved quality of life.

In 2000, Albuquerque set a goal of making Downtown Albuquerque the best mid-sized downtown in America by 2025. Their $11.47 million RAISE grant is designed to help make that a reality. It’s needed, too: this city of 561,000 people has a poverty rate 30% above the national average.

Advancing City Goals

Downtown Albuquerque has a high rate of cyclist injuries and fatalities. Between 2015-2019, 59 cyclists were injured and six died from collisions that occurred within 800 feet of the proposed Rail Trail route. During the same period, also within 800 feet of the proposed route, 65 pedestrians were injured and four died from vehicular collisions.

By installing protected a bike and pedestrian path, it’s estimated that the Rail Trail will create as many as 570,000 new cycling trips each year. This has the potential to add up to almost 100,000 miles travelled annually.

Safe, active transit options wouldn’t just be a quality life improvement for this community. While 87% of households across Albuquerque own car, residents around the proposed Rail Trail tend to rely more heavily on other methods of transportation. In some neighborhoods along the route, as low as 62% of households have a single-occupancy vehicle.

Long Time Coming

Albuquerque’s railroad arrived in the 1880s, establishing the neighborhood now known as Downtown. In the early 20th century, the rail yard servicing the steam engines employed as much as 25% of the city’s workforce. But as the nation’s road system grew and diesel engines replaced the old steam ones, railroad jobs disappeared. Large empty yards, rails, and soil contamination were all that was left behind.

Since the rail yards ceased operation in 1977, there has been some limited development in the area. In 2007 the City of Albuquerque purchased the yards with the support of the State of New Mexico. After removing 11,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil and making costly repairs, the space now houses a museum and film studio, is rented for private events, and hosts a weekly farmer’s market. In 2021, development began on a walking path from the rail yards to Downtown, complete with landscaping and benches.

Community Engagement

The walking path from the rail yard to downtown is the base for what will be the Rail Trail. The Metropolitan Redevelopment Agency (MRA) convened a committee comprised of property and business owners along the proposed trail, neighborhood representatives, and crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) consultants.

In June 2021, the MRA hosted an open house to solicit community input about proposed designs, which attracted 115 attendees. In August 2021, they mailed a survey written in English and Spanish to over 4,000 homes and businesses around the Rail Trail and publicized it on social media and list serves. MRA received 455 responses, 55% of which came from residents who lived along the proposed Rail Trail.

In December 2021, the team released a draft of the Rail Trail plan for public comment and received 114 comments. They published a second survey, in which 92% of respondents stated their support for the Rail Trail as “high” or “very high”.

The Rail Trail is designed to connect to the Alvarado Transit Station, which has 24 local fixed bus routes, and regional commuter connections. Along the trail itself, MRA plans to install solar powered lights, cameras, and audio safety monitors. The Rail Trail will also have art instillations, free Wi-Fi access, parks, and plazas. The project is expected to be completed in June 2026.


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