ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – Billy Cruse loves to rest at Bike In Coffee.
He usually rides with a large group, often other members of Duke City Cruisers who want to grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat or just put their feet up at the small Albuquerque business.
“You can come and sit and chit chat with your friends,” Cruse said.
But one summer day last year the group found a locked metal gate on the backside of the property where the riders enter from the bike path.
“We kind of thought they were closed,” Cruse said.
The bike group, along with the Bike In Coffee owners, Linda Thorne and Lanny Tonning, learned the Middle Rio Grande Conservancy District owns the metal gate. It’s stayed open for crews to clean out irrigation ditches.
But the Department of Transportation is responsible for access.
Timothy Parker, a DOT District Three engineer, said access from private property to the bike path is not allowed because it’s on federal right-of-way, next to Interstate 40. So the department locked the gate.
“The state of New Mexico receives 80 percent of (its) funding from federal aid money, so we follow federal rules,” Parker said.
DOT says there’s also a safety concern with bikers jutting out onto the path from the business.
“Imagine if you will: There was, every one of the back yards of the homes that line a bike path opened up an ice cream shop, a coffee shop, a water stand, a vending stand,” Parker said.
Thorne and Tonning started Bike In Coffee on their 12-acre Old Town farm near I-40 and Rio Grande.
“We decided to cook produce from our garden, and that’s how Bike In Coffee started,” Thorne said.
Thorne said it’s the only pit stop along many miles of bike trails in Albuquerque.
“From Corrales to the end of the bike path, two miles past Rio Bravo,” she said.
Thorne and Tonning said they’ve grown produce and housed horses on their land for decades. They told News 13 that they’ve always had access to the trail on the back side of their property. It’s been a dirt trail until about 10 years ago, when the Transportation Department improved Interstate 40, put up sound barriers and paved the trail.
“We’ve run a commercial business here for 37 years. It was horses before it was produce and Bike in Coffee, and for that entire 37 years, daily, that bike path has been used by our customers here. And to suddenly have a lock put on that gate was wrong,” Thorne said.
With the gate closed, another safety issue cropped up. Bicyclists now have to ride an extra mile to get to the front of the Old Town farm where Bike In Coffee is located. Bikers who still want to use the bike path entrance have been lifting their bicycles over the fence.
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“That really ticks me off, when you think about that anytime it restricts access,” Duke City Cruiser Patrick Gonzales said.
Another option is for the City of Albuquerque to put a bike path access a short distance away — where Montoya Street dead-ends. But neighbors tell City Councilor Isaac Benton they don’t want the bike traffic in their neighborhood.
Benton and Mayor Richard Berry’s Office said there are no plans for any bike access in the area.
The battle over the gate has gone on with lawyers and lawmakers for more than a year.
“How much of our taxpayer dollars are being wasted by the DOT fighting this?” Cruse said.
Thorne and Tonning say they’ve lost business because of the gate, but they say the fight is not about that.
“It’s the principal of the thing,” Tonning said.
But the couple says they will pedal on with their fight. It’s not over yet.
“We will stick with this until someone drives a stake through our heart,” Thorne said.