ALBUQUERQUE, N.M (KRQE) – It was supposed to empower residents to stop speeding drivers from zipping through neighborhoods.
But two years after the city of Albuquerque overhauled its plan to address neighborhood traffic problems, some residents and even city councilors think city administrators are dragging their feet, failing to do much to address a lengthy list of longstanding neighborhood traffic complaints.
Meanwhile, city administrators say the nearly 200 requests they’ve received for traffic calming projects has taken time to whittle down, prioritize and study.
But the results are clear: As of January 2017, the city’s “Neighborhood Traffic Management Program,” or NTMP, has only produced six neighborhood traffic studies. Not one of those studies has resulted in the installation of a single traffic calming measure.
The NTMP program launched in February 2015, replacing an old city program called “STEP,” which was focused on putting speed bumps in neighborhoods.
Under the new NTMP, any Albuquerque resident can file a complaint through the city’s website, which allows people to mark up and describe the traffic problems in their neighborhood or on their residential roads.
The city says its now focusing on studying nine new projects, or one for each city council district. The Department of Municipal Development says each one of the pending studies was highlighted as a “top priority” by each district’s respective councilor. The city hopes to begin studying each project by late February or early March.
But still, a lack of results is frustrating for some.
In southwest Albuquerque’s Westgate Heights neighborhood, resident Phil Candelaria has been involved in the process of submitting a traffic calming request to the city’s new program. Candelaria, who lives near 98th and Gibson, equates the traffic in his neighborhood to a race track.
“It’s a drag race, you know, from here, all the way to Sage,” said Candelaria.
For about the last 10 years, Candelaria says drivers have been speeding through the intersection close to his home, at 86th and Camino San Martin. Drivers heading north and south on 86th Street aren’t required to stop at the intersection.
“Something needs to be done,” said Candelaria. “Somebody is going to lose a life.”
Candelaria says drivers often speed through the intersection, well above the city’s posted 25 mph speed limit. He believes it’s endangering kids walking to and from nearby Truman Middle School and West Gate Community Center.
“They need to have some sort of speed controls,” said Candelaria, before being interrupted by a car speeding through the intersection. “There goes another one right there!”
While the problem is clear to Candelaria and other neighbors, Candelaria says getting the city to act on the issue has been a nightmare. Neighbors have signed a petition in favor of traffic calming on 86th Street, but since then, Candelaria says neighbors haven’t heard anything conclusive from the city.
“We’ve done everything we can, we’ve exhausted all of our measures,” said Candelaria. “We’ve reported it to police traffic, the councilor’s office, what’s next? The mayor? Do I have to get an act from the Governor to put it in?”
The NMTP Plan
Candelaria and other Westgate neighbors don’t have to get an act from the New Mexico Governor under Albuquerque’s “Neighborhood Traffic Management Program.”
The program, which started in February 2015, outlines a set of rules residents have to follow to get their neighborhood’s traffic problem fixed. First, the roadway can’t be an “arterial,” or a high traffic roadway. Second, the traffic calming application has to be filled out by three residents, or a neighborhood association representative/board member, or a homeowner’s association representative. Third, two-thirds of the impacted homeowners in designated traffic calming area have to sign a petition in favor of any future project.
If applicants meet the first three conditions above, Albuquerque’s Department of Municipal Development says it will consider the application for a traffic study.
Under the NTMP, Albuquerque neighbors have about 40 different traffic calming options to choose from, including the standard speed bumps and stop signs. The plan offers other considerations though, like the zigzagging roadway narrowing technique known as a “chicane;” intersection islands as seen at 14th & Central Ave.; and traffic circles, which were recently installed in the Nob Hill neighborhood along Silver Ave.
In an interview with KRQE News 13, the Department of Municipal Development Acting Director Melissa Lozoya had high praise for the two-year-old program.
“I think it’s going well,” said Lozoya.
Lozoya says her department has received about 200 traffic calming project requests city-wide.
However, that number has narrowed to about 29 pending requests. Lozoya says the reduction came after city staff removed duplicate requests, requests on busy arterial roadways, and other projects that didn’t meet the program criteria for various other reasons.
Many of the traffic calming requests were rejected due to a lack of follow through on the part of residents. According to city data, roughly 87 requests were denied because residents failed to turn in the neighborhood petition. Roughly 17 requests were denied due to either invalid contact information or a lack of contact information.
Lozoya says the city’s spent a lot of time simply organizing the requests.
“We’ve been working closely with council to discuss the requests that have come in, how we want to prioritize them, fund them, and so I think it’s very successful and people feel empowered,” said Lozoya. “The only challenge I would say that we faced is how are we going to prioritize them?”
That prioritization criteria is as follows:
- Residential street sections with at least 50% of the houses facing the street for traffic calming.
- Residential street sections with two or more preventable accidents within 3 years. This would be followed by residential street sections with one or more preventable accidents within 3 years.
- Residential street sections with 1000 or more vehicles per day for traffic calming. This will require a traffic count which is less expensive than a full study. This would be followed by residential street sections with 750 vehicles per day for traffic calming. This would be followed by residential street sections with 500 vehicles per day.
- Collector street sections with 1000 or more vehicles per day for traffic calming. This would be followed by collector street sections with 750 vehicles per day for traffic calming. This would be followed by collector street sections with 500 vehicles per day for traffic calming.
While city administrators feel positive about the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program, some neighbors don’t feel the same way.
“We feel abandoned up here,” said Candelaria, who thinks he and other neighbors have been waiting too long for a change.
He wants to see stop signs at 86th and Camino San Martin. The neighborhood’s request for traffic calming at the intersection was submitted in December 2015. As of January 26, 2017, the city hasn’t started studying the neighborhood’s complaint.
“I know that the process is slow, but come on,” said Candelaria.
In two years since the launch of the NTMP, the city has only finished six traffic studies. According to the Department of Municipal Development, each one of those studies has cost the city about $5,000.
Each one of those studies also found there wasn’t enough of a problem to warrant the installation of any traffic calming measures.
“Turns out we didn’t need to do any traffic calming, there wasn’t a need there,” said Lozoya.
While he didn’t dispute the outcome of the studies thus far, the lack of any traffic calming changes has been a frustration for city councilor Isaac Benton, who represents Downtown, east Downtown, and some North Valley neighborhoods.
“It has not been effective,” said Councilor Benton, speaking of the NTMP. “We haven’t seem to be able to move projects off the dime, so, there’s a long list and we’re barely making a dent in that list.”
City data shows about 30 traffic calming requests have been submitted in Benton’s Council District 2. Currently, only one of those requests is being studied. According to city data, 24 of Benton’s district’s requests were rejected because of various reasons. Petitions weren’t returned, contact information wasn’t provided, speed bumps are already in place, requests were part of another existing project, or a resident requested work on arterial roadways. One other request in Benton’s district is in the “prioritization” phase.
“This particular process seems to be very frustratingly slow moving,” said Councilor Benton.
The process has been frustrating for Councilor Klarissa Peña, as well. She even wrote legislation to bypass the Neighborhood Traffic Management Program, in hopes of helping to more quickly address traffic complaints. Peña’s legislation calls for stop signs at four different intersections, including Camino San Martin & 86th Street.
“Part of my reason for my resolution was… kind of a cry for help,” said Peña
So what’s the holdup with the program? Councilor Peña thinks funding is a big part of it. The city only has about $200,000 for both studies and construction.
“I definitely don’t want to mislead my constituents and have them go through a process and at the end of the day … I have to say, well, we don’t have the dollars to do it,” said Peña.
But DMD Acting Director Melissa Lozoya says so far, the funding for the program has been adequate.
“The funding is not an issue, it’s, ‘okay, this is how we’re going to fund them.’ The question is, ‘how do we prioritize within each of the districts?” said Lozoya.
On the other hand, Councilor Benton also believes the NTMP has been understaffed. The program now has one-full time employee dealing with all NTMP requests, along with some part-time help.
“Anytime that we give people the idea that they’re going to get quick action on a request and then were unable to respond, that doesn’t reflect well on government,” said Benton.
Lozoya told KRQE News 13 the city is being careful about the projects it chose to move forward with because it doesn’t waste all of its available money on studies. Councilor Benton told KRQE News 13, he’d like to see the city move faster on studying more intersections that neighbors are complaining about.
“If there’s $200,000 that’s unspent, let’s go ahead and get that spent. We need to make use of funding that we have available,” said Benton. “Maybe that $200,000 should just be spent for studies … and then the actually physical construction, I think most of these projects are relatively small, I think they could be funded with city council set-asides.”
The “council set-aside” funding Benton is speaking of is a designated pot of money reserved for each Albuquerque city councilor every two years. Councilors each get about $1-million per each two-year GO Bond cycle to spend on district-specific projects.
For now, with about 29 requests awaiting study, Lozoya claims progress should start to pick up.
In response to people who think the NTMP process is taking too long, Lozoya replied, “I would say that now that we’ve come to our prioritization and how we’re kind of look at each application, and making sure it is eligible to move forward, I think now you’re going to see a lot of these request move through the process quickly.”
One of the pending studies will take place at Camino San Martin and 86th Street. Neighbors like Phill, who are tired of waiting, say they’ll believe it when they see it.
“The stiff shirts need to get out here, sit over here with other cars and just watch,” said Candelaria. “My god, we’re not asking for pie in the sky.”