The early Obama administration has taught us that change we can believe in is predicated on the compromises we can tolerate.
So it was both desperately sad and wildly predictable to watch US Secretary of Energy Stephen Chu explain to the BBC that political reality matters more than, well, real reality in terms of how aggressive the US can be in shifting its policies on the environment. Obviously, he explained to the bewildered British, we will have to approve new coal-fired power plants, despite overwhelming evidence of their overwhelming evil.
For some reason, this made me think of Siler Road.
Standing at the jagged north end of Siler Road, where the pavement ends and gives way to an unexpectedly precipitous drop toward the steady trickle of the Santa Fe River, there’s an expansive view of the beginning of roadwork on the other side. The swath of land stretching from the north side of the river straight up to where the Siler Road extension will join Alameda Street is gigantic, pure sand overtaking scrub and houses like time-lapse images of an advancing desert.
The project has been bid out to Albuquerque-based AS Horner, Inc. for $3.9 million. It should be completed by the end of the summer.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m all in favor of it. The extention should be a general improvement in many ways. I sympathize with the homeowners who are suddenly transitioning from rural West Alameda properties to having a heavy-use paved road next door, but only a little bit more than I do with the stubborn neighborhood that’s been holding up the through passage of Richards Avenue.
But the current construction preparation makes it look like the plan at Siler is for a wide, fast road, just about the length of a drag strip, but without the runoff. I’m sure it’s less expensive and more efficient to do it that way, rather than in a narrow, meandering fashion, but staring at it makes me question how we plan and build for the future, especially in relation to cars and traffic.
Presumably for our 4 million-ish bucks, we’ll be getting a bridge that can be counted on to last at least 100 years. But what does the reality of public and personal transportation look like in 20 years, let alone 100 years?
The construction we do on roads, bridges, and traffic and parking infrastructure is, in general, the least creative construction we do. And, grading on a curve that doesn’t include much creativity, that’s pretty bad.
Roads, which have been used for millennia, have only been primarily occupied by cars for 100 years, yet the automobile is almost the sole consideration in terms of road use. There are token considerations, like those horrifying fake bicycle lanes on Cerrillos Road that we insisted on adding though no one ever uses them, but such efforts never compromise the car.
The Siler Road bridge will have sidewalks and, at least on the Alameda side, those sidewalks will branch into more meandering trails and connect to the future River Trail. But why not a surprising trail over the top, the middle or way off the sides of the bridge, where pedestrians and bicyclists are on their own turf, rather than that of automobiles? Why not a riparian demonstration-garden bridge crossing? Obviously cost is a factor, but lack of imagination is a larger factor:
• The new state government parking lot across from the Roundhouse is using brick veneer on its tilt-up concrete panels in order to emulate a “Territorial” style.
• A former city councilor has told me we can never close the Plaza to car traffic because Hispanic families that like to drive their grandmothers down to the Plaza on Sundays would never stand for it. Really.
• The most vigorous resistance to developing a progressive, mixed-use, affordable community in the Northwest Quadrant comes from Casa Solana residents who are deathly afraid of increased traffic. This in a neighborhood where almost every house has a garage.
• The city recently voted to lower parking rates at its Railyard garage because, as it turns out, no one uses it. The Albuquerque Journal, perhaps rattled by the collapse of status quo journalism and mainstream print, suggested in an apparently serious editorial that the city attach a giant balloon to the garage so that people are better able to find it—like moths to a flame.
All of these are examples, at their core, of failures of imagination. Obviously, we cannot accurately predict what the future of public and personal transportation will be, but we can remember that nobody is making the rules around here except for us. If we want the Plaza to become a pedestrian-only environment, we’ll all adjust to it and pedicabs will have more business hauling grannies into downtown. If we want to build bridges that subvert cars and trucks below a green-roofed viewing terrace/community playground, the only thing stopping us is denial of creativity.
We also can remember that roads are still paths; their missions are to create avenues for people to get from one place to another, at which point their primary interactions will be with people—not with cars.
And we might be told that battling the position of the automobile is as politically impractical as standing up to coal-fired power, but old energy models, too, are a failure of imagination.
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