John Heywood—that 16th-century, itinerant playwright and language buff of whom no one has ever heard—included the following wisdom in his 1546 collection of English proverbs: “No man ought to looke a geuen hors in the mouth.” Sometimes, though, you want to see those teeth…you know what I mean?
On the topic of the City of Santa Fe’s continuing work on bicycle and pedestrian trails, I deeply want to be grateful to the core. I’m close. City voters have been supportive; the city’s Bicycle and Trail Advisory Committee has been smart, progressive and consistent. City and other organizations’ staff have put in countless hours securing rights-of-way for new trail sections. Public Works has been effective in its trails construction and, especially given the state of budgets, pretty damn respectable about maintenance and upkeep. I mean, I don’t know who refills those little stations that dispense bags for disposing of dog shit, but I swear I’ll tip them if I ever catch them in the act.
But, lately, I’ve been wondering who, exactly, is responsible for some of the weird moves being made by the friendly crew working on what’s known as the Acequia Trail, where it crosses Baca Street at Potencia Street (aka Avenida Cristobal Colon). I could let it go were my issues purely aesthetic but the trail section appeared well-engineered. By the same token, if the engineering appeared somewhat irresponsible but the aesthetics were on point, well, it wouldn’t be the first time efficiency was overlooked in favor of beauty. But violate both principles and even a grateful populace can be forgiven for wondering “WTF?”
First, the more important—if less noticeable—engineering aspect: The Acequia Trail happens to exit the Baca Railyard right at one of Baca Street’s two S-curves—unintentional chicanes that frequently are the scenes of predictable accidents. Never mind that the city—back when it was considering the traffic control solutions that resulted in the useless speed humps—ignored a previous opportunity to purchase a property that juts into the curve, which would have alleviated congestion, negated the danger and left room for a community garden. The trail crossing presented a new opportunity to address a dangerous spot in Santa Fe.
The trail plan does its best to direct trail users through the awkward intersection, by routing foot traffic on a bizarre zigzag that allows for optimum safety when crossing the street. But people don’t give a shit. People are going from point A to point B. This happens to be the dangerous way to cross. So it doesn’t really matter how many friendly directions are offered. This raises the question: Was the crossing engineered for safety or liability? I’m thinking liability but, even then, it’s not very effective. Crews just spent two days dressing up the asphalt where the crosswalk would be and, rather than smoothing the already-rough asphalt leading into a dangerous curve, added a lumpy, half-height additional speed hump right at the point where most panicked crashers really get heavy on the brakes. Out-of-control cars attempting to avoid crashing—much less killing bicyclists and pedestrians—will now be slightly airborne, alleviating any hope of them regaining traction and adjusting their trajectory.
So that seems smart.
But at least there’s likely to be water available to cushion the landing. The corner has never drained properly, and is generally in a state somewhat between a lake and a mud pit. As befits a new crossing, all-new curbing and drainage was installed, of course. But, for some reason, crews opted not to drain water off the road and into the Acequia de los Pinos at the low point. Translation: We paid for all-new curbing and drainage, and it’s not going to work any better.
Aside from those issues, everything looks pretty good. Well, in terms of construction, it looks good. Aesthetically, there’s something weird going on. There’s a perfectly sensible path, a new bridge with a kind of rugged, industrial beauty and…a flurry of
decorative stone pillars that look like they were stolen from a log jamboree ride or a sex-toy shop for trolls.
There appears to be no need or justification for the pillars, outside of the presumptive motive of beautification. And they would be beautiful at Barbie’s Wilderness Cabin. In this case, however, the cement-intensive, bumpy obelisks are in contrast to nearby houses, the bridge and—strangely—the existing parts of the same trail. It’s as though crossing Baca Street lit a fire in the belly of a latent Ralph Lauren on the city staff, and this called for a new flourish.
While continued trail expansion is a true blessing to the city, there’s no good reason why it should be too much to ask for small moments of consideration every once in a while. Where will the water drain best? Should we really spend time and money building rustic pillars that serve no purpose?
As Heywood might have asked, “Would yee both eat your cake, and have your cake?”
Yes, John, yes I would.
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