The Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project and Lingering Questions/Doubts

Spending this lovely morning researching bus rapid transit systems in other cities. Being “retired” is good for this sort of stuff. Having attended, most, of the public forum on Albuquerque Rapid Transit (which is trying to become ART, but is still known by many as BRT) last night, I’m personally sold on just about every aspect of the project, except possibly the central reason for the project: the bus part.

Unlike those who love Central Avenue, including the “save Route 66” contingent (an argument that frankly seems horribly antiquated), I have zero love for Central, aside from the little stretch from the roundabout at 8th Street west of downtown to the clusterfornication horror of San Pasquale/Lomas/you name it. Why do I love this stretch? Relatively low traffic levels, wide road, lower speeds (in part due to roundabout, I guess) and, most importantly, a nice wide bike lane.

I’m for anything that slows traffic down on Central and increases pedestrian/cycling comfort/safety. I just don’t know if we need the bus part. The rational part of my mind tells me I should “trust the experts” and back the transit improvements of a full-blown “rapid transit” versus the existing Rapid Ride, but there’s another part of my mind asking the question:

Are we gonna get folks carrying briefcases to ride the bus in Albuquerque?

It’s more complicated than briefcases, but there’s a demographic ridership shift which seems implicit throughout the BRT v. Rapid Ride question.  A question that extends to how Burqueans see riding a bus here. Is taking the bus a last resort foisted on unfortunates who can’t drive? Or is it so safe, comfortable, economical and convenient that we eschew our basic human nature of avoiding physical interaction/closeness with people we don’t know and hop on board, perhaps carrying a briefcase?

Demographically, there also seems to be an age/class component to bus ridership that in ways mirrors the split between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton voters (at least so far). Very generally, old people don’t like public transit and “rich” people feel they don’t need Bernie Sanders public transit.

All these questions and demographic tendencies add up to questioning whether ART will be as “transformational” (to use the branding buzzword employed last night at the forum) in the bus/transit sense as trumpeted by proponents.  My “retirement” morning will continue researching other BRT systems in search of an answer, particularly in terms of how negative perceptions of public transport are overcome.

But first another cup of coffee. Ah, “retirement.”

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