Note: This is the first story in a two-part series on Albuquerque’s Lead and Coal Avenues – click here to read part two; story updated with response to advocate’s concerns
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Early Saturday morning, Joseph Aguirre felt a “thud” outside his home in University Heights. As a neighborhood advocate who’s been concerned about the safety of Lead Ave. and Coal Ave. for years now, Aguirre wasn’t particularly surprised to see another crash, this time involving two vehicles outside his home.
“I felt the thud, just another marker of a high impact collision,” Aguirre says. “My bedroom is on the other side of the house so it’s, you know, well away from the street, but I felt it.”
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One of the drivers involved was thrown from his truck and died, according to the Albuquerque Police Department. They say the driver was racing another vehicle and ran a red light. And while this is the first fatal crash Aguirre remembers happening outside his house, it’s far from the only crash on the one-ways.
From January 3, 2005, to December 28, 2019, there were at least 1,833 crashes on Lead Ave. and Coal Ave. that resulted in injury, death, or at least $500 in property damage (vehicle damage or damage to structures, etc.), according to the most recent data from the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT). And there were likely more crashes than that, as the data doesn’t include crashes not reported to law enforcement.
For years, Lead and Coal have been in and out of Albuquerque’s news cycle. Construction project after construction project and crash after crash, the streets have been notorious points of contention. So, what do the numbers reveal about these streets?
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Crashes commonly occur at intersections along Lead and Coal. Here, one second is equivalent to one week. Data from NMDOT only shows crashes reported to law enforcement.
Only limited sections of Lead and Coal are above average in terms of the number of crashes that result in injury or death, according to the Mid-Region Council of Governments’ data. This means that, if you look at only deadly crashes, the one-ways seem no worse than other Albuquerque streets. But for every injury-inducing crash on the one-ways, there are two property-damaging crashes, data from NMDOT shows.
The data reveals that the number of property damage crashes per day involving vehicles hitting fixed objects, such as houses, walls, etc., increased by 69% after the one-ways were reduced from three lanes to two in 2012. The number of injury-inducing crashes per day involving cars hitting fixed objects more than doubled after the 2012 lane reduction.
The data shows that these crashes tend to involve only local drivers. Drivers from out of state are rarely involved.
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Interactive Slider: Crashes rarely involve out of state drivers and driver inattention was consistently the most common factor leading to crashes on Lead and Coal until 2018. Data from NMDOT.
Of the crashes involving only property damage, driver inattention was most commonly cited as the main contributing factor. Just over 23% of all the property damage crashes after the 2012 roadwork were marked as caused by driver inattention. Other common factors include failure to yield right of way (12.8% of property damage crashes) and disregard of traffic signals (10.5%).
Naturally, there tend to be more crashes during the evening rush hour, from 4:00 p.m. through 7:00 p.m. Crashes are slightly more common from Tuesday through Saturday, the data shows. But about a quarter of crashes occur on Sunday or Monday.
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Crashes are most common during the evening rush hour period, between 4:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Data from NMDOT .
Excessive speed was the main contributing factor in only about 4.8% of the property damage crashes. Excessive speed was the highest contributing factor in less than 10% of all types of crashes each year for most years. But in the most recent few years, speeding has risen as a major factor in crashes. Disregard for traffic signals has also risen.
Over the years, residents and officials have called on the city to curb speeders. But despite decades of complaints and a wide range of efforts, Lead and Coal continue to be particularly problematic — though they are not the only streets with high crash rates. New measures continue to promise relief, but seem to fall short, as they have for years.
For example, as the result of a 2018 study, the city implemented “coordinated speed signaling,” which timed some stoplights along the one-ways to a 30 mile per hour speed limit. A follow-up study showed that the timing didn’t significantly reduce speeding, a recent report says. Then, the city tried reducing the maximum time the signal lights stayed green. That also failed to reduce speeding, the report adds.
Most recently, the city has secured funding for “Rest on Red” smart stoplights. Neighborhood advocate Joseph Aguirre has his doubts that the stoplights will fix the problem, calling them a “micro solution being offered for a macro problem.”
Aguirre adds that he’s sent letters to a wide range of stakeholders asking for help reducing the crashes in his neighborhood. After expressing his concern to the City of Albuquerque, in September, he sent a letter of concern to the governor, state auditor, and the attorney general.
So far, Aguirre says he has not gotten a response, but the state auditor’s office was able to provide KRQE News 13 a copy of its correspondence sent to Aguirre. In it, they explain that they looked into Aguirre’s concerns but found no issues with Lead and Coal-related construction, which Aguirre mentioned in his correspondence.
Interactive Slideshow: A fatal crash outside Joseph Aguirre’s home highlights the concerns he’s been voicing for years. Photos from Joseph Aguirre