ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The city is cutting a busy stretch of Central Avenue down to two lanes in each direction to cut down on dangerous driving. It’s the latest so-called “road diet” as the city tries to tame driving problems without increasing traffic enforcement. A mile-long stretch of east Central has lost a lane in each direction. The same changes could be coming to an even busier part of Central in the near future.
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“Now everybody drives down I-40 and most of the Central traffic on Tramway and Juan Tabo is local and half the number of cars are using that section of Central as they did before the interstate was built,” said Johnny Chandler, with the City of Albuquerque’s Dept. of Municipal Development. “We have half the traffic we used to have. We don’t need three lanes anymore.”
The one-mile stretch of east Central between Juan Tabo and Tramway is going on a so-called “road diet.” It’s being reduced from three lanes to two on each side, all in an effort to naturally slow drivers down and boost safety.
“It specifically looks at slowing traffic on the roadways without impeding on someone’s ability to get where they’re going,” said Chandler. “That is going to create a buffer for pedestrians and walkers, it’s going to help the bicyclists feel a little bit more comfortable.”
The city has already restriped the stretch, transforming the far right lanes. At intersections, they’re now right-turn-only lanes, and along the rest of the road, diagonal stripes are painted so drivers know not to use it. A few years ago, the city made similar changes to Zuni near Washington and Central, narrowing it from two lanes to one.
“We took a look at where Albuquerque’s most dangerous streets were. We found those in the International District were always at the top of the list,” said City Councilor Pat Davis. “Zuni is a good example. There’s still work to be done, but before we started, it was the most dangerous urban street stretch in the state of New Mexico. Since we’ve done the improvements, we’ve cut crashes by more than half, pedestrian fatalities by more than half.”
Davis says there’s still work to be done in terms of timing street lights and improving lighting on Zuni but noted what they’ve learned from these wide stretches of road is that they tend to have few places to cross. With heavy pedestrian traffic, reconfiguring them could give people more time to cross safely. The closed-off lane also now gives room for the city’s Rapid Ride buses to stop without causing a traffic hiccup.
“There’s a lot of residents that walk there so the buses are very busy and then you get cars stuck behind buses and they get frustrated and pull out in front of other vehicles,” said Chandler. “By allowing a bus to pull over, grab riders and not have to stop traffic around them, that’s also going to be a benefit for everyone, ease the frustration level.”
While there’s no timeline yet, the city says they’re looking at extending this road diet along Central further west to Louisiana in the future. They also hope these changes will help a lot of the local businesses along that corridor, primarily, RV companies that need that extra buffer of space when entering and exiting the road. The rehabilitation and restriping cost were just under $900,000, which the city says they had already planned to spend along that section of road.