A Little Multi-Modal “Win” Story From a Walking College Graduate

Originally published by Scot Key on his blog, Better Burque.

It doesn’t happen that often, and when it infrequently does, it always takes far longer than you’d like. Yet, every once in a too-long while you argue, complain, and whine about something that needs doing.

And it gets done.

Road work being done at road intersection
Southeast corner of 118th SW and Dennis Chavez Blvd., 7.29.23

Back in 2020, your humble blogger started looking into the hazards involved in just trying to get to school for hundreds of kids trying to walk to/from Atrisco Heritage High School and adjacent George I. Sanchez Middle School. During direct research, once we started back on-campus post-remote learning in 2021, I happened to photograph one such student running across Dennis Chavez.

Person crossing a busy intersection with cars.
Student fleeing across Dennis Chavez’ southeast corner, 8.20.21

See the driver in the dark-colored car above? They are one of the innumerable drivers trying to turn right, even though the walker runner above clearly has the signal to cross. That kid is no dummy and figures the best way to stay alive is to be in the intersection for as little time as humanly possible.

Your humble blogger saw similar scenes played out every stinking school day, morning and afternoon, as a teacher at Atrisco Heritage. Note the weeds growing on this side of the intersection; heck, the opposing sides didn’t even have weeds, just a worn dirt path with a pathetic patch of concrete because somebody evidently was thinking ADA doesn’t apply to young people.

Northwest corner looking north down 118th SW. Note also the pathetic bike lane rounding out the multi-modal unfriendliness.
Northwest corner looking north down 118th SW. Note also the pathetic bike lane rounding out the multi-modal unfriendliness.

As outlined in this perhaps overly-long 2020 blogpost, your humble blogger had a stint back then as a Fellow with The Walking College, sponsored by the nonprofit America Walks. I decided my “Walking Action Plan” assignment as a Fellow would be to advocate for folks such as the student trying to stay alive running across Dennis Chavez Blvd.

Overly-long blog posts, chats with the Atrisco Heritage principal, utterly ineffective emails to Albuquerque Public Schools (APS), and correspondence with various government planners and politicians (City, County, and State, as Dennis Chavez, NM-500, is a State road going through checkerboard City and County jurisdictions) were efforted with no positive immediate or short-term result whatsoever.

Kids just kept running for their life.

While pretty much everyone I spoke with agreed that kids running for their life is a generally bad thing, there were complications and obstacles. For instance, APS had deliberately designed both schools to only be safely accessed by bus or personal vehicle. Walking/rolling was, and continues to largely be, highly discouraged. The State created and continues to maintain Dennis Chavez/NM-500 as a highway, 45-50 mph, and also discourages anyone, kids included, walking/rolling across their highway. Also, it turned out that the infamous Santolina not-quite-yet developers own the parcel along Dennis Chavez across from the two schools. In policy speak: There were many, many “players.” Many “moving parts” to use the over-used parlance.

Nevertheless, there turned out to be advocates far more influential than your humble blogger, including Albuquerque City Councilor Klarissa Peña. Right around the same time your humble blogger started squawking about all this, Councilor Peña started the groundwork for what has become known as The 118th St. Improvement Project.

A point of cause/effect and chronology: I have no idea if Councilor Peña was in any way motivated to act because of anything your humble blogger had said/written. I truly, actually doubt it. But I’d like to think so.

All I do know is that I came across some roadway construction folks installing a greatly improved intersection crossing at 118th and Dennis Chavez this past weekend, and they were doing so on a Saturday morning. The Saturday morning before the school year starts.

Those roadway folks on a sunny, hot Saturday morning in July
Those roadway folks on a sunny, hot Saturday morning in July

As for the who, what and how it came to be that some roadway construction folks got time-and-a-half to work on a Saturday morning, I have no idea. I’m just taking it as a win and filing it in the “Things That Eventually Happened” folder.

I wish that folder was thicker. I also wish the intersection crossing work was accompanied by signs, signals, and enforcement that would mitigate conflict points, such as drivers trying to turn right when runners walkers/rollers have the light. Maybe some/all of such additional needed improvements will happen, too. I dunno.

It has been my experience in multi-modal advocacy that one just has to sit, wait, and watch amid and after their arguing, complaining, and whining. Things happen or they don’t, and they never happen fast enough.

But sometimes, at least they happen. Happy advocating, everybody!