Nearly one in five fatal pedestrian crashes in New Mexico’s largest city last year occurred in a dimly lighted and highly congested section of historic Route 66 – an area plagued by poverty.
An analysis by the Albuquerque Journal found that Albuquerque saw 42 deaths in 2019 related to fatal pedestrian collisions, and a significant number of these occurred in the area city officials call “forgotten.” The nearly 3-mile stretch experienced eight pedestrian deaths last year.
This dangerous section of Route 66 – Central Avenue between San Pedro and Eubank – is in a part of Albuquerque known for high crime rates, a large homeless population, and outdated infrastructure. Often referred to as Albuquerque’s International District, the corridor lacks the same amount of street lights seen in more affluent parts of the city.
It doesn’t appear the city is doing much the address the treacherous foyer.
About 10 months ago, Mayor Tim Keller and the city of Albuquerque signed onto the Vision Zero pledge, a promise to eventually end traffic fatalities in Albuquerque. A task force spent months identifying crosswalks to update at schools citywide. Plans are in the works to revamp travel on another part of Route 66 in the western part of the city.
But none of those changes is occurring in the place hit hardest by fatalities in the International District’s section of Route 66.
Department of Municipal Development director Pat Montoya acknowledged no city projects aimed at pedestrian safety are planned for that area. He said the area presents its challenges because of the population that frequents it.
“It’s unfortunate, and you hate to say it, but the population that’s on (Route 66) in that area is much different than the population in Nob Hill and much different than University and much different than Downtown,” said Montoya, referring to more affluent neighborhoods. “Once you hit Wyoming. . All the way up to Juan Tabo…That stretch is tough. It’s a tough crowd, and that makes it hard.”
Montoya said legislative money will go toward pedestrian safety, but no major city projects are planned at this point for the problem area along the city’s eastern portion of Route 66.
Albuquerque has the most substantial part of the historic Route 66 of any urban city.
Albuquerque police determined none of the fatalities in that stretch happened at crosswalks or significant intersections. All were ruled as pedestrian error.
Montoya questioned whether the fatal crashes happened at night and how many of those pedestrians were drunk, high on drugs, or worse.
“Dumb is dumb. You can’t stop behavior,” Montoya later added. “People have to take some responsibility.”
Scot Key, a traffic safety advocate involved in the Vision Zero initiative, said there’s one area for improvement that has nothing to do with medians or better lighting: a change of mindset toward pedestrians in those areas hardest hit.
Key criticized what he sees as a dismissive attitude toward victims based on their class, living situation, and neighborhood. The authorities, politicians, and community as a whole need to care more about every pedestrian fatality to drive the numbers down as a whole, he said.
“If we don’t change that, this Vision Zero thing is a complete joke, in my opinion,” Key said. “I try to stay optimistic. But nothing that has happened since the day the mayor signed that really changed my feeling. We’ve not even scratched the surface.”
New Mexico saw a 6.6% drop in pedestrian crashes, from 625 in 2018 to 584 last year, the Albuquerque Journal found. Meanwhile, Albuquerque continued to see an increase, according to the newspaper.
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