Updated: Jul 21
By Susan Herring
We probably all know someone who doesn’t like coconut and maybe pretends they’re allergic to it. And who doesn’t know someone who doesn’t really like cats? Or even fireworks? But is there anyone who doesn’t like murals?
There’s a new mural in town, the so-called Vision Zero mural on the eastern wall of Expo NM just north of Central near the Casino entrance facing Louisiana. It was designed and painted by a group of talented students paired with the local group, Artful Life under the guidance of Andrew and Kathryn Fearnside. Here’s a (partial) picture of it.
It’s bright, bold, and beautiful, just like the painters, all of whom live in the district, a district that practically cries out for bold moves to bring brightness and beauty into its boundaries. This is the northwestern edge of the International District, as we are now supposed to call it instead of its more telling former name, the Combat Zone.
Combat Zone? This is a notably low income part of Albuquerque, and like the poor parts of cities all across the US, the part of town where violence comes in many forms besides the everyday violence of economic inequities. One form this violence assumes is that of traffic. This is the part of town where cars kill nearly as often as guns, in large part due to the indifference with which fast, wide roads were paved through its heart. In the gentrified language of transportation planners and policy makers, this particular stretch of the Louisiana arterial optimistically labelled “Boulevard” is, as a city funded study is reliably one of our city’s constant entries as a “High Fatal and Injury Network” district. That’s the polite name for a place pedestrians are at especially high risk of being hit by cars. In a city that has been in either the top or the second spot in national rankings of pedestrian fatalities for years now, including the most recent rankings, to be in a HFIN is, well, shall continue speaking euphemistically and just say to be at the top of these lists is not anything to boast?
In 2020, less than a year after Mayor Keller announced that our town was committing to be part of the worldwide movement to end traffic fatalities known as Vision Zero, a well-qualified assemblage of CABQ planners, DOT planners, police, and community reps put together a gripping study of pedestrian safety on, you guessed it, Louisiana Boulevard. It’s linked below, and it’s full of interesting findings and ideas. Our city’s Vision Zero plan proposes work that purports to not only extricate us from the top of the heap of pedestrian fatalities but to end traffic fatalities within our city limits. Obviously, this is an enormous challenge, many will say impossible, but hey: Even if the city’s VZ Plan takes us only partway there, even if we only succeed in putting up more traffic cameras, building moreroundabouts, painting and signalizing pedestrian and bicycle crossings, and (my personal quest) protecting a few of our street’s bike lanes with MORE than paint, well, that’s something. Something that matters. Traffic has actually decreased on this stretch of Louisiana since other routes absorbed traffic to the Air Force base, now lingering nicely below the daily traffic totals the federal highway administration sets as being fit to reduce the number of traffic lanes! (That’s in the City’s fascinating study, too.)
But we were speaking of paint: Back to the Vision Zero mural!It’s striking. It’s beautiful. It speaks of the lives of those who live in the District and even, if subtly, to the fact that many who live in this part of town number heavily among our city’s most vulnerable road users. There are ghosts floating through the mural, seemingly the ghosts of those who have found out the hard way what traffic violence is. Painting and designing this artwork provided good, creative work and a sense of community that’s so important, especially for our younger citizens. Still, one can’t help but wonder how this mural is going to do anything to end the carnage on our city streets. Distractions for drivers are abundant. When vehicles are speeding or when they’re large, heavy SUVs or trucks, both common here, a momentarily distracted driver easily turns into a deadly driver.
We can hope none of the drivers on Louisiana are checking out the stunning new mural when they should be watching for all the varied forms of traffic on this roadway. But do walk by it sometime, maybe on your way to take in the fireworks soon or a visit to Talin Market? Don’t bike: there’s not even a painted bike lane on this arterial where, as the city’s study affirms, drivers are known to go 10-15 miles above the 35 mph speed limit.
Oh. And btw. A boulevard is really not what we have on Louisiana, where, as the city’s study points out, most of the street entirely lacks raised (safe) pedestrian islands/refugesbetween the north and southbound lanes. According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials“Boulevards separate very large streets into parallel urban realms, buffering the commercial or residential street edge from the high speed throughway by means of multi-way operations and frontage roads.” And they are generally associated with having lots of nice shade trees. Please note the shadow of a tree on the Vision Zero photo. Trees have to be alive to cast shade.