In the past few months Albuquerque residents might have noticed large banners and signs adorning the facades of businesses on Central Avenue. The “No Albuquerque Rapid Transit” message echoed by dozens of establishments is hard to miss along the famous Route 66.
Some business owners along Central and other opposition groups, like Save Route 66 Central, claim that the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) as currently proposed will not provide faster ride times for passengers, will decrease business accessibility, and will have adverse impacts on current parking, bicycle lanes, and mature trees (http://savert66.org/infographics/).
On the other hand, many supporters of the $119 million improved method of transportation, like Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, believe the investment will spur development in the region, providing economic growth and opportunity to many who travel, live, or shop along the busy historic road.
But regardless of the ART’s impact on businesses, commuting problems highlight a severe problem for low-income households that already exist along the proposed ART route. In its current design, the ART light rail runs through 15 Census tracts in Bernalillo County – all of which have median household income levels below the county average of $48,390 (Source: 2014 ACS 5-Year Estimates).
It is generally recognized that the more access people have to means of transportation – be it a personal car or a city bus – the more economic mobility they have. Economic mobility is the ability of an individual or family to improve their economic status usually through (increased) changes in income. Lack of commuting options touches on a specific problem that is faced by many people all over the world but this problem is especially relevant in Albuquerque.
Only 6% of Albuquerque commuters used methods other than driving including other means not listed
In 2013, 103,832 workers commuted to the city for work; 54,856 workers commuted outside of the city elsewhere while 160,624 workers both live and work in the city. With increased access to more reliable and faster methods of transportation as the ART proposes, there exists incentive for some portion of the 103, 832 workers who currently commute from outside of the city to move to Albuquerque.
So perhaps ironically, a new and improved method and transportation designed to give the residents of Albuquerque more economic mobility may do just the opposite. Though not guaranteed, there is a possibility that with increased access to public transportation and mobility, property values and thus rent and mortgage prices will increase within those Census tracts. Residents who currently live along or very near the proposed route may not be able to readily afford new higher rent and mortgage prices due to the improved transportation options. Coupled with the potential new demand from people who do not currently live in Albuquerque, low income families may be driven out of their current residences in a process known as gentrification. Knowing this, further examination of how ART might adversely affect these households needs to be conducted.