The stretch of road between Española Elementary and Valdez Park was not designed with pedestrians or bicyclists in mind.
Sidewalks end before one can reach their destination. Benches and shade are hard to come by in the New Mexico summer heat. Paint indicating crosswalks and bike lanes is either faded or nonexistent.
These are just some of the findings by one group of area residents who walked the streets of Española, June 27, as part of the city’s first-ever Walkability Audit.
In a survey sent to the city’s utility customers last year, residents said they would spend money on improvements to infrastructure along the city’s streets, Española interim planning director Alison Gillette told the crowd, June 27, gathered at the Española Senior Center.
“If you were in charge of spending $5 million over the next 10 years, to improve Española, and these were your options, please allocate amounts that you think make the most sense,” she said, reading from the survey. “The one that got the most (response) was improvements to sidewalks, streetlights, signage, bike lanes and beautification of public spaces. I feel like we kind of have a mandate from the residents, they are things they want us to be focusing on.”
Gillette was the audit’s main organizer. She was joined by officials from the New Mexico Department of Health, the National Parks Service and the University of New Mexico Prevention Research Center.
An official report resulting from the audit will be released in one to three months, Prevention Research Center Graphic Designer Ashley Cummings said.
Department of Health Promotion Specialist Rachael Wexler said poorer areas with lower quality housing tend to be less walkable.
“And yet, people who have lower socioeconomic status may not have the funds to afford a car, and so that is an equity issue,” she said.
The crowd who gathered for the walkability audit split into five groups to travel along five predetermined paths on Española’s west side that all converged on the Plaza de Española.
During the walkability audit, one group had to cross Paseo de Oñate to reach the Plaza, despite there being no working pedestrian signal or painted crosswalk.
Another group was only able to cross the busy highway because Rio Arriba County Sheriff’s Major Randy Sanches blocked traffic with his Sheriff’s Office vehicle using his lights and siren.
Rio Arriba County has one of the lowest air pollution rates in all of New Mexico, Wexler said, but has one of the highest motor vehicle traffic crash death rates in the state.
In the United States there were 10.26 deaths per 100,000 people in 2014, according to the Department.
That same year, northern Rio Arriba County saw 32.5 deaths per 100,000, and the Española area including the surrounding pueblos saw 29.9 deaths per 100,000 people.
After each group completed its route and took a North Central Regional Transit District bus back to the Española Senior Center, they made recommendations for improvements.
Group 1 - Española Hospital:
• Add striping for bike lanes
to Coronado Street
• Repair and improve sidewalks along all of Coronado Street
• Block an alley to make it usable only by pedestrians or bicyclists
Group 2 - Española Elementary:
• Finish incomplete sidewalks along Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park Road
• Add and improve crosswalks from Española Elementary to Valdez Park
• Obtain easements to build sidewalks along North Railroad Avenue
Group 3 - Española Senior Center:
• Build a raised crosswalk between the Senior Center and Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park
• Improve landscaping along Paseo de Oñate
• Continue incomplete sidewalks along Paseo de Oñate
Group 4 - Plaza de Española:
• Install shaded benches around the Plaza
• Create a visitor study and signage plan from Railroad Avenue to the Fiesta grounds
• Improve sidewalks and pads around the Plaza, the Bond House and the Fiesta grounds
Group 5 - Historic MainStreet:
• Improve sidewalks, stripe the road, build shade and install signage along the street, including asking businesses to install new signs
• Plant trees along the street
• Divert truck traffic away from the street