New plan aims to improve navigation in Santa Fe without cars

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SANTA FE, N.M. – Santa Fe city leaders are moving forward with a new transportation strategy that’s not focused on cars. The governing body approved an elaborate “Multimodal Transportation Plan” Wednesday night. 

“It’s looking at flipping the narrative on how we have built out our network over the last 60 years in a sort of prescriptive manner,” said Erick Aune. 

Erick Aune is the Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization Officer. He says work on the new plan got started in 2018, but city leaders have been working to address transportation issues for more than a decade. 

“The way the system has been built out, there is no silver bullet, magic pill that’s going to come in and change things,” he said. 

Aune says the new plan is aimed at better connecting different parts of town without solely relying on cars. The plan includes recommendations on reworking city bus routes, redesigning major roadways, and increasing the number of walking and bike paths. 

“A large percentage of trips, vehicle-wise in the City of Santa Fe are less than 15 minutes, or less than a mile, and could be done could be easily done by walking or biking,” he said. “But we don’t do that, because it’s actually very difficult, given the way our system is designed.” 

While the goal is to improve alternate modes of transportation, the report also includes intricate data and strategies for improving parking management across the city. 

“What the study shines a really bright light on is that the land-use capacity outside of the downtown area is largely dedicated to parking,” he said. 

According to the report, 72% of commercial land in the midtown area is dedicated to automobiles (streets and parking lots.) Only 22% of land is actually used for buildings. The report found only 54% of land in downtown is dedicated to cars. 

“The plan isn’t saying isn’t being judgmental. It’s just saying here’s how we do it in these particular areas, and here’s the results,” he said. 

Aune suggests many of the transportation issues stem from Santa Fe’s long history. Much of downtown – near the plaza – was built hundreds of years before cars came around leaving little space for driving and parking today. Likewise, parts of midtown and areas near Airport Rd. were built in the 1950s and 60s – during the height of the automobile era – with ample space for cars. 

“Santa Fe is basically a spine of roads that come from downtown outward in a post-World War II development pattern that is largely single-family detached dwellings,” he said. “That makes it really difficult for a fixed roadway to accommodate all those people who may want to walk, who may want to bike and take transit when it’s so dispersed.” 

Aune says some current road construction projects are already utilizing this new approach to transportation. 

He says the redesign of north Guadalupe St. is expected to include wider sidewalks and bike lanes to accommodate different modes of transportation. 

“We’re not going to make cars go away. It’s not about a criticism of the cars. We’re going to really tweak and change those codes, regulations and standards that support all modes,” he said. 

During Wednesday night’s meeting, Santa Fe Mayor Alan Webber spoke out against the plan. He suggests it doesn’t go far enough at addressing the city’s transportation issues and wanted it to be further developed. 

“I don’t want to settle for good enough, I want Santa Fe to lead the way in recognizing the significance that transportation plays in investments that guide our future,” he said. 

Regardless of the details inside, Aune says the plan asks an important question to the community. 

“What do we want to be in Santa Fe in the next 50 years, knowing the last 50 years has delivered this transportation network” he said.