Great divide on Richards Avenue

A dirt and gravel roadway that only emergency responders are allowed to use connects the two sides of Richards Avenue.

The idea of building a new road across the Arroyo de los Chamisos, which would extend Richards Avenue between Siringo and Rodeo roads, has long been a topic of discussion and debate in Santa Fe.

Expect the contentious issue to be back in the forefront in the new year.

Officials with the city’s Public Works Department are holding a neighborhood meeting Jan. 16 to solicit public input on the idea as part of a nearly $250,000 study that will reexamine the possibility of building a crossing over the arroyo, which has served as a roadblock to connecting Richards Avenue.

The so-called early neighborhood notification meeting will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Santa Fe Higher Education Center, 1950 Siringo Road.

The study will look at various alternatives. While it will analyze extending Richards Avenue between Siringo and Rodeo roads — which some residents of the Bellamah neighborhood have opposed in the past — it will evaluate at least two other options, including connecting Richards Avenue farther west, toward Vegas Verdes.

Efforts to reach Regina Wheeler, the city’s public works director, and John Romero, director of the city’s Engineering Division, before publication were unsuccessful.

News of the city studying an arroyo crossing generated largely positive responses on Facebook.

“Finally!!!” Rachael Hemann wrote in a post on the Santa Fe Bulletin Board Facebook page.

“I’m a Bellamah resident and would appreciate the new street,” wrote Kim Currie. “Great news.”

Others, however, were less enthusiastic.

“Oh oh,” wrote Rose Gonzales. “Lots of unneeded traffic in that little neighborhood!”

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The north and south ends of the road, which are separated by the arroyo and the rodeo grounds, have never touched.

The two stretches of roadway are connected by a dirt and gravel path that only emergency responders are allowed to use, forcing many motorists to cut through residential streets to access the south end — which leads to Santa Fe Community College and some of the city’s newest and biggest subdivisions — or the north end, which carries traffic to Cerrillos Road and Agua Fría Street.

District 4 City Councilor Jamie Cassutt-Sanchez, who was sworn into office Wednesday, said she’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

“This is actually one of those projects that is really high on my list” to gather information about, she said, adding that data collected in the study will help guide her decision.

“Making decisions without all the information is not the correct course of action to take,” she said. “Information is good. We should be making informed decisions.”

Cassutt-Sanchez said she heard from area residents on opposite sides of the issue while she was on the campaign trail.

The other District 4 city councilor, JoAnne Vigil Coppler, has said residential streets such as Camino Carlos Rey and Avenida de las Campanas are being inundated with traffic because Richards Avenue doesn’t connect.

“It’s certainly been a political issue,” she said a year ago. “Sometimes those issues don’t gain traction, but we shouldn’t stop trying to alleviate our traffic congestion. It’s really unbelievable.”

Cassutt-Sanchez said she doesn’t know whether a crossing will alleviate traffic. That’s a question the study will hopefully answer, she said.

“I’m not a traffic expert, so I think that is one of those really important questions that we need to be looking [at] in this study,” she said. “Not only what happens if we do the extension but also what are the ramifications if we don’t.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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(6) comments

Nicoletta Munroe

The land at the fair grounds possesses a remarkable view of the Sangre de Cristo range thus the area could be a site for single family home development. Before we add access on Richards Avenue we are required first to ask the question: how will expanding access on Richards Avenue impact home owners? Will expanding access on Richards Avenue negatively impact the schools and the homes in the area? I remember a discussion regarding this project during the mayoral contest in 2014. Then City Councilor Patti Bushee spoke of the negative consequences of expanding Richards Avenue at a Mayoral Forum.

Rob Morlino

I am surprised that articles about these types of public infrastructure projects never seem to cite any existing scholarship about the topic at hand.

The benefits of increased street connectivity on traffic calming, long-term resource management, and public safety are well documented by various municipalities, nonprofits, and academic institutions throughout the country. These studies also usually find that increased connectivity allows for overall lower speed limits in the affected neighborhoods and lower risk of accidents as a result of more intuitive wayfinding. Additionally, this crossing would allow for much faster emergency service response times to the surrounding community.

As a pedestrian and cyclist who lives in this district, I am excited about the safety and transportation benefits of this plan.

Please find some existing scholarship interrogating this topic below:

Happy New Year!

Julian Grace

This project has already been debated, discussed and passed by previous city councils. Many proponents of alleviating the traffic burden on other roads that pass from Siringo to Rodeo have waited patiently for the city to finally put the master plan into action. What else is there to discuss?

William Craig

“... residential streets such as Camino Carlos Rey and Avenida de las Campanas are being inundated with traffic because Richards Avenue doesn’t connect.”

Yes, and building the connection would mostly impact a dozen homes that face directly onto Richards north of the arroyo. By contrast, hundreds of other homes all over Bellamah would see a decrease in traffic cutting through the neighborhood, especially along Avenida de Las Campanas.

As for improving access to SFCC and Rancho Viejo, whatever happened to the proposed Richards Avenue interchange for I-25?

Dan Frazier

As a pedestrian and bicyclist, I am sure of one thing: Another vehicle crossing in this area is not going to improve the pedestrian or cyclists enjoyment of the Arroyo Chamiso trail. The only upside might be that some neighborhood pedestrians and cyclists on the Cerrillos side might have easier access to the trail, depending on how it is designed. Pedestrians and cyclists get little respect. Just look at how many car crossings there are across the arroyo and how few pedestrian and cyclist bridges there are. The arroyo trail is cut off from many neighborhood pedestrians and cyclists because of a lack of bridges. This is part of why it is not used by more people.

Rob Morlino

This connectivity would actually allow me to use the Arroyo Chamiso trail more often. Currently, the lack of connectivity in the area means that I have to ride the shoulder on Camino Carlos Rey and Cerrillos to get to work and around the neighborhood. Maybe people don't use that part of the trail that often because it's actually so difficult to get to.

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