Mountain View, a neighborhood in the Rio Grande Valley south of Albuquerque, is one of the most environmentally burdened communities in New Mexico. There are dozens of industrial facilities, and hardly any places for kids to play outside. With heavy traffic and no sidewalks, just walking home can be dangerous.
But some of that is changing, with the help of a new wildlife refuge.
Lauro Silva is a long time resident of Mountain View. We’re driving in his diesel pickup truck down Second Street , along the route of a proposed new pedestrian walkway and bike path. When it’s finished, the path will lead from the northern part of the neighborhood to the Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge a few miles to the south.
People here are stoked on the idea. And it doesn’t take long to see why.
"That is where, there is a cross there, a nine-year-old boy was killed there. One of those big tractor-trailers came out and hit him," Silva said. "Right up ahead, there was a woman who was killed by a train that hit her right here. Now this cross that you see right here, it used to be a ghost bike, where a bicyclist was killed."
Nationally, traffic crashes have been going down. But not in Albuquerque.
Silva, who serves as president of the Mountain View Neighborhood Association, says he’s been hearing for years that people feel like they’re taking their lives in their hands when they walk here. Over the years, memorial crosses and white-painted ghost bikes on the roadside have marked places where pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by traffic.
It’s the only major thoroughfare through this largely lower-income neighborhood, peppered with junkyards and heavy industrial facilities. There’s lots of traffic. The speed limit is 45 miles per hour, but there’s no sidewalk, just a dirt shoulder.
"There are many people who get off the bus on Rio Bravo, and they walk down here," Silva said. "A lot of them are women pushing baby carriages. People walking on this gravel, it’s very bad."
And that is one reason why the U.S. Department of Transportation’s plan to build a new bike and pedestrian path along Second Street is getting a lot of support.
The plan is part of an effort by the Department of Transportation to improve access to federal land—in this case, the federal government is pitching in $10.5 million to build the path from Valle de Oro refuge, along Second Street to Mountain View Elementary School. From there, Bernalillo County will pay for another mile of walkway to the north.
"We’re very excited about this trail, because it will actually provide not just health but safety for the residents on Second Street," said Veronica Cid, who’s heading up Bernalillo County’s side of the trail plan. She says this kind of project would have been way too expensive for the county to handle on its own.
"If not because of the Valle de Oro, the federal land access program, the Second Street project wouldn’t even be a talking point right now," she said.
That point irks some people in the community. Groups like the Mountain View Neighborhood Association, Los Jardines Institute and others have been advocating for this kind of infrastructure for years, saying the fact that people are risking their lives just walking home should be enough reason for a sidewalk.
And people say there should be more improvements than just the Second Street corridor. There’s a general shortage of safe places to walk in Mountain View—just ask Sara Carrillo, Principal at Mountain View Elementary School.
"The kids don’t have a place to play. They go home and they don’t play outside. Then they come to school and they’re not healthy, or they’re overweight and they get tired quickly," Carrillo said.
Carrillo says little improvements, like the sidewalk on Second Street, could make big differences for her students, and for the community at large.
"We could have the kids walk to the nature center," she said. "If we had a bike trail and a riding trail, we could promote bike to work day—I’ve never wanted to promote it because I’ve been scared to death of, what if someone got hurt."
Carrillo says building a healthier community here will take more than a new bike and walking path. But for a long-marginalized neighborhood, it’s a hopeful start.
The Department of Transportation is taking public comments on the pedestrian and bike path now. Construction should be finished in two years.
KUNM’s Public Health New Mexico project is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and Con Alma Health Foundation. Find out more online at publichealthnm.org.