What should be done to provide bicycle, pedestrian and equestrian paths along upper Meadowlark Lane between Loma Larga and Rio Rancho? The roadway was re-designed and rebuilt more than two years ago with the promise that a new effort would be made to learn what villagers wished to have along the road shoulders. That had already been determined a long time back based on extensive public involvement, including a consultant conducting a planning charette, but the resulting 2013 plan was scrapped when it was learned the proposed path along the north side of the road could not use funding contingent on compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Finally, the public input effort has resumed with a meeting in the Village Council Chambers Thursday, July 8. Results of that meeting could not be included in this issue.
According to Public Works Director Mike Chavez in 2019, approvals were in place for the bike and pedestrian trail along the westbound lane, although no start date was announced. That part of the overall project was delayed for a re-design of a paved bike trail to satisfy the N.M. Transportation Department’s concerns about compliance with ADA. The original design had problematic slopes both east-west and north-south at the same locations near the top of West Meadowlark. Resolution of that issue was to have been resolved by modifying several driveways on private property to reduce the steepness of approaches to the proposed paved trail. But that never happened. Village Administrator Ron Curry said more than a year ago that the best work-around was to use the Village’s own money, rather than federal-state funds that might require ADA compliance. Although Curry did not link the two, that substitution may have been made possible after Corrales received funding last month through the state highway department’s Municipal Arterial Program (MAP).
The upper Meadowlark project received intense, and often contentious, public input since it was first proposed around 1990. In 2010, the Mid-Region Council of Governments (MRCOG) allocated $160,000 for an Upper Meadowlark bike trail connecting Corrales and Rio Rancho, but the Village Council turned the money back. West Meadowlark residents strongly opposed the project as then proposed, arguing the funds were inadequate to address stormwater drainage problems that might result. At the June 28, 2011 Village Council meeting, councillors voted unanimously to send back $160,000 for proposed trails. But almost immediately councillors unanimously resolved to ask MRCOG for a new grant to construct trails along Meadowlark or some other road that could connect to Rio Rancho’s bike paths. The council’s decision to turn back the MRCOG grant came in a package of related resolutions. The first re-allocated the funds that the Village would use for its local match to go with MRCOG’s $160,000.
The $51,000 which had been tagged to go with the grant (which was originally targeted to complete construction of Loma Larga) was re-directed to construct bike lanes for the extension of Don Julio Road in the Far Northwest Sector out to Highway 528 at its intersection with Northern Boulevard in Rio Rancho. That decision alone killed the Meadowlark bike trail project, so the following resolution to turn back the MRCOG grant was pre-determined; there was no other potential money for the required local match. Then-Councillor John Alsobrook took a longer view on West Meadowlark Lane’s problems. “We’ve learned quite a bit about the history of this section of road. It had stop signs put in and then it had stop signs taken out. It had a right-turn lane that was put in, and the right-turn lane was taken out. It had speed humps put in and taken out, and speed tables were put in.” In a revision to its initial recommendations, the consulting firm hired to suggest ways to improve upper Meadowlark Lane called for bike riders to use the same downhill driving lane as autos, or divert to the future pedestrian path along the south side of the re-configured roadway, now completed.
Appearing before the mayor and Village Council at their September 10, 2013 meeting, Steve Burstein of Architectural Research Consultants presented a new “Option A” that shows a five-foot wide bike lane adjacent to the westbound driving lane, while eastbound bike riders would be expected to come down in the same regular traffic lane used by motor vehicles. If cyclists did not want to “take the lane” with regular traffic coming down hill, they would be encouraged to bike along the proposed pedestrian path along the south side of Meadowlark, he said.
Among the advantages of the revised plan, cyclists using the bike paths along the Rio Rancho section of Meadowlark Lane would have a continuous connection to designated routes coming down into Corrales. Downhill bike riders would be informed to merge with regular vehicle traffic, or veer off onto the pedestrian trail. Some residents along the north side of upper Meadowlark had objected to routing both uphill and downhill bike riders to a future path on the north side of the road. They said they feared pulling into the path of fast bike riders as they left their driveways and tried to enter traffic. In Burstein’s revised plan, downhill cyclists would use the eastbound driving lane or use the pedestrian path along the south side of the road. The change was endorsed by the Corrales Bicycle, Pedestrian Advisory Commission as well, following communications with Burstein and his planners. Back then, Village Administrator John Avila said he understood work on the Meadowlark project could be at least partially funded through the MAP, which offers funding annually.
While Village officials had already assumed they could use future MAP money for changes to the intersection of Meadowlark and Loma Larga, Avila said he thought the same funding source could be tapped to pay for changes within the upper Meadowlark right-of-way for its entire length up to the Rio Rancho boundary.
Drawings submitted by Burstein at the 2013 council meeting showed the 60-foot right-of-way divided as follows, from south to north:
• a five-foot buffer from homeowners’ property line;
• a five-foot-wide pedestrian path (to be used also by bike riders who don’t want to ride in the regular downhill traffic lane);
• a five-foot buffer from the eastbound driving lane;
• an 11-foot eastbound driving lane next to;
• an 11-foot westbound driving lane next to;
• a five-foot wide bicycle lane as part of the pavement;
• an 18-foot shoulder along the north side of the road that would accommodate drivers trying to enter or leave driveways as well as;
• a four-foot-wide horse path along the most northerly part of the right-of-way.
Perhaps the consultants’ most important finding was that the proposed changes to Meadowlark Lane would not preclude the roadway’s designation and use as a “collector” road. That means such improvements would likely be eligible for funding through the federal-state Mid-Region Council of Governments. For nearly a year, that had been a lingering doubt: changes that residents might insist upon to reduce traffic impacts along upper Meadowlark could disqualify the project from essential funding.