Meeting with federal officials
Nick Ferenchak (right) presents April 4 to Sen. Martin Heinrich (left), Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Ben Ray Lujan.

A University of New Mexico School of Engineering researcher leading a new center focused on pedestrian and bicyclist safety participated in a meeting on April 4 in Albuquerque with federal officials, including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Lujan.

Nicholas Ferenchak, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, is leading the Center for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety at UNM, which is a University Transportation Center funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The center will receive $10 million over five years. It is focused on solutions and technology to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety. New Mexico has had the highest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation for six years, Albuquerque has the second-highest pedestrian fatality rate of any city in the country, and New Mexico is in the top five for bicyclist fatality rates.

Ferenchak was invited to the meeting, arranged by Sen. Heinrich’s office, to discuss pedestrian safety issues and solutions. The meeting took place at a fire station in the South Valley to highlight the first responders who must respond to pedestrian crashes. Other officials in attendance were U.S. Rep. Melanie Stansbury and Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller.

The meeting was convened in the Albuquerque area to highlight the Department of Transportation recently awarding a $6.3 million Safe Streets and Roads for All grant to provide safety upgrades for projects around the nation, including a section of Coors Boulevard in Albuquerque’s South Valley, where there have been at least six pedestrian fatalities in the last year. Some of the team toured the project, where a section of Coors will have protected bike lanes and pedestrian walking paths.

At the meeting, Ferenchak said that the Coors project is a good example of how to improve safety on arterial roadways, where three-quarters of all pedestrian fatalities occur. Another example he cited was Central Avenue, which is a key east-west corridor through the heart of the city. He said that of all the pedestrians struck in New Mexico, about a quarter are along either the Central or Coors corridors. However, the Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART) project installed a few years ago on Central resulted in a decline in a 65% drop in serious and fatal injuries, mostly due to lowered vehicle speeds and prohibiting left turns.

“We need to focus on large, fast roads,” he said. “We need to fundamentally rethink our arterials, making them more multimodal.”

The Center for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety was among 34 University Transportation Centers to receive up to $435 million in grants, which was announced earlier this year by Buttigieg. The projects are funded by President Biden’s infrastructure package