St. Michael’s Drive: From Bypass to Urban Boulevard

18 Sep

By Charlotte Martinez

In the 1950s, a bypass joined Cerillos Road and Santa Fe’s Old Pecos Trail and it was called St. Micheal’s Drive. Growing from a four to a six lane highway in the ’60s, the road was “designed a time when the car ruled,” says consultant Daniel Werwath of Mix Santa Fe. The widened bypass allowed for a quick flow of traffic from the intersection of Cerillos to St. Vincent’s Hospital and today the street remains a “black hole”—a way of getting somewhere else and doing it in a short amount of time. Residents are car-ridden, walkers are obstructed by unfriendly fencing, and students from the currently re-opened University are reluctant to bike. The road’s dangerous traffic flow, car driven businesses, and asphalted strip malls have become outdated for Santa Fe’s growing population and artistic reputation.

Daniel Werwath- along with his MixSantaFe co-members, the City of Santa Fe’s Housing Department, The Chamber of Commerce and other organizations, are teaming up to demonstrate the potential transformation of St. Michael’s bypass to a pedestrian-friendly boulevard. The project, called RE:MIKE, envisions a road that will “balance new vitality and economic opportunity with a sense of place and people.” Werwath says their goal is to “facilitate change” and “enable projects” for private and public plans that include architectural, technological and economic innovation for the area of St. Michael’s.

According to Werwath, there exists two major players on the streets of Santa Fe. The tourists, being one, are attracted to the historical and artistic sites while the second, the locals, are current users of St. Michael’s Drive. Santa Fe’s reputable plaza-like atmosphere, if copied to St. Mike’s, could attract both tourism and local business, giving the central location a new vibrancy. RE:MIKE then asks: What is St. Mike’s missing? Targeted responders, mostly youth and starter families, call for affordable housing and studio space for creative entrepreneurs, while designers call for a better reflection of Spanish architecture. But first, the traffic must go!

The most active of the the road’s reconstruction plans are given by the Housing Department’s Vision of the Future Collaboration. This project, which was first presented in 2009, gave seven urban designers creative license to design and draft a new St. Michael’s Drive. The resulting drafts and images are to be displayed in RE:MIKE’s September 21, 22, 23 Pop-up pre-vitalization of Central Santa Fe. Essentially, the Housing Department challenged the groups to solve the following problems: How do we make the street pedestrian friendly, is there room for alternative transportation, and what will be done to solve the problem of parking?

Contemporary Architectural company Albert Moore and Associates suggested a reduction of traffic lanes and an insertion of a central median. Assuming that the reduction of lanes meant slower traffic and close proximity of building to street, the median would be rich in greenery, watered by collected storm water underground, and inviting to pedestrians. To solve the problem of parking space, Moore company drafted an underground parking structure.

Lloyd and Associate Architects of Santa Fe also drafted a central median with the addition of roundabouts at all St. Michael’s intersections. The roundabouts would call for slower speed limit and safer passage into side streets. As an alternative to parking space, Lloyd proposed that the wide median host “a rail line that runs through the heart of St. Michael’s,” inviting the local train and potentially the Rail Runner as a means of alternative transportation. The traffic would maintain its flow through the remaining lanes and break off into its side streets with relative ease.

Street nodes were suggested by Roy Wroth Urbanism and Planning alongside roundabouts as an immediate change to traffic flow. Not only would the exit from the street be smoother, but it would be much safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Additionally, Wroth’s sketches include space for bike lanes and landscaped intersections that would “act as elegant, traffic-calmed entrances to residential neighborhoods.”

Simpler constructions, designed by Spears Architects of Santa Fe and Steve Price/Urban Advantage of California, proposed to change St. Michael’s Drive to a four lane through street with one way traffic, bike lanes, on-street parking and a tree-lined median. In most of the proposals, St. Mikes was envisioned with a lively median that would serve as an attractive walk and gathering space. This addition would hopefully trim down the remaining lanes to make way for pedestrians, bicyclists, alternative transportation and businesses.

So what is the next step for RE:MIKE? Much of the work in promoting, surveying and presenting the benefits of reconstruction will be shown in the September pop-up demos, but RE:MIKE hopes to inspire people to be involved in supporting the ideas in front of the city counsel, for example, or for private investors so many of these drafts and designs can be implemented in the future. Werwath explains that it’s a matter of “rearranging the city’s funding”  in order to give that leg up to business and construction. From there RE:MIKE will belong to the community.