Albuquerque Journal North | April 15, 2010

Students Aid St. Mikes Plan

Kiera Hay | April 15, 2010

The city of Santa Fe, in a far-reaching quest to revamp St. Michaels Drive, once mailed residents a survey asking them to share their thoughts on the car-clogged thoroughfare.

The questions included the direct What do you like about St. Mikes?

The most popular response, with around 48 percent of the admittedly small (28 people) vote?

Nothing at all.

City officials hope to change that mind-set, and this year theyre getting some help from students at Worcester Polytechnic Institute of Massachusetts.

A small group from the school, working out of the Santa Fe Complex, is spending two months this spring collecting information and creating tools for a long-term municipal project aimed at turning St. Mikes into a boulevard reminiscent of those seen in Europes greatest cities.

At a presentation before city officials and others Wednesday at the Santa Fe Complex, the students unveiled preliminary findings that included results from their own survey on St. Mikes.

The WPIers, along with some helpers from DeVargas Middle School, collected 34 responses from people who live or shop in the immediate area.

The sentiments were similar, and hardly shocking.

People felt the thoroughfare has too much of a commercial feel and could use more trees and parks. Its not really pedestrian- or bike-friendly. It would be nice to have more restaurants and other entertainment options, but St. Mikes does, for the most part, serve everyones business and retail needs.

Almost unanimously, everyone would like to see more public space in the area of St. Michaels Drive, student Kristen Leigher noted.

In an appeal that could prove an interesting challenge for urban planners, Santa Feans also like the relatively smooth traffic flow down the road — and dont want it to change.

For the most part, survey takers tended to like the idea of a new St. Mikes but were wary about the potential costs, especially for a revamped road.

If the burden falls on the taxpayers, its not something thats a priority to them necessarily, student John Mulhern said.

The WPI surveys will be combined with older inquiries conducted by the city. Another set of surveys is also slated to be mailed by the city to residents in the near future.

The overarching goal is to help the city establish statistical baselines for St. Mikes and provide it with some redevelopment tools, said the students, who also collected GIS information and census and traffic data.

Their work will eventually become part of a community planning project spearheaded by the Santa Fe Complex and city of Santa Fe.

Using ambient computing, a kind of human-responsive technology, officials hope to eventually create a room or other platform where information could be projected and dissected in a large-scale, interactive format.

Someone interested in improving walkability on St. Mikes could, with a few touches, use the tool to figure out, for instance, how traffic on the street is affected when the sidewalk is doubled in size.

The WPI presentation gave a general idea on how it all might work. More details, including a look at how the program might work in conjunction with different St. Mikes designs solicited by the city last year, should be on hand later this month when the WPI students make a final presentation.

Similar technology is already in use in other places, but the specific planning tool being developed by the Santa Fe Complex would be a first.

City officials said the technology could be used for other Santa Fe projects — St. Mikes is acting as a sort of pilot — and exported around the country and world.

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Source: Albuquerque Journal