Trinity Drive: Not a Hard Decision



On The Mesa Facing North

By Columnist Greg Kendall

It was a momentous couple of weeks for Los Alamos and our county council. Not only did the council pass a lease agreement that will allow North American Development Group (NADG) to move forward on the Trinity Place Shopping Center, but our council also approved a new road design for eastern Trinity Drive. Trinity Place will bring a new and expanded Smith’s Marketplace “big box” store to Los Alamos at long last.

At Tuesday’s tumultuous county council meeting, County Engineering Division Manager Kyle Zimmerman presented his traffic plan for the eastern section of Trinity (and a small portion of East Rd.) The new option has the support of the N.M. 502 Corridor Study Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and many Los Alamos citizens, especially those living and working in the area.

“Zimmerman’s option is comprised of one roundabout at 4th Street and Central Avenue and a single lane road in each direction with widened medians at the intersections of Airport Road and Tewa Loop that are designed for a travel speed of 35 miles per hour,” reported the Los Alamos Daily Post this week.

The “Zimmerman option” provides for traffic calming and noise reduction for Eastern Area residents. Safer road crossings for pedestrians heading to the pool or nearby churches are also a feature of the design. The design provides for a “gateway feature” at the roundabout that can be nicely landscaped to impress our visitors with our obvious class (before they pass the ginormous Trinity Place/Mari-Mac ocean of parking.)

At public comment during the council meeting, Michelle Altherr said she believes we have a branding problem in that a lot of people believe that Los Alamos is an unhealthy place to live and our water and soil are toxic. Altherr noted that some people don’t want to make their home here or even visit. A five lane road would be just about perfect for allowing these people to drive straight through and leave town as quickly as possible.

Altherr said that if we are a more inviting town with a two lane road, a roundabout, multimodal transportation facilities and traffic calming, then we are telling the world that this is a healthy place to live and that this is a community that cares about its environment and people.

Altherr makes good points. I too find that many friends from Santa Fe and Albuquerque believe that Los Alamos is a “toxic dump.” The funny thing is that Los Alamos has fantastically pure water from our ancient aquifer, our air quality is outstanding and our views and outdoor recreation opportunities are second to none. These are the most tightly held secrets in Los Alamos. People in general seem to live longer, happier lives up here and are, for the most part, extremely health oriented (thus the great success and growing popularity of the Co-op Market.)

Chris Stubben noted that there are only two lanes going up main hill and we are unlikely to blast the hill away to make four lanes. If there are to be four lanes, he requests that they not be in front of East Park Pool. He made the strong point that we already have a Truck Route “A” and we don’t need a Truck Route “B.” Stubben (and Skip Dunn) noted that the Truck Route needs improvement at the traffic light at the bottom of the route, which tends to bottle-up with commuters at times.

My thought for improving the Truck Route is to build an underpass that doesn’t have a stop, so folks leaving the lab can move smoothly and swiftly past the lighted intersection. Better yet, how about building a roundabout at that intersection! It would work great, but I fear we’re just not there … yet. Forget I even mentioned it!

My sincere hope is that we never put another gall-darn stop light anywhere in Los Alamos EVER AGAIN. They are so 19th century.

Kristin Henderson made the comment that this road project is about the future and asked council what we want our town to be in the future. Henderson noted that, in the past, it might well be that it didn’t matter what our town looked like, people where going to move here anyway. Henderson also noted that, in the past, having a lack of amenities might well have been seen as a feature of Los Alamos! She really feels that those days are well past us now. It is important for us to have livable spaces, livable streets and pleasant places, in her opinion.

Michael Di Rosa asked, “What do we want Trinity Drive to be?” He noted that the Los Alamos Chamber of Commerce calls Central Avenue our main street. He asked if we want to give Trinity Drive the same potential or are we just so envious of Santa Fe that we must build our own version of Cerrillos Road?

In his recent letter to the Monitor’s editor, William Mead noted that Los Alamos’ planning and zoning policies have led to growing residential areas next to this major arterial road. (I note that more residences are expected to be built south of Trinity in the future.) This has made the debate over improvements to Trinity Drive more difficult and contentious.

I agree with Mr. Mead on that point. The very nature of what Trinity Drive “is” has morphed over the last couple of decades into a more residential and pedestrian area that cries out for major re-design.

Long ago the lab moved most of its industrial operations across the bridge. Gone are the quonset huts and utility shops that once dominated Trinity Drive views.

The area is no longer just the industrial and tool shop oriented part of town. Much of Trinity has been zoned to be included into our core downtown overlay and now, with Trinity Place being developed and DP Road’s TA-21 site being re-mediated, the area will become even more pedestrian and less industrial than ever. We see more families attempt to cross Trinity Drive. Soon more shoppers will, too (“soon” being a relative term.)

We can’t round up all the families that have moved into neighborhoods adjacent to Trinity and herd them off, can we? People have been begging our leaders to fix the problems with this road for a very long time. Thank goodness the State’s DOT – N.M. 502 project finally brought it all to a frothy head, forcing our leaders to take action.

In the end, council based its decision on Michael Di Rosa’s basic question. “What do we want Trinity Drive to be?” How does the road integrate into our vision of what our town is now? There are great technical arguments on both side of the roundabout issue. We could continue to argue these points until we have all settled down peacefully at Guaje Pines and beyond. (Don’t laugh, it’s still a possibility.)

Sticking with an outmoded vision of Los Alamos clearly no longer works. Each year, more and more retailers are closing shop, with Brownell’s Hallmark being just the latest causality. Our once elite school system has moved to open its enrollment in order to fill desks. A single economic engine for Los Alamos is no longer enough. We need our town to be more than mostly a place for lab employees to catch their Z’s and buy their groceries.

Our county council ultimately determined that Trinity Drive is a vital part of Los Alamos and that Trinity should serve the citizens of Los Alamos by making our town a better place to live and thus attracting the best and brightest who will make their homes here, raise families and contribute to our future prosperity.

Finally, the decision came down to the choice of making the town better for all our citizens, be they young or old, drivers or pedestrians; or, on the other hand, optimizing the town for those sitting in their cars, trying to go some place else.

In the end, it wasn’t a very hard decision to make.