Old Town Farm Calls for Bike-In Zoning


By Elise Kaplan

Linda Thorne and Lanny Tonning—Photo by Elise Kaplan

Linda Thorne and Lanny Tonning—Photo by Elise Kaplan

—Linda Thorne and Lanny Tonning have a proposal for Albuquerque: Create a new kind of zoning to encourage business development aimed at bicyclists.

But what began as an effort to boost an already thriving recreational scene has raised questions about the unintended consequences of bike-centric commerce.

The vision the couple paints in an active change.org petition is idyllic. “You’re riding down the bike path away from the frenzied traffic and enjoying the great outdoors. … You’re conducting everyday business, crossing errands off your list, doing many of the things you’ve traditionally done in your car—on your bike.”

The idea grew in their back yard. Tonning and Thorne, who own Old Town Farm, decided in the fall to take advantage of their quiet, shaded property’s placement along the city bike path. They created Bike-In Coffee, offering fresh-brewed coffee and food made from homegrown produce. They marketed it as a pit stop for cyclists.

“We realized there’s a cycling community here, and we can grow stuff from our garden and promote the produce,” says Thorne. “It was purely accidental, but it just worked great.”

Photo by Elise Kaplan

Photo by Elise Kaplan

As their venture grew, Thorne and Tonning say they began to wonder if other businesses along the bike path could also profit from pedal traffic by offering spaces to rest, meet friends and shop. The couple reached out to local bike stores, city planners, open space officials and City Councilor Isaac Benton to float the idea of creating what they’ve come to call bike-in zoning.

This special designation is intended to create low-impact, small-scale, commercial activity, says Thorne—much like Bike-In Coffee, which sees about 150 customers each weekend. “If you’re riding along the bike path, and you don’t know it’s there, you’re not going to know. We’ve really been designing this to make it as obscure and unobtrusive as it could possibly be.”

With the help of attorney Bill Kraemer, Thorne and Tonning began drumming up interest for bike-in zoning through the farm’s website and encouraging customers to express their support for the idea.

Wrenches in the Works

The low-key nature of Old Town Farm’s coffee-and-snacks venture was not quiet enough to escape notice of the New Mexico Department of Transportation. On June 14, the state determined that the businesses’ direct access from the bike path was illegal. Officials locked the gate between the path and the farm property, restricting customers to an entrance off Montoya Road.

Photo by Elise Kaplan

Photo by Elise Kaplan

The state owns the right-of-way along highways to prevent businesses from building their own access, says Timothy Parker, an engineer with the department. Allowing one business access to a highway right-of-way would open the floodgates for others, making it difficult to control incoming and outgoing traffic, he says.

Although the bike path is separated from I-40 by a sound wall barrier, he adds, the trail still has to be regulated as though cars are involved. “The same rules apply legally.”

Isaac Eastvold, a cyclist and activist, says he grew concerned about future implications of bike-in zoning after he visited Old Town Farm in March.

“Old Town Farm is a very unusual circumstance,” he says. “It’s great if you want to go in there, cool your heels, enjoy the shade, talk to nice people and have a friendly gathering. But come in off Montoya. Don’t bring traffic in off the I-40 right-of-way and set precedent for the entire bike trail and maybe for the state.”

Michael Jensen of the Amigos Bravos river conservation organization attended a May 20 bike-in zoning steering committee meeting as a private citizen. Also present were Tonning, Thorne, Kraemer and representatives from Albuquerque’s city planning office and Open Space bike trails program.

Photo by Elise Kaplan

Photo by Elise Kaplan

Jensen says he fears if the city allows A-1 or agriculturally zoned properties to sell products along the bike path, any number of businesses could crop up, resulting in a commercial district along the Bosque. Most properties lining the river are zoned A-1, a designation that does not allow for routine retail or service activity.

“This is no longer about Old Town Farm or the warm and fuzzy bike-in zoning where people are riding their bicycles with a couple of baskets to go get some flowers,” says Jensen. “This is about biking trails as a Trojan horse to redefine what A-1 zoning is and allow commercial activity, which is presently not allowed. That to me is really, really disturbing.”

Thorne and Tonning say they’re optimistic policymakers can find a way to create bike-friendly regulations so cyclists and runners can make stops along the bike trails without compromising the character of the surrounding area.

“We’ve had very positive reactions from every elected official we’ve talked to because they see it as putting Albuquerque on the map as very bicycle friendly,” says Tonning. She acknowledges that no other city she knows of has bike-in zoning. “All we know is the city built bicycle paths everywhere, and if people have a residence along the bike path and want to do a limited commercial thing, we don’t see any problem with that.”

  • http://gypsybytrade.wordpress.com gypsybytrade

    Transportational cycling and direct-to-customer local business is not disturbing. The Trojan horse is the dominance of car-based legislation and preference in this country. Overall, a very thoughtful article.

    Discussions of Bike-In Zoning should recognize the difference between the Bosque Trail, which passes through a fragile ecosystem along the river, and the I-40 corridor, which has been disrupted by commerce and cars for decades. ABQ has some of the best bike facilities in the country. This kind of thinking could make it a model community.

    • Michael Jensen

      I used to cycle for commuting and pleasure an average of maybe 150-175 miles a week in urban, rural, and undeveloped areas (in California). I completely understand the attraction of Bike-in-Zoning (BIZ). However, the quote attributed to me in the above article was not my opinion. Rather, I was telling Ms Kaplan about what transpired at a BIZ strategic planning meeting I attended (it was apparently supposed to be an invitation-only or closed meeting, but they let me stay). I took notes. Changing A-1 zoning to allow “any commercial activity imaginable” was presented by the lead lobbyist for the BIZ idea, Bill Kraemer, a zoning expert. He said it was “absolutely necessary to rethink the concept of farming” in order to allow that commercial activity. The idea was also expanded to include activities that would necessarily require a vehicle – even if the initial contact were made by bicycle, say, to look at merchandise – or that would have their strongest appeal to people in cars. None of the BIZ proponents objected, nor did either of the two City staff at the meeting. It’s one thing for the OTF folks to have people come by for some coffee and a snack … through their driveway a few blocks away from the locked gate – so I don’t get why having the gate open is so important) . It’s a whole other beast when you’re talking about using BIZ as a Trojan horse to get A-1 zoning – strictly limited to farming and farm-related activities – changed for the entire county. We’re not talking about the I-40 corridor. Many people in both the North and South Valley and across the City have spent a lot of time trying to protect open space in the urban area. That is what this is about, even if the BIZ proponents don’t want to talk about it in public.

  • http://www.bizjournals.com/albuquerque dan mayfield
  • Ed Hillsman

    I generally agree with gypsybytrade. It is common in zoning to “buffer” some areas from some uses, and if bike-in zoning is implemented properly in the zoning code, then it should be possible to buffer the Bosque from businesses on land abutting the park but allow such businesses within a bikeable distance from it, while allowing bike-in businesses on parcels that abut trails through less-sensitive areas. The zoning/sign code could limit size and placement of signs by bike-in businesses. Perhaps signs might be handled similarly to gas stations and restaurants on interstate highways, where the DOT provides signs and businesses pay for a standard-sized logo, directional arrow, and distance-to-business.

    In the Tampa Bay region, which is nowhere near as bike-friendly as Albuquerque, there are some cafes and similar businesses that open back onto the Pinellas Trail in St. Petersburg and cater to the cyclists there. Signage is pretty minimal, the main evidence is the tables. These businesses are fenced, with gate openings, so that customers aren’t spilling over between the trail and business, and they enter at one point per business. I suspect that most of these places do most of their business on the other side of the property, serving customers who arrived by car. But they make a positive difference for trail users.

    Regardless of whether the bike-in zoning becomes a reality, Albuquerque’s bike trails (and park system) need greater availability of drinking water and restrooms, and these need to be marked on the trails and on maps. I ride the Bosque Trail several times a week and love it, but it’s a long way between restrooms out there.

  • Ron Rizzardi

    Nothing a pair of bolt cutters can’t solve for that locked gate.
    Let the cars have access, just don’t make it convenient to park and they won’t bother coming.