Ecocity Snapshots

New Mexico: Gearing Up for Bicycles

A hot air balloon ascends over the Paseo del Bosque trail in Albuquerque, part of the 500-mile long Rio Grande Trail planned to span the entire length of New Mexico from Colorado to Texas.
Written by Rick Pruetz

Excerpt from Prosperity Comes in Cycles

by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders

New Mexico is not yet known as a bicycling paradise. But Albuquerque and Santa Fe are experiencing notable activity on their multiuse trails. And New Mexico itself recently adopted a statewide bicycle network plan that aims to improve health and the environment as well as generate economic benefits by boosting tourism, promoting development and offering mobility options that are much easier on family budgets than owning and operating a car.

In its current Bicycle Friendly State Report Card, the League of American Bicyclists congratulated New Mexico on adopting its 2018 Prioritized Statewide Bicycle Network Plan and the Rio Grande Trail Master Plan (League of American Bicyclists 2020). The statewide plan establishes a hierarchy of bicycle infrastructure with Tier 1 routes having the highest level of regional benefits as bikeways and warranting the highest level of bicycle infrastructure (New Mexico 2018).

In 2017, New Mexico began work on a master plan to create a 500-mile long, cross-state recreational trail for hiking, biking and horseback riding along the Rio Grande River as it flows from Colorado south to El Paso, Texas. The Rio Grande Trail will eventually connect four national wildlife refuges, six national monuments, one national heritage area and six state parks while passing through ten counties and more than 22 cities and towns (New Mexico 2017). The northernmost portion of the trail will meander through the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area which includes Santa Fe, Rio Arriba and Taos counties (Northern Rio Grande NHA 2020).

New Mexico is promoting bicycle tourism within the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area.

Cyclists can currently ride portions of this cross-state trail in places like Albuquerque, where the 16-mile Paseo del Bosque Multiuse Trail links Rio Grande Valley State Park, the Rio Grande Nature Center, the Albuquerque BioPark and the National Hispanic Cultural Center (Albuquerque 2020). Other bikeways and bike lanes intersect with Paseo del Bosque, leading to the 27,000-student University of New Mexico, the Maxell Museum of Anthropology, and Petroglyph National Monument, where more than 25,000 images were carved into volcanic rock hundreds of years ago (NPS 2019). The city is also working on a 50-mile activity loop that will ultimately connect downtown Albuquerque with Old Town, the museum district and Balloon Fiesta Park, where over 500 hot air balloons ascend during the nine-day International Balloon Fiesta every October.

Santa Fe has also seen the advantages of investing in bicycling. In order to boost ecotourism and economic development, Santa Fe County’s Open Space and Trails Program has preserved 24 properties and trails including the nationally-recognized Santa Fe Rail Trail which carries cyclists 18 miles south of Santa Fe on the right of way once used by the Atchinson, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad. The county is also cooperating with the City of Santa Fe on development of the Santa Fe River Greenway, a paved multiuse trail starting in downtown Santa Fe and meandering beside this river for 18 miles (Santa Fe County 2020). From Santa Fe, cyclists can use one of New Mexico’s Tier 1 bike routes to reach the Wells Petroglyph Preserves on Black Mesa, the Taos Pueblo, and Chimayo sanctuary, the destination of 300,000 Catholic pilgrims every year.

Tier 1 bike routes pass El Santuario de Chimayo, the final destination of the largest annual pilgrimage in the United States.

A 2012 report estimated that bicycling contributed over $300 million annually to the New Mexico economy in equipment purchases and travel related expenses (Atencio 2012). Since the time of that estimate, Albuquerque has committed to adding another 300 miles of bikeways and 159 miles of trails to a network that already has 620 miles of on- and off-road bicycle infrastructure (Albuquerque 2015). Similarly, the 2019 Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization Bicycle Master Plan aims to almost double the region’s bikeways and trails by 2024 and elevate the City of Santa Fe from a Silver level to a Gold level Bicycle Friendly Community (Santa Fe MPL 2019). Recognizing the economic as well as health, mobility, environmental and recreational benefits, New Mexico is clearly gearing up for bicycles.


Albuquerque. 2015. Bikeways & Trails Facilities Plan. Accessed 2-11-20 at

Albuquerque. 2020. Paseo del Bosque Trail. Accessed 2-11-20 at

Atencio, E. 2012. Trails for the People and Economy of Santa Fe. Accessed 2-9-20 at

League of American Bicyclists. 2020. Bicycle Friendly State Report Card: New Mexico. Accessed 2-9-20 at

National Park Service. 2019. Petroglyph National Monument. Accessed 2-11-20 at

Northern Rio Grande NHA. 2020. Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area. Accessed 2-10-20 at

New Mexico. 2017. Rio Grande Trail Master Plan. Accessed 2-10-20 at

New Mexico. 2018. New Mexico Prioritized Statewide Bicycle Network Plan. Accessed 2-9-20 at

Santa Fe County. 2020. Santa Fe County Open Space, Trails & Parks Program. Accessed 2-11-20 at

Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization. 2019. Santa Fe Metropolitan Planning Organization Bicycle Master Plan. Accessed 2-11-20 at

About the author

Rick Pruetz

Rick Pruetz, FAICP, is Vice President of the Ecocity Builders Board and an urban planner who writes about sustainability, most recently Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places and Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights.