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Albuquerque is not your typical city. It represents the epitome of urban sprawl. It's not a bad thing - it just is the way Albuquerque developed. Most areas are quite new, and although there is a small but wonderful downtown area, and a quaint and historic Old Town, the majority of the city is suburbia. You can't think of it as a traditional city - it is a western city that grew in all directions at once. In 1978 there were still dirt roads in neighborhoods and on the fringes of town. Now - none at all. The city limits have increased to the ultimate boundaries to the north, south and east. The Sandia Mountains block development to the east, and Pueblo Indian Reservations block development to the North and South. The only direction left to grow is west of the Rio Grande.
Much has been said about public transportation in Albuquerque, but what needs to be added is that unless the corridor of Route 66 (Central Avenue) through Nob Hill, the University, Downtown and Old Town are the only areas you want to visit, the bus system here is really lacking for tourists. The areas mentioned above are easily accessed by the bus system, and are very safe and walkable once you get there, but there is so much more to Albuquerque than Route 66. Bus routes run throughout the city, but are really geared toward the commuter, not visitors. Some routes stop running completely after the evening rush hour. City cutbacks have hit the bus routes hard, and many routes run very infrequently, leaving tourist stranded and at the mercy of expensive taxi rides.
Visitors to Albuquerque are often dismayed to find that many of the places on their "things to do list" are not accessible without a car. You cannot access the Rio Grande Nature Center, The Sandia Tram, the Pueblo communities /hotels/casinos, The Petroglyph National Monument, lots of spas, retreats, and hiking trails easily by bus. Many of the fine Hotels, B&B Inns and great restaurants will also be off the bus routes. There are great day trips that will also be missed if you don't have a car. Many a tourist that has come here thinking a car would not be needed wind up going to a car rental place within 24 hours of their arrival, having learned their trip here will be so much better with the freedom of a car. Unlike Santa Fe - parking in Albuquerque is available everywhere, mostly free, but sometimes for a very nominal fee.
On a good note...the bike trail system in Albuquerque is rated one of the top in the nation. Great for commuters and travelers alike. Many travelers from neighboring states will drive here with their bikes in tow, and bike all over the city during their entire stay. Bike rentals are also available in several locations all over town.
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