SLNA Takes First Step With Pedestrian Walkability Study
by Kevin Lewis, SLNA Officer

Our neighborhood can be a difficult place to walk. Going to visit friends or to the taco joint for breakfast presents a choice: walk cautiously on streets where there's no sidewalk but plenty of cars zooming by, or hop in your car (assuming you can) and become one of the zoomers, for all of 3 minutes. Finding better ways to get around the neighborhood was the theme of a pedestrian safety and walkability workshop the SLNA hosted March 23. Neighbors learned how pedestrian accommodations can make getting around more convenient and safe, and even help build the community. The meeting was only a first step, but a valuable one.

The presenter-moderator was Charlie Gandy, a nationally recognized consultant on pedestrian and bicycle safety, and also a resident of South Austin. Organized by SLNA Sidewalk Committee chairperson Patricia Fiske, the meeting included a traffic engineer and a staff planner from the City of Austin, as well as Jeff Jack, aide to Councilperson Beverly Griffith. Gandy's talk and slides presented examples of various problems encountered by pedestrians: sidewalks that are incomplete, interrupted, obstructed, in disrepair or non-existent, dangerous intersections with busy streets, inadequate signage or crossings. It was an intimidating litany of concerns, unfortunately well known to folks in our neighborhood. These are situations few of us would likely negotiate, and which are critially dangerous for persons with disabilities or children.
Things got more encouraging as we saw how sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks and traffic management measures can provide both physical safety and psychological comfort. Examples shown included not only simple concrete sidewalks, but decorative ones with features unique to the area. Some integrate streetside plantscapes, public art, benches, mini-plazas, nature trails and other public spaces. We also saw how bike lanes, crossing protection and street modifications can help keep interactions with cars moderate and safe. Though each community is unique, we saw how successes in other areas might be translated to improve our neighborhood. Gandy described situation after situation where improvements not only kept residents from dying, but made their area more beautiful and enjoyable.
Next we walked some of the neighborhood, using the streetscape (and ditch-scape) as props in further discussion. Walking along Del Curto, we not only saw but felt (as in the breeze of cars passing at close range) the consequences of an unchanged rural design in what has become an urban neighborhood. The extreme narrowness of the road, it's hills and curves, and complete lack of shoulder demonstrated the need for improvements. At Bluebonnet we saw how a poorly designed intersection encouraged drivers to slide past the stop sign, making a bad crossing worse. Approaching Lamar we saw the challenge presented by a complex, extremely busy, wide intersection, which for our children is practically a barrier to walking to Zilker Elementary.
Returning indoors, neighbors discussed specific problem areas and potential improvements. Among others, we pointed to Del Curto, Thornton and Clawson roads. We discussed what measures might be used in which situations. We used a large map to highlight areas for further investigation, including possible connections between streets which we hadn't noticed before. Without drawing conclusions, we found opportunities for improvement both obvious and obscure.

As Council aide Jack pointed out, there's no simple method for getting improvements to our neighborhood, but involvement in the City budget process is key, especially in what promises to be a tight budget year. Across the country and in other parts of Austin, residents have organized to gain improvements. The workshop last month helped us start that movement here, but active participation is the only thing that can continue it. At the SLNA meeting April 18 we'll discuss what we can do to move forward.

Clawson Road today   Clawson Road after adding lane stripes for ped/bike lane
With inexpensive paint striping, Clawson Road could be made safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Del Curto/Bluebonnet today   Del Curto/Bluebonnet after adding traffic circle
A circle could calm traffic at the intersection of Del Curto & Bluebonnet, while providing a scenic
entry point into our neighborhood.