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
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
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.