City Plans to Connect All Sidewalks (But Maybe You Can Hurry It Up in Your 'Hood)
Last September, Christie Shore was coming home from dropping her two eldest children off at Brentwood Elementary School; she rollerbladed while her youngest child biked. Rather than going out of their way to an intersection with a stoplight, the two waited for traffic to die down before crossing Koenig Lane on Arroyo Seco. They narrowly missed being hit by a car that Shore didn’t notice.
“What registered in my head was, this car isn’t slowing down, so I got behind my child and pushed her really hard and landed on top of her,” Shore recalled. “She crashed into the curb and we were crumpled inside Koenig Lane. It was terrifying.”
The car didn’t stop; Shore wound up with road rash and her 3-year-old daughter a broken collar bone. Shore was frustrated with the lack of a crossing option at Arroyo Seco, the street on which the elementary school is located, as well as the missing patches of sidewalk that meant she and her children were in the road as often as they were on the sidewalk.
“I’d had it,” she said, adding that from her home on Adams Street, which is cut off from the rest of Brentwood by Koenig, “we’re dealing with an awful traffic situation and we’re segregated from the school and commerce.”
Shore called 3-1-1, the city’s citizen interest hotline and reported the incident. As a result, the City and State are putting in a traffic signal at the intersection of Arroyo Seco and Koenig Lane. In some cases, making a difference in a neighborhood is easier than some Austinites might think.
The Neighborhood Connectivity Division is the City of Austin department that responded to Shore’s situation. Formed in 2005, the division implements pedestrian, bicycle, child safety and urban trail programs. In short, the NCD works to make sure kids can walk and bike safely to school and that citizens can walk the streets and trails in their neighborhood.
When Shore called the division, the City looked into the possibility of putting in a pedestrian crosswalk at Arroyo Seco and Koenig, but said it was ultimately the State’s decision, as Koenig is a state highway (Ranch to Market Road 2222). In the meantime, a representative from the division came and met with Brentwood neighbors to talk about mobility issues on their streets. It took a couple of months to hear back from the State, but the outcome is better than Shore expected.
“When the State looked at the intersection, they decided it didn’t meet the criteria for a crosswalk but did meet the need for a traffic signal,” she said. “Now the City will design it and the State will approve it.”
Koenig is an exception, as a state thoroughfare, but the City has plans in the works for neighborhoods across Austin, to close gaps in sidewalk continuity, add bike lanes, improve and add walking trails and improve crossing options at intersections.
As part of the City of Austin’s 2008 Sidewalk Master Plan, all missing sidewalk segments across the city have already been requested. In fact, The Sidewalk Master Plan shows that Austin has more than $800 million in missing sidewalks and a further $125 million in non-Americans With Disabilities Act compliant sidewalks.
Although sidewalks are already requested, if a section is also included in a Neighborhood Plan, which are developed by the Neighborhood Connectivity Division, Neighborhood Planning and neighborhood residents, it “can help increase their installation prioritization,” said Diane Rice, a NCD project manager. “Residents can also utilize the 3-1-1 system to request a sidewalk or crosswalk.”
Otherwise, sidewalk installation priorities are based on things like proximity to attractions, existing facilities, residential population and neighborhood requests, Rice added. The Department of Transportation decides where and when to install crosswalks based on the amount of traffic, both pedestrian and automobile.
This is all part of Mobility Bond Funding that has been in effect, at a rate of about $5 million per year, for the past few years. Although the improvements are underway, “It will take the City considerable time to bring the city into total compliance and complete the sidewalk network,” Rice said.
For more information on the City’s pedestrian-friendly improvements, click here. To report a problem you’d like to see fixed in your neighborhood, call 3-1-1.