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Texas Cities May Be Turning the Corner on Pedestrian Safety


Tuesday, February 21, 2012   

HOUSTON - The Lone Star State's four largest metro areas are among the nation's 25 most dangerous for pedestrians, according to a recent study. But that could be changing. One of the nation's leading "livable cities" experts says San Antonio, Dallas and Austin are already making strides, and Houston officials are contemplating policies that could make that city a model of mobility for non-drivers.

Dan Burden, who directs the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, is in Houston today to provide encouragement. He says most public streets accommodate only about two-thirds of the people who live near them, something the "Complete Streets" movement is trying to rectify.

"The people who have been traditionally left out include our own children, folks who are older, and then a lot of people in between. About a third of our population do not have access to cars. So it's going to create an equity in our country that is long overdue."

It won't happen immediately, he says. The idea is not to mandate expensive overhauls of every urban roadway, as critics fear, but, rather, to persuade engineers and local officials to simply consider the needs of walkers, cyclists and public-transportation users when designing new roadways or improving existing ones.

Tim Morstad, associate state director for advocacy with AARP Texas, says seniors who no longer drive can feel so trapped in their homes they resort to institutionalized care, sacrificing independence. Complete Streets, he says, can make a difference.

"Where there are sidewalks and crosswalks and blinking yellow lights, and there are accommodations made for people to get around. That could mean years and years of staying in the place where people would rather age, and that's in their own homes."

While Morstad supports Complete Streets policies at the federal, state, and local levels, he says ordinary citizens can play a big role in improving their neighborhoods by participating in "pedestrian safety audits" - community-level inventories of mobility obstacles.

"There may be a senior center on one side of the street, and a bus route on the other side of the street, and there's no crosswalk. A pedestrian safety audit is really a top-to-bottom review of what works and what doesn't work."

He says it can show officials and planners problems - and alternatives - that only a block-by-block analysis can reveal.

The Legislature is expected to consider a Complete Streets measure next session. Houston officials will likely debate new city policies this spring.

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Walkable and Livable Communities Institute: Houston events Tuesday: Transportation for America study and city rankings:

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