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New Year's wishes for Austin walkers

Michael Barnes, Out & About

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Why hasn't Austin generated a prominent group lobbying for pedestrians?

"They're on foot," quips transportation reporter Ben Wear. "They'd all be late for the meetings."

Absent an activist to quote, allow me to present some New Year's wishes that might spread the good cheer of this flâneur's life.

For walkers: Don't dash into traffic. If we could just abjure jaywalking, Austin pedestrian deaths would plummet. Needless to say, freeways are right out. Also stay off busy thoroughfares in between intersections. Get out of the street altogether if the cars are going above 25 miles an hour.

Now, it's OK to walk along quiet residential streets. You often don't have a choice, since many Central Texas districts never built sidewalks. Yet even on curved suburban streets, stay alert. Keep an eye on those essential sightlines. Don't ever assume a driver sees you.

Crucially, do not jaywalk just yards from an intersection. Don't, then, stand in the central turn lane like that's going to protect you from drivers shuttling in both directions. Take a few extra strides before stepping off the curb, pause to make sure drivers and bikers are paying attention, and then cross with the light.

For drivers:Accept us as part of the street ecology. Unlike you, we are not protected by tons of steel. As long as we are minding the rules of the road, our bodies belong there.

Think of this particularly when you turn left after the turn-signal has elapsed, or when you edge into the crosswalk to make a right on red. This is when you are the most dangerous: trying to take that turn you believe is a divine right. In fact, it snarls pedestrians on the intersecting streets and ultimately slows you down. Wait until we are done.

For planners: Don't forget that virtually everyone is a pedestrian at some point during the day. Some people don't drive, bike or take mass transit at all, but everyone who does, then leaves those vehicles at some point to complete their journeys. The City of Austin has done an admirable job making our sidewalks, streets and parking lots more wheelchair accessible. (The task is never done.) Let's consider expanding that with more lighted crosswalks.

I know drivers bitterly resent these incursions on high speeds, but the alternative is walkers and others bolting in front of cars, often because there isn't a light nearby. (Flashing red is a stop sign; solid red is like any other red light.)

For Austin City Council members: Density is not a gift to developers. It is a gift to the people of Austin.

Since the rational reign of former Mayor Kirk Watson — now cutting through the Gordian Knot of medical education — most politicians have agreed that enlightened density cuts down on sprawl, traffic, pollution and freeway uglification. In recent years, however, some council members have assumed that density will happen naturally and developers should be "taxed" for height variances and such.

Pedestrians need this density — and could use complementary mass transit — in order to sustain a walkable city.

mbarnes@statesman.com