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In defense of sound walls along Great Northern

Pam LeBlanc

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 9, 2013

Like most people, I’d rather run or ride my bicycle along a pleasant, tree-lined road than a street bordered by a concrete wall. But that doesn’t mean I oppose construction of a sound wall along Great Northern Boulevard.

If you read Ben Wear’s article on the front page of the Austin American-Statesman on Tuesday, you know plans are in the works to construct a 20-foot sound barrier along a stretch of Great Northern Boulevard, just east of Loop 1 (MoPac Boulevard) near Far West Boulevard.

Without rehashing everything in that article (you can read it at if you’re a Statesman subscriber), here are some thoughts:

I run and ride my bicycle along the stretch of road regularly. There’s a wonderful two-way bike lane there, and it’s a popular place for exercising.

Full disclosure: I live in Allandale. But my house doesn’t back up to Great Northern, so I didn’t get a vote on whether or not a sound wall goes up.

I think that’s fair.

I spend maybe 30 minutes every day or two pedaling or running along that stretch of road. I don’t have to deal with the highway noise for nearly as long as the people who actually live on Great Northern. Those folks, I believe, are the ones who should get to decide if a sound wall goes up.

And, in fact, they did. The vote happened, the wall was approved, the sound wall should go in.

True, it won’t be as aesthetically pleasing for exercisers like me. But we’re not talking a hike-and-bike trail here, folks. Great Northern isn’t a scenic route, with towering majestic oaks and gushing streams. The foliage consists mostly of smaller trees like china berries and crepe myrtles.

I don’t think that my desire as an athlete to have a prettier stretch of road to train on should outweigh the rights of the people who live on the road.

I heard this week that a petition is being circulated among cyclists to stop the wall. It bothers me that people who don’t live on the road are lobbying to stop a wall that others have worked hard for many years to get.

One more thing. Those of us who live in the neighborhood can make the best of the situation by making sure the stretch of road is properly landscaped when the wall goes up.

The sound wall doesn’t have to be a blank concrete canvas marred by graffiti, like the one in the photo that’s been posted on signs in the area. We can plant vines, trees, flowers and bushes to make it prettier - and provide a little peace to the people who live on the street at the same time.