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Meet The Man Looking to Make Austin a More Walkable City

During 2012 alone, 22 pedestrians were killed in Austin. As a means of transportation, or commuting to and from work, walking is tough. The city is too spread out, and outside the urban core, the transportation system doesn’t encourage walking. 

But some Austin officials want to change that. That’s why they invited a “walkability” expert to learn how some streets can be transformed into walkable spaces. 

Dan Burden leads the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, a non-profit in Washington State. He is also a walkability expert scheduled to meet with Austin officials.  As he stands at the corner of Burnet and Koenig streets in North-Central Austin, he measures everything around him. 

Dan Burden speaking in Austin earlier this week.

“Look how far this crosswalk is from the intersection” Burden says. “The farther back you put the crosswalk, the less likely the motorists will see the pedestrian. And then they make the right turn, in all innocence, and take out the life of a pedestrian because of a bad design.”

The corner of Burnet and Koenig is a bustling four-way crossroad. Lamar Middle School is right there. So are an H-E-B and several little shops. The Texas School for the Blind is nearby. So dozens of people walk through that intersection everyday. Some are visually impaired. At each of the crossings, Burden measured the width of the sidewalks, and pointed to some of the pedestrian dangers.

In cities like Vancouver, Portland and San Diego, the walkability concept is old news. But things are different in Dallas. Mary Grinsfelder is with the Community Council of Greater Dallas, a non-profit that is spearheading the movement to make Dallas more pedestrian friendly. It's also working with Dan Burden.

On his first visit, Grinsfelder and her team picked a part of town where five streets converge in a mostly immigrant neighborhood. She says Burden “was able to come in with some very practical, not incredibly difficult to implement, next steps that could transform that area into a much immediately safer environment. But [he] also showed us ways that there may be opportunities to spur economic development.” Voters in Dallas just approved a bond package for this project. 

The idea of walkable neighborhoods is an idea that has caught traction in mostly affluent neighborhoods. But, as the population in Texas continues to grow, Burden says walkable areas are the cheapest way for cities to expand. A handful of state legislators have demonstrated to have some to introduce Burden's ideas to other Texas cities, and Burden is meeting with them this week.

Texas Standard reporter Joy Diaz has amassed a lengthy and highly recognized body of work in public media reporting. Prior to joining Texas Standard, Joy was a reporter with Austin NPR station KUT on and off since 2005. There, she covered city news and politics, education, healthcare and immigration.
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