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Meeting in the Middle: Small Town Vibe, Big Town Streets

By Hayley Hervieux

As the Texas Legislature picks up steam, AARP is gearing up to work on the issues that impact Texans 50+, like long-term care, payday lending and of course Complete Streets.

On these and other issues, great strides can be made not only at the statehouse, but at your house and my house as well. Take Complete Streets for example.

In January, we brought in walkability expert Dan Burden of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute to lend his vast experience to the table and talk about an age-friendly Austin.

So it’s no surprise that a recent article by Stephanie Myers in the Austin Post caught our attention. Early in her article she says, “Austin is still just a small town on the cusp of being a big city.”

She’s right. In many ways Austin has that small town feel, and that can be a great thing; however, among those features is a very car-centric view of streets. It’s a pretty old-fashioned view. Especially when you think about how we get from one place to another. Even if you’re driving, at some point you have to get out of your car. And at that point, you become a pedestrian. Whether it is a short trip or a long trip, we all want to be safe while walking to our destinations.

There are a couple of things about Complete Streets--and streets in Austin, specifically--that are really important to note. First, the number of pedestrian deaths over the last year is pretty sobering. The Statesman reports 28 pedestrian deaths and 3 cyclist fatalities in 2012, noting a significant increase since previous years.

We have to acknowledge that streets aren’t just for drivers. They must serve everyone who uses them; cyclists, pedestrians and drivers of all ages should all be able to feel safe and secure on any given street. The easiest way to do this is through Complete Streets --streets with accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and other simple features are easier to use safely, encourage economic growth, reduce crashes, promote public health, and decrease traffic congestion.

This is important. For us, it’s about safety--enjoying that small town feel, where you can walk down to the corner store or neighborhood hangout, but with a big city level of infrastructure. And it’s about promoting independence, especially for older Americans who want to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible. Sometimes what’s good for the city is good for its people too.

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