AARP AARP States Texas Advocacy

Volunteers Make South Austin More Walkable

Jessica Lemann, who coordinates Austin area outreach for AARP Texas, regularly presents to AARP chapters and at meetings of community groups. Her presentations are usually well-received, but even she didn’t expect the chain of events that would be spurred by one of her presentations for South Austin chapter #2426.

“I asked to talk about walkability and to demonstrate what it would look like through a presentation and an audit. They thought sure that sounds interesting and they would learn a little about safety,” says Lemann. “When they actually got out there, they were shocked at how unsafe it was. They thought for the first time about what it would be like to not have a car. They were determined to make it safer.”[/youtube]

Tom Bauer, one of the chapter leaders, tried to use the marked crosswalk several times during the audit. A couple resulting near-misses with cars were captured on video. This was a big problem because the senior center was virtually inaccessible to foot traffic from the neighborhood and to any older Austinites who arrive via the bus, which stops across the street. Bauer wanted to bring the problem to the attention of elected officials.

The group went to Austin City Council Member Chris Riley’s office looking for help on how to navigate the system and advise on who they should talk to in order to get improvements brought to the area. After seeing the video, Riley was so moved that he suggested a type of protected crosswalk called a “pedestrian hybrid beacon." Riley then helped shepherd it through city approval and implementation.

“We saw a problem. We documented it clearly, and we took it to city leaders,” chapter member Mary Ragland told the Austin Post. “It was a great feeling knowing that we were able to make South Austin a little friendlier to seniors who go to the center, folks taking the bus and the neighborhood at large.”

The crosswalk was recently dedicated at a ceremony with city officials and chapter members.

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