Time To Shift Priorities Towards Pedestrians

RECEIVED Thu., July 17, 2014

Dear Editor,
    I was interested to read the article, “Where the Sidewalks End” [News, July 11], as it described in detail what many American cities are struggling with as we return to more urbanized living. I am a new Austinite coming most recently from Los Angeles, where I spent 10 years as a public health advocate for smart, safe, and healthy urban planning. Like many of L.A.’s communities, Austin is clearly struggling with a return to more pedestrian-centric living, but the drivers of the city haven’t yet caught up.
    I walk with my two children everywhere in Austin. Often, I have people raising their eyebrows at me at the places I attempt to walk, but what I have found is that although the sidewalks are indeed a problem, worse still is the culture of drivers who appear unwilling to give up a few seconds of their day to let us cross an intersection safely – opting instead to cut us off to speed on their way. A culture shift towards the “walker” needs to occur.
    In my work in L.A. bringing together community residents, city planners, public health departments and others, we generated the most important recommendations related to walkability by involving residents who know their streets. We used something known as the PEQI (Pedestrian Environmental Quality Index), which is a walkability survey accessible to someone with limited education. Using PEQI, we both collected concrete data and also educated and involved residents about the issue. This helped the city in gaining support for where to target limited funds.
    I applaud the city for taking on this important issue and encourage residents to stay engaged. I also encourage “outside the box” thinking, as it is only through a broad solicitation of ideas for solutions from residents that the best solutions emerge.
Elina Nasser
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