What if Austin's Sidewalk System Were Actually Finished?

RECEIVED Tue., April 10, 2012

Dear Editor,
    When I was a child visiting my grandmother in Austin, I had the privilege, for the first time in my life, of walking by myself to the grocery store on the sidewalk. It was really great. I thought of Austin as a magic place where children could go places by themselves.
    It turns out that my experience was rare. Most children in Austin never walk anywhere, whether alone or otherwise. Three-fourths of Austin's curbside miles lack sidewalks. No one in power ever mentions finishing the sidewalk system.
    Why do our leaders insist on building rail systems before building the sidewalks necessary to make public transit work? Why can we afford much more costly biomass plants, dysfunctional rail lines, race-car tracks, and highways, but never a complete sidewalk system?
    A fellow pedestrian says it's because the officials entrusted with city infrastructure are interested mainly in padding their résumés. These aren't imaginative people. They think that a big highway cutting through the city like a wound is a glorious résumé-building tool. And they see sidewalks as insignificant, unworthy of their talents.
    What if we actually finished Austin's sidewalk system in 10 years? (City leaders will say that's impossible; only biomass plants and highways can be built quickly.) If seen and built as a single project instead of two thousand tiny ones, a complete sidewalk system would transform Austin, turning it into the kind of city people want it to be: friendly, peaceful, egalitarian, affordable. A complete sidewalk system would solve so many problems at once. Yet our leaders never even mention it.
    Shall we go on paying people to ruin our city to pad their résumés? Or could we perhaps start insisting that Austin's sidewalk system be finished in 10 years?
Yours Truly,
Amy Babich
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