Contact: Adam Greenfield, Board President, Walk Austin
Austin City Council takes historic vote to approve a “Healthy Streets” program
Program will prioritize safe walking, bicycling, and rolling on neighborhood streets, while still allowing local traffic, to address the the COVID-19 pandemic’s mental and physical health impacts
Walk Austin and over 30 supporting local organizations, together with over 1,000 community members, applaud the Austin City Council and especially resolution main sponsor Council Member Paige Ellis for taking a momentous step to address the strain upon the people of Austin caused by COVID-19. Following advocacy by a large coalition of organizations and members of the public spearheaded by Walk Austin, Council passed a resolution on May 8th directing the City Manager to create a Healthy Streets program (formerly referred to as “Slow Streets”) that prioritizes walking, bicycling, and rolling on certain neighborhood streets, while still allowing local traffic. This will allow residents to exercise safely while remaining six feet apart and avoid crowding in parks and on trails and sidewalks.
“During this unprecedented time, Austinites have to get creative to fill their need for exercise and fresh air. Many Austin residents do not live within walking distance of a park, and others report feeling unsafe by the influx of visitors in parks and on trails,” said Council Member Ellis.
Council has directed the City Manager to begin rolling out Healthy Streets within two weeks through “a simplified, streamlined, and cost-minimized process”, starting small with an initial batch of neighborhood streets and expanding steadily in the following period. Streets will be chosen through consultation with Council offices, City staff, and community members, the latter of whom can still submit location suggestions through Walk Austin’s Slow Streets petition.
“This is a historic decision,” says Walk Austin Board President Adam Greenfield. “With this simple but powerful direction, Council has acknowledged that our neighborhood streets are public spaces for everyone and crucial tools in meeting the COVID-19 challenge. Streets must be used during this unprecedented period for more than just one function – driving – and instead must be opened up to include more people and more activities.”
Furthermore, Council is also looking to Healthy Streets’s long term possibilities. Echoing the resolution’s main sponsor Council Member Paige Ellis’s support for using streets differently to better meet community needs in this time of crisis, Council Member Kathie Tovo also requested that “[w]hen social distancing is no longer needed in our community, [the City Manager] return to Council with recommendations for instituting long-term investments in “slow streets” programs citywide.”
This resolution brings Austin into a growing group of cities across the U.S. rolling out similar programs (commonly named “Slow Streets”), including Denver, Oakland, San Francisco, New York City, Portland, Kansas City, and Seattle.