Walk Austin has just released its AARP grant wrap up report, summarizing Walk Austin’s work from August to December promoting and documenting the Healthy Streets program. In addition, Walk Austin has created a special website to host the report and other information.
In April 2020, at the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, Walk Austin led a coalition of organizations urging the City of Austin to create Healthy Streets to allow people to get safe, socially-distanced exercise close to home without needing to travel across town or crowding in public parks. The program launched in May with an initial batch of 3 locations and followed up in June with a second batch of 3 locations. The program uses temporary infrastructure, including barricades and barrels, to slow traffic and create a “soft closure” whereby walking, bicycling, and driving can more safely coexist.
Healthy Streets immediately proved popular citywide. Locations such as Avenue G in Hyde Park, Bouldin Dr in Bouldin neighborhood, and Belfast Drive in Windsor Park proved popular; other locations – particularly those characterized by wide streets, long blocks, and few houses – proved less successful. However, overall the program inspired tremendous public enthuasiasm as a vision of streets rebalanced for a wider range of uses than currently exists today.
Having secured an AARP to liaise with the Healthy Streets program from August to December 2020, Walk Austin documented people’s experiences out on the streets, advised on placemaking activities at the locations, and encouraged people to express their opinions about the program. As a result, when the City of Austin announced a wind down of the program, hundreds of community members were able to contact the City to express their support for continuing Healthy Streets.
While Healthy Streets is currently in limbo with some locations still in place but no recent news on future plans, Walk Austin is currently working on recommendations for a revival that will hopefully see a larger, more successful program that integrates the inspiring placemaking activities that passionate residents have undertaking at various locations. Look out for those recommendations soon.