Have you seen the recent Statesman video in which two reporters navigate Great Streets projects as a race? To demonstrate a car vs. foot challenge, Wear walks and Doolittle drives from the Statesman offices across the river to Jo’s on 2nd Street (race 1) and then from Jo’s to the Driskill Hotel (race 2). All the while the video has spliced in commentary on the downtown Great Streets program. We found their Great Streets challenge to be more amusing than most of these types of stories – let’s forget for a moment that a transportation reporter (Ben Wear) should know peak hour traffic would have been the best time for someone walking to challenge a driver to a race downtown…
The challenge focuses only on how fast each can travel. Since, Wear is never out of breath (and he is not an athlete) I can only assume he took his time to smell the roses, check out the view crossing the river, maybe even talk to people along the way, but decided to leave out all that superfluous stuff. Doolittle on the other hand wins the race, but loses the enjoyment of all the “distractions” of walking. We think those “distractions” are an enjoyable part of walking. If you aren’t sold on that just yet, check out pictures from each reporters view below.
Wear explains that the downside of Great Streets is narrow car lanes and loss of parking; however in both races Doolittle finds parking within feet of the destination. They both act surprised, but don’t seem to recognize the irony that reality just undermined Wear’s theoretical complaint.
Doolittle only beats Wear across the river and over two blocks on 2nd Street by 3 minutes and the two of them basically tie from Jo’s to the Driskill, a seven block trip. What is so amusing about that? Wear just got about 30 minutes of exercise and more time outside than he normally gets! All Doolittle got was bragging rights on 3 minutes and the chance to pay for parking while Ben’s parking was…well, not necessary.
Musings and amusement aside, downtown has had a commitment for almost a decade to build more pedestrian friendly sidewalks, increase the amount of shade, and lighting – the major elements of Great Streets. This is reflected in the design of 2nd Street and Whole Foods Market, both built years ago, incorporating Great Streets elements. More recent development like Cirrus Logic’s new downtown headquarters also has Great Streets features. The city has built sidewalks with a Great Streets design while finishing up other major work to complete a street, (i.e., underground infrastructure on Brazos Street) and in some cases, as the Austin Business Journal notes, in their recent article “City’s Great Streets program starting to show its worth”, sometimes private developers include Great Streets design into their project.
What is clear is that more people are choosing to live, work, and play downtown. Good sidewalks attract people, sidewalk cafes, and generally make it a more pleasant place to visit, talk business, or just read the newspaper. Check out this short video from EveryBodyWalks.org that explains why building excellent sidewalks builds community.