Bond Money to Build New Sidewalks Only Goes So Far

Mar 1, 2017

Traversing Austin on foot often brings to mind Shel Silverstein’s famed collection of poems, “Where the Sidewalk Ends.” In Austin, the sidewalk often ends – or doesn’t begin at all.

On Tuesday, Austin City Council members saw a detailed list of where the first sidewalks are to be built using a portion ($37.5 million) of the $720 million transportation bond approved by voters in November. That may be able to fund up to 60 miles of new sidewalk -- a fraction of the total miles of missing sidewalk identified by the city's Sidewalk Master Plan.

“There’s 390 miles of [missing] identified sidewalks in that master plan,” assistant City Manager Robert Goode reminded council members Tuesday.

In the coming year, the city aims to build nearly nine of the 60 sidewalk miles that will be funded by the bond. Of those miles, the majority are in Districts 1 and 9, which spans parts of Central East and Northeast Austin. That trend will continue with the entirety of the bond money – with nearly 50 percent of new sidewalks set to be laid in Districts 1 and 9.

Council Member Ann Kitchen, who represents South Central Austin (District 5), took issue with these numbers.

“I have some concerns that District 5 is only showing under this criteria an amazingly small number of sidewalks, and I need to understand why that is,” she said.

Council Members approved the latest version of the city's Sidewalk Master Plan, which prioritizes sidewalk needs, in June. Council Member Greg Casar reminded Kitchen of this.

“If we are making any changes I just would want to know how that comports with the criteria we laid out,” he said. “I do think that the fairest way of doing this is to set up the best criteria that we can for where the sidewalks are most needed as we voted on recently.”

Council members still have an opportunity to make changes to the proposed list. Construction on the first batch of new sidewalks is not set to begin until June. 

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