The City Council has shown that it will spend money on new urbanist projects. It is about to commit itself to investing millions of dollars to the Seaholm redevelopment. It's spent who knows how much just planning for transit-oriented development around Cap Metro's commuter rail stations; it will take millions in infrastructure investment to spur the development the city wants. Then there are Mueller and the Domain. New urbanism can be expensive, but Council is willing to spend the dough.
Let me suggest my own new urbanist project (again). It might not be as glitzy as the ones listed above, but I think it will yield a good return on investment (and I'm pretty sure that Andres Duany would approve):
Break up the super-blocks on South Congress and South Lamar.
Neither street may appear to have many super-blocks if you go solely by nominal block length. The nominal block lengths are misleading, though. When a street carries 38,000+ cars a day (S. Lamar) or 30,000+ cars a day (S. Congress), it is almost impossible to walk across it without a traffic light or signaled cross-walk. The effective block length is the distance between street lights. (And, no, the pedestrian "islands" on S. Congress made of giant tinker-toys don't count.)
Here are three of the South Lamar super-blocks:
- Lamar Square to Hether/W. Mary: 0.45 miles
- Oltorf to Bluebonnet: 0.45 miles
- Barton Skyway to Panther Trail: 0.54 miles
If you want to cross the street from the middle of one of these super-blocks, you have three choices: (1) walk at least 0.4 miles out of your way to cross at a light; (2) dash into the center turn lane and hope you aren't run over before the traffic slows to a trickle; or (3) don't cross the street.
These aren't suburban frontage roads; these are South Austin's core streets and the gateways to downtown. It is absurd for the city to treat them simply as commuter arterials.
I'm not arguing that the City should interfere with rush-hour traffic; these are important commuter arterials. Feel free to synchronize the new lights to maintain traffic flow. But it's time to recognize that these streets serve not only commuters, they serve -- or ought to serve -- pedestrians as well. Let's pick some of the low-hanging fruit.