Just last month, a 73-year-old woman walking on the sidewalk near a grocery was struck and killed by a tow truck in the middle of the afternoon, just as the kids across the street were getting out of school. It was an unnecessary tragedy, and it underscores the fact that anyone stepping out of a home or car and onto the street in Houston could be in danger.
There were 345 vehicle-related pedestrian deaths in Texas in 2010. More than one in five of these were in Harris County.
It could be a student, crossing the street in front of school. It could be his mother with a toddler while getting a bag out of a car parked on a street. Or it could be her father, who has opted to stay in his home of 40 years and now chooses to walk to nearby businesses for groceries and medicine. And why are all these people in danger? Because Houston streets aren’t built for walkers. That isn’t what transportation planners chose to focus on in the past century.
While this is an intergenerational issue, AARP has an interest because of people like the grandfather. It’s important to the health, happiness and well-being of Houstonians that they have transportation options as they get older. They need choices about how to access shopping, visit friends and family and remain active, allowing them to stay in their homes and neighborhoods.
This problem is not unique to Houston. In a recent AARP poll of Americans age 50 and older, nearly half said there were streets unsafe to cross near their homes. But it is worse here. Houston is the ninth most dangerous large metro area and the most dangerous in Texas, according to Transportation for America, a coalition of local, state and national housing, business, health and other groups.
Fortunately, a new concept has come to the Bayou City - Complete Streets. Complete streets are just that: completely functional and safe for pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.
Excitement is building in Houston around this concept, which can reduce risk to pedestrians. A diverse set of groups, including AARP Texas, has formed the Houston Coalition for Complete Streets, a strong alliance with one driving force: It’s time to make Houston streets safe for everyone. It’s time for the Houston City Council to pass a Complete Streets ordinance.
Hundreds of people came out to a series of events late last month all to learn about and express support for the coalition’s work. Nationally renowned transportation planning expert Dan Burden recently came to Houston to talk with officials, planners and the public. In a hands-on assessment of Navigation Boulevard, he saw what he said could be “the worst sidewalk in America.”
A network of safe sidewalks is important to keeping Houstonians out of harm’s way. About 40 percent of Houstonians don’t drive. Some are disabled or too young. Others can’t afford it or simply choose not to own a car. Roads with accessible sidewalks, bike lanes and other simple features are better for everyone. Among other things, they can encourage economic growth, reduce crashes and decrease traffic congestion.
As more Texans opt to walk - and bicycle and take public transit - as a key mode of transportation, the streets need to be ready for them. And, increasingly, given the struggling economy, the cost of gas and the aging of our population, this is exactly what more people are choosing to do.
Choice is important not only for safety, but also to make transportation around town easier and more enjoyable for folks. Local streets are not just unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. They’re unpleasant experiences for everybody and don’t allow Houstonians to fully enjoy our great city.
The Houston Coalition for Complete Streets, and the AARP-led statewide Safe Streets Texas campaign, believes that streets aren’t just for drivers. They must serve everyone who uses them, including older Houstonians who want to remain independent and active in their communities. Our leaders need to hear this: It’s time to make Houston streets safer. It’s time for a complete streets ordinance.
Full Story: Aging Houstonians want safer streets
Source: Houston Chronicle, March 13, 2012
Sign the petition here
For more information go to houstoncompletestreets.org