UT to continue sidewalk, bikeway expansion

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A man walks on an uneven sidewalk on 25th Street in West Campus. Sections of pavement on 25th Street need improvement in order to be ADA compliant.

Photo Credit: Emma Whalen | Daily Texan Staff

While the rest of the city struggles to find funding to build necessary pedestrian infrastructure, UT is on track to continue to build more sidewalks and bikeways on campus.

The 2012 Campus Master Plan included recommendations for 10 streets on the UT campus, including Speedway, Inner Campus Drive and Dean Keeton, to improve pedestrian and cyclist quality of life.

While parking is coveted on campus, it does not enhance its environment, said David Rea, associate vice president for Campus Planning & Project Management.

“A key reason why the 40 Acres is so pleasant has to do with the spaces between buildings being primarily given over to pedestrian and bicycle use, not parking for cars,” Rea said. “As the campus continues to add more buildings, the master plan suggests new growth be accomplished using the 40 Acres as a guide.”

Parking on campus 20 years ago consisted almost entirely of surface parking, which made up 90 percent of total available parking. Since then, UT constructed six garages and has two more under construction right now.

One of the most common recommendations in order to improve pedestrian and cyclist quality of life calls for removing parking spots on these streets to make room for wider walkways and bike lanes. This follows the trend of moving surface parking to structured parking and allows campus to expand, Rea said.

“The vacated surface parking lots have allowed campus to add new buildings in the area of campus to the north and east of the 40 Acres, which has increased campus density in those areas to a level equal to the 40 Acres — without removing green space,” Rea said.

Sidewalks in Austin have recently gotten attention when KUT reported the city has only built half of the sidewalks it planned to since 2009. John Eastman, project manager of the Sidewalk and Special Projects division in the Public Works Department, oversees the implementation of Austin’s Sidewalk Master Plan. A project of this scale requires prioritizing where sidewalks are needed using factors such as population density and transit location, Eastman said.

“[Austin] is similar to most Southwestern cities who experienced a significant amount of growth in the postwar period,” Eastman said. “Up until the 1940s/50s, sidewalks were built as a new development in most cities. In the postwar era, that stopped in a lot of cities. Not all, but the ones that grew really fast — Houston, San Antonio, Phoenix.”

The growth coincided with a time when the automobile was viewed as the new, modern form of transportation that would take over pedestrians, Eastman said.

“We’re coming back to the realization that walking is an integral mode of transportation,” Eastman said. “We need to do it to be healthy and have healthy and vibrant cities. Now sidewalks are always required as a part of new development, but there’s a backlog from where they weren’t. So half of the sidewalks are missing.”

Sections of 25th Street sidewalks in West Campus are damaged. Emma Whalen | Daily Texan Staff

The Sidewalk Master Plan takes into account streets adjacent to the University. Although UT has no jurisdiction over streets like Guadalupe and Dean Keeton, they are integral to student quality of life. Students showed interest in participating in the city’s transportation corridor study of Guadalupe.

Austin’s Sidewalk Master Plan also includes West Campus improvements. The West Campus area, one of the most traveled by pedestrians in the city, was designated a parking benefit district a few years ago. The City allocated funds for improvements in the area — which is currently generating $100,000 a year — and plan to continue improving the area through funds raised from the parking benefit district program.

“Improvements in that little pedestrian plaza [on 23rd Street] were funded through that parking benefit district and we’re looking for improvements on 25th that would likely include filling in missing gaps,” Eastman said. “But also the other big part of the equation is fixing existing sidewalks and making them ADA compliant. There are sections on 25th without curb ramps.”