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Bike Austin fights for Healthy Streets

Thursday, October 8, 2020 by Ryan Thornton

The Austin Transportation Department removed two segments of Healthy Streets last week, and barring another wave of cases of Covid-19, will continue winding down the initiative by removing one or two street projects every couple of weeks until all eight are gone. With social distancing still a necessity, however, Bike Austin is calling on the city to reverse the wind-down at least through the end of the pandemic.

“Healthy Streets was created to help people get safe, socially distanced exercise during the pandemic,” the organization stated in a newsletter. “For as long as the pandemic is with us, we need Healthy Streets.”

Bike Austin has created an online campaign encouraging community members to contact their City Council representatives in defense of the program. The campaign web page notes that Council’s Healthy Streets resolution from May directed the city to consider a wind-down only “when social distancing is no longer needed in our community.”

Austin Transportation removed South Austin’s Whispering Oaks Drive project and part of East Austin’s Comal Street project on Friday. Assistant Director Anna Martin said the Comal Street segment was removed to accommodate the opening of Kealing Middle School, but the department said the broader decision to discontinue the program came in response to the “promising direction” of the local seven-day average hospitalization rate, which has hovered between 12 and 14 daily hospitalizations this month.

Despite the decline in hospitalizations, Austin and Travis County remain in Stage 3 of Austin Public Health’s risk-based guidelines, which recommends maintaining social distancing, wearing a face mask and avoiding gatherings of more than 10.

“The Healthy Streets program is crucial for safety and wellbeing,” the campaign site states. “As the pandemic drags on, socially distanced exercise is still vital.”

Bike Austin is urging residents to provide feedback on specific Healthy Streets segments on the city’s interactive feedback map as well as complete the program survey. The campaign reminds the public that traffic calming measures are not limited to the need for social distancing, but are necessary to meet the city’s Vision Zero goals of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

To date, 63 fatal traffic crashes have resulted in 68 fatalities this year. There were 63 traffic fatalities by this time last year.

“In just months, the impact of Healthy Streets has been profound,” the campaign states. “We’ve seen what happens when streets are rebalanced for everyone, not just cars: people pushing strollers, children on bicycles, smiling neighbors waving to each other. This is a happier Austin and people want more.”

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