Contributed by the Walkable Coordinator Team: Anna Laura Harmjanz, Zain Khan, Tony Pham, and Corrina Sullivan.
In 2020, Arlington saw 36 cyclists and 105 pedestrians involved in traffic crashes with 7 pedestrian fatalities, according to the TXDOT’s Public CRIS Query system. By June 24th, 2021, two days before our walk audit, 12 cyclists and 42 pedestrians had been involved in traffic crashes with 1 cyclist and 6 pedestrian fatalities. The trend of increased fatalities concerns us as we slowly return to pre-pandemic traveling patterns. While many college students like those from the Walkable team want to walk and bike more, Arlington ranks the 13th deadliest city for cyclists which prohibits many potential UT Arlington students from biking.
In Arlington, an estimated 82% of commuters drive alone, while only 0.2% bike to work and 1.5% walk to work, according to the US Census American Community Survey. It’s severely understated how much driving is contributing to climate change. Driving is by far the largest contributor to our personal footprint: according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation sector generates 29% of the total greenhouse gas emission in the U.S. Because walking and biking are much healthier alternatives to driving, a study in Iowa has estimated that current biking has resulted in $87 million in health savings. Within the contexts of Downtown and the UTA Campus, students, faculty, and staff members see the University as a "commuter school:" 90% responded that they travel by a gasoline-powered transportation mode according to a survey from the UTA Office of Sustainability. Because Arlington is the largest city with no public transportation, there needs to be a seismic shift in how we travel to campus.
The economic power of our traveling patterns is immense, and yet Arlington is not fully optimizing its investment in transportation. We estimate that the comprehensive costs of traffic crashes in Arlington in 2020 are $1.8 billion using the National Safety Council's methodology. Moreover, numerous economic benefits arise from being a walkable and bikeable city. A walkable community costs the taxpayer less, largely due to the fact houses and their utilities are closer together. Additionally, a walkable community reduces overall costs, such as those associated with fuel and traffic accidents, for the commuter by increasing location efficiency. Alongside increasing property value, a one-time investment of $6.7 million in regional biking infrastructure in North Carolina Outer Banks has generated $60 million in annual tourism revenue—a nine-to-one investment return.
The first step in any process always is to understand the context—we can't improve Arlington without knowing where to improve! That's why we want to do the walk audit to assess walkability in Downtown Arlington. Since most of us are UTA students and this is our first time organizing a walk audit, we are somewhat acquainted with the area which should make the process easier. From there, we can create a template for future walk audits beyond Downtown.
By inviting a diverse group of stakeholders including city council members, locals, and student leaders we can make more observations in data collection, share a variety of ideas, experiences, and resources, as well as foster a collaborative work environment. Together we can come up with solutions and create actionable goals for a walkable City of Arlington.
The conversation doesn't have to stop at Downtown. We recognize that other areas in Arlington need safer and upgraded pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. By building a coalition, we can create a more connected and walkable City of Arlington and bring the economic benefits to many underserved and overlooked neighborhoods.
To have a larger coverage of our walk audit, we split into four different groups to walk multiple routes in Downtown. Each team comprises of a Walkable Coordinator (Anna Laura, Corrina, Zain, and Tony), residents, and local leaders, and interested members and leaders from UTA. Each team was equipped with several survey questions which informed our observations, and were asked to rate the conditions from "very good" to "very bad." Below are summaries of what each team saw.