AUSTIN, Texas — A recent audit shows Austin’s sidewalk program needs more money and better oversight.

Austin has 2,400 miles of sidewalks. It needs more than double that: 4,980 total miles.

That means there are currently 2,580 miles without a safe way for people to walk.

“I think the audit was very good. It pointed out the good things we're doing. At the same time, we welcome some of the recommendations they provided because it would help us do even better going forward,” said Pirouz Moin, Interim Assistant Director of Public Works.

RELATED: City of Austin lacks funds to pay for sidewalk projects, audit shows

The focus has been on sidewalk needs for the “highest priority” areas.

You can see the absent sidewalk network from 2017, with the scoring results.

“It’s a combination of factors, but a major factor is proximity to schools, bus stops, hospitals, employers – as well as population density [where more people are walking, etc]. We also consider the type of street [residential vs. arterial] and reported accidents/safety concerns,” said Kyle Carvell, Public Affairs Manager for Public Works.

The Sidewalk Master Plan outlines all of this in detail under the “Scoring Matrix” section.

A bond passed in 2016 covers only 3% of what’s needed city-wide. It’s only 10% of the highest-priority spots, according to the audit.

“The lack of funding address is the bigger picture where we have over $1 billion need for new sidewalks, the 2,500 miles of missing sidewalks, as well as repairs of existing sidewalks. It’s $1 billion total but the ‘high’ and ‘very high’ priorities for missing sidewalks is over $400 million and repairs is over $150 million,” Moin said.

The KVUE Defenders told you how sidewalks correlate with pedestrian-involved car wrecks: More sidewalks lead to safer streets.

Poor city planning decades ago disproportionally affected minority communities.

Moin said their focus is city-wide which will include addressing the long-neglected communities.

“Over the life of the program you would see that it’s responding to the needs of each district,” Moin said.

Austin Sidewalks Built in 2018 versus what's identified in the Sidewalk Master Plan
Office of the City Auditor

“On any given day we have anywhere from nine to 12 sidewalk projects being constructed around Austin. To make sure that we are continually building these, sidewalk projects are in preliminary stages of design and engineering so they can be ready to be built immediately after others finish construction,” Carvell said.

Carvell said the sidewalk team puts quarterly updates online. In the first quarter of 2018, 24 sidewalks were completed with others at stages of planning and design.

The audit calls for Public Works to collaborate with other city departments and entitles to make sure the information is being shared.

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The response and plan said: “The Public Works Department will contact other known holders of this data (i.e. Development Services Department, Austin Transportation Department, Cap Metro, local Texas Department of Transportation area offices) to determine amount and form of data as well as other possible data sets available. As scope becomes more defined, the Public Works Department will work with these other entities to propose a methodology whereby this data is regularly reported to Public Works Department for collation and reporting" (p. 9).

The implementation date is three years away.  Moin said that's because they’re updating the Master Plan.

“We are planning to update [the Master Plan] in 2021," Moin said. "That update would respond to this need as well as us getting together with our partners, other agencies, other departments developing services and creating an automatic and regular way of receiving data."

The Public Works department also looks for changes to city code allowing more enforcement power. Their current campaign, “Clear the Row,” explains the responsibility of property owners.

Click here to see the Local Mobility Annual Plan.

Click here to see sidewalk program projects underway and in development stages.

From the Public Works Department:

SIDEWALKS IN GENERAL:

  • In June 2016, City Council adopted an updated Sidewalk Master Plan with the 10-year goal of addressing all very high and high priority absent sidewalks within a quarter-mile of all identified schools, bus stops and parks, including both sides of arterial and collector streets and one side of residential streets.
  • The 2016 Sidewalk Master Plan is our guiding document for building new sidewalks in Austin.
  • The City contracts out most of its sidewalk work to local contractors who are very familiar with this process—some sidewalks are also constructed by City crews.

THE 2016 MOBILITY BOND: 

Quick Background:
In November 2016, Austin voters passed the 2016 Mobility Bond, providing $720 million in funding for a variety of transportation infrastructure projects. The 2016 Bond Program is composed of eight distinct programs, including the $482 million Corridor Program, the $101 million Regional Mobility Program, and the $137 million Local Mobility Program. The Local Mobility Program is composed of the Bikeways and Intersection Safety/Vision Zero programs, managed by the Austin Transportation Department, and the Sidewalks, Safe Routes to School and Urban Trails programs, managed by the Public Works Department. The sixth Local Mobility program, Substandard Streets and Capital Renewal, is sponsored by the Austin Transportation Department and managed by the Public Works Department.

SIDEWALKS AND THE 2016 BOND: 

  • The 2016 Mobility Bond dedicated $37.5 million of Local Mobility funding to implement the 2016 Sidewalk Master Plan/Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Transition Plan, with a focus on increasing mobility by addressing "very high" or “high” priority sidewalk gaps.
  • New sidewalk improvements may also include installation of new or rehabilitated curb ramps, curbs, sidewalks, driveway aprons, safe crossing treatments and other adjacent or related construction to meet ADA requirements.
  • We estimated that we would build 40-60 miles of sidewalks with these funds over the next 8 years, and we are definitely on track to meet that goal (trending more toward the 60 than the 40)
  • For...  what’s been done with the 37.5M for sidewalks and what’s planned for 2019 and beyond, check out Page 25 of our Mobility Action Plan.
  • It should be noted that other programs that received funding in the 2016 Bond have and will continue to fund new sidewalks as part of their projects, including the Corridor Construction Program, Regional Program, and other Local Mobility Programs. To read about this, click here.

THE RECENT AUDIT REPORT:

  • …The recent audit did not “uncover” that there was a large need for sidewalks.  The need for sidewalks and our lack of resources to fund them has been known for a while and is captured in the 2016 Sidewalk Master Plan.
  • The 2016 Bond represented a large step to try to tackle that need, and we have been making tremendous progress in that program (as the audit noted). Bottom line: we agreed with the findings in the audit and saw it as a positive opportunity to help us ensure we are continually improving our processes.

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