AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin is rethinking the way you get around town.

We’re getting our first look at what future sidewalks, trails and bikeways could look like in Austin.

Austin Public Works and Austin Transportation departments released three draft plans Friday, which are available for the public to view and comment on concerning sidewalks, crossings and shared streets, urban trails and bicycles.

The city said it tried to apply an equity lens to all plans starting by creating a base map called Equity Analysis Zones (EAZ) — areas of Austin that have higher concentrations of historically marginalized populations.

“Equity hasn’t always been centered in the past; people have been left out of the decision and planning making processes. So we wanted to make sure we’re doing better,” said Katie Wettick, Austin Public Works Department’s urban trail program manager.

The city’s EAZ map shows most of the most vulnerable and medium-high vulnerable zones are on the eastside of Austin.

“Many of these areas were targeted through a historic practice called redlining, where banks and other institutions withheld investment based on the racial/ethnic or economic make-up of the community,” the urban trails plan states. “Many of these areas are now experiencing high rates of displacement.”

“Now, it’s kind of looking at how do we overcome that? How do we knit these communities back together, and make sure everyone has equal access to resource equal access to opportunities?” Wettick said.

This map shows where the most vulnerable Austin populations are located. You can see they fall primarily on the eastside. (Source: City of Austin)

Having more transportation options factors into affordability, as well, said the city. It said transportation costs are the second-highest household expense behind housing.

“Bicycling, scooter, tricycle, and other micromobility are an opportunity to significantly
reduce transportation costs through driving less or reducing the number of cars in a
household,” the city states in its bike draft plan.

It added ensuring everyone has access to those other mobility options will help lower transportation costs.

The map on the left shows where affordable areas are in Austin based on housing costs — the areas shaded in yellow. When you factor in transportation costs along with housing, though, you can see those affordable areas are dramatically reduced. (Source: City of Austin)

Affordability isn’t the only aspect at stake for Austin’s vulnerable populations. So is safety.

The city’s sidewalk, crossings and shared streets plan states lower-income communities of color experience a disproportionate amount of danger compared to other Austin communities.

“There’s been times that I’ve been almost hit by a car,” said Steven Hunter, who’s lived in East Austin almost his whole live.

Up until about a year ago, he relied on walking and public transit to get around.

He said for the most part, he felt connected, but the new plans will definitely help with safety.

The map on the right shows the city’s Pedestrian High-Injury Network. The city said EAZs overlap with higher shares of the HIN. (Source: City of Austin)

It’s why the city said it’s focusing on on the eastside in its draft plans and where to prioritize routes.

You can find all of the plans here, along with how to submit your own thoughts on them.

Equity challenges still ahead

The city’s goal was to get feedback from diverse communities that represent their demographic makeup of the city, but said they fell short of that.

Wettick said part of the problem was having community meetings.

“We haven’t thought enough about who’s showing up to these meetings,” she said. “If you’re working two jobs, if you have a bunch of kids at home, if you don’t have a way to get there, you’re not coming to the public meetings.”

Kia Hunt agrees.

“It sounds like well, you don’t care, but we do care. We talk about it all the time,” said Hunt, who’s lived in Austin for 15 years. “You can’t ask someone to take off work just to come to a commute a community event.”

The city said they elevated the responses they did get from those communities online, as well as those from community ambassadors, who were paid to reach targeted communities.

Wettick said they plan to rely more on those ambassador programs, as they gather more feedback and implement plans.

“They were the ones who had trust, it’s really about building that trust. So how can the city build trust with community? Or how can we use these community members in a way where we’re collaborating with them?” she said.

She said they hope to go a step further than the online surveys they’ve been doing.

Wettick said they hope to address concerns from people in those EAZs, including not feeling comfortable on the new paths.

“Not that it wouldn’t be nice to have a bigger, better community, a more connected community. But what’s going to happen to our kids and our kids, kids, and are they going to be welcome?” Hunt said.

Hunt is also worried about gentrification.

“We as a culture, people, we’re awake now. And… see the signs of when it’s coming and how it’s coming,” she said.

She’s also worried about neighbors being displaced.

“It’s about what you’re taking, versus what you’re giving,” she said. “How is the… vulnerable population gonna really benefit from it?”

To address displacement concerns, the city said it will study displacement impacts near current urban trails, for example, and develop an action plan to mitigate those impacts for their new plans.

They also plan to partner with other city departments or community groups who are already working on anti-displacement efforts.