Mesa crosswalk
Last Saturday, September 21, a pedestrian was hit and killed on the 2900 block of N. Mesa, near Miner Village. This is the second pedestrian fatality on Mesa, and the third death on a Texas Department of Transportation right-of-way, in two months. We can heap blame on the motorists and pedestrians involved in these crashes, or we can question the transportation culture, perpetuated by TxDOT, which creates the unsafe and inadequate infrastructure that eventually leads to these fatal outcomes. These crashes should push us to examine how our poor pedestrian infrastructure increases the risk of accidents and deaths on our roads. TxDOT District Engineer Bob Bielek recently said in an interview that “car is still king” in El Paso. He neglected to mention that it was TxDOT that crowned it. Without walkable streets, convenient access to services and amenities, or decent bicycle infrastructure, of course people are going to make every trip by car. In the rest of the country–in the rest of Texas–this car culture is dying. Other communities are building healthier and safer infrastructure that encourages cycling and walking. But TxDOT, which funds roughly 80% of all transportation projects in El Paso, continues to embrace an outdated notion at the expense of the health, safety and vitality of our community. KINT 26 Univision "Avenida Mesa: Peligrosa para peatones" KINT 26 Univision “Avenida Mesa: Peligrosa para peatones” It is time to turn this deadly situation around. We can begin by asking TxDOT what design aspects have been, or are in the process of being, implemented to address pedestrian safety and accessibility on their roads, specifically on Mesa, a commercial corridor populated by UTEP students and that gets heavy foot traffic. Next, we should pose the question to ourselves. Why should we care about being able to access Mesa by foot, bike, or bus? Aside from the obvious safety concerns, walkable neighborhoods generally have higher commercial and residential property values. According to WalkScore.com, an international measure used by consumers and the real estate industry to rate walkability on a scale of 0 to 100, “a 10 point increase in [a neighborhood’s] Walk Score increases commercial property values by 5-8%; each point is worth up to $3,000 in a typical metro area.” With a Walk Score of 69, compared to an average score of 38 for the entire city, Mesa has the dubious distinction of being El Paso’s most walkable street as well as its most dangerous. While property owners and local businesses may see the value and desirability of having a functional Mesa that accommodates all modes of transportation, TxDOT narrowly categorizes Mesa as a highway reliever route in the event that I-10 closes. This designation precludes TxDOT from requesting and implementing projects that would improve pedestrian access – like crosswalks, stop lights, and bike lanes – at the expense of impeding the flow of traffic. Traffic flow is an important concern, but the completion of Loop 375 will allow TxDOT to divert fast-moving traffic away from one of our most walkable streets. As a community, we need to demand that completion of the Loop positively affect Mesa’s functionality, placing less emphasis on highway relief and more on accessibility for all modes of transportation. Ultimately this comes down to vision. TxDOT’s vision for El Paso determines the city’s infrastructure for decades to come. If TxDOT intends to foster a culture where car is king, then it should do absolutely nothing and continue to allow pedestrians and cyclists to die preventable deaths on El Paso’s roads. If TxDOT wants to help El Paso catch up with the rest of the state and the country, improve the city’s health and safety, and give El Pasoans the freedom to walk or bike around their city, then the agency needs to take concrete and effective steps to change our infrastructure. "[VIDEO] KINT 26 Univision “Avenida Mesa: Peligrosa para peatones”":http://www.kint.com/2013/09/23/avenida-mesa-peligrosa-para-peatones/

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