We want quality of life, we want something we can be proud of without getting into a car to enjoy the community.
That is the bottom line from Edinburg Environmental Advisory Boardmembers (EEAB) who have submitted long anticipated plans to the city that addresses sprawl and pedestrian safety in Edinburg. Boardmembers say that as citizens they looking to see a change in the way the city is planned.
At its most recent meeting on June 25, the EEAB said it had completed its assessment of sidewalks and pedestrian issues. The board now sends its recommendations to city officials for review, with a tentative item on the City Council agenda set for later this summer.
“As citizens we are going to see a change in the way our city is planned,” said Mark Peña, boardmember and coordinator of Edinburg’s CoolCities climate change initiative. “Pedestrians are going to play a much greater role in the way planning is done in our city. We want to accomplish a lot of wonderful goals in the coming years.”
Efforts to improve mobility must be a part of a plan that considers pedestrians as much as as automobiles, according to the EEAB. The plan has to take into account options for walking, biking and public transportation along with concepts of “new urbanism and smart growth.”
New urbanism and smart growth are some of the newest concepts for environmentalists that reduces sprawl, according to Peña.
“This is happening around the country not just in the Valley. The city is starting to look at these concepts, basically make this city much more livable, encouraging infield development and getting back to the way cities used to be built where people can get around the city without getting into a car,” Peña said. “They lived close to where they worked, where they ate, where they played so everything was within five minutes of your home.”
For existing sidewalks in its recommendation to the city the EEAB is asking for a citywide survey of existing sidewalks and the implementation of a repair program, which places emphasis on frequently used locations.
The board is asking for the relocation and removal of obstructions like utility poles, street signs, parked automobiles and mail boxes for the rerouting of sidewalks.
On the issue of sidewalks needed in the city, the EEAB says priority should be given to constructing sidewalks in areas frequented by pedestrians including parks, swimming pools, the library, recreational centers and neighborhoods around these facilities.
The County Courthouse, City Hall, UTPA and its surrounding neighborhoods should be given priority as well, according to the EEAB. Sidewalks are needed along Business 281, as well as on both sides of Freddy Gonzalez between McColl Road on the western part of town and Raul Longoria on the city’s eastern parts.
The city should also coordinate with the Edinburg School District’s Safe Routes to Schools Program to ensure that safe pedestrian routes are developed at all ECISD campuses, the board says.
On improving pedestrian safety the EEAB says that sidewalks should provide a walking path that is safely separated from cars. A “buffer” would provide separation from traffic.
Crossing distances should be shortened at intersections via curb extensions that extend the sidewalk corner area into the roadway or through median refuge islands, according to the EEAB.
“We want quality of life, we want something we can be proud of and not have to go in our car to enjoy our community,” Peña said. “We want to be able to walk outside our doors and be proud of our citizens who want to go out and enjoy a park or a cage. We all want a beautiful city and a great lifestyle.”
According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Agreement endorsed by the city on July 15, 2008, Edinburg has pledged to develop and enforce policies in order to reduce sprawl, preserve open space and create a walkable community.”
The EEAB is in charge of upholding the pledge by the city. Beginning in January 2009 the Board has held numerous public meetings to address the issue of sidewalks and pedestrians.
In the process the EEAB is developing a number of projects in the future. The Board is considering a major tree planting campaign where members will plant one tree for every citizen in Edinburg. Boardmembers are also in talks encouraging businesses to plant native landscapes.
“The reality is go downtown at six in the evening and it’s a ghost town. It’s really depressing, this is the heart of our city,” Peña said. “If we expect our city to be anything greater than what it is today, we need to make sure the heart of the city is something special. Are we going to be just a suburb of McAllen, or are we going to have our own identity. This is something the EEAB is going to be concentration on with the support of the city.”