Roundabouts, road diets, back-in angled parking, and pocket parks received plenty of airtime during a two-week tour of Arkansas cities conducted by world famous livable communities advocate Dan Burden and co-sponsored by AARP Arkansas.
See Also: Livable Communities
Burden, joined by staff from AARP and partners from the Arkansas Department of Health, Arkansas Highways and Transportation Department, Arkansas Department of Education, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Arkansas Children’s Hospital, conducted workshops and led “walk audits” in Bryant, El Dorado, Harrison, North Little Rock, Springdale, and Siloam Springs. The cities were selected based on readiness to implement short-term and long-range improvements unearthed during the intensive process.
In a livable community, residents can choose with equal ease among driving, biking, and walking in order to shop, dine, do business, meet, greet, or just plain linger. Livable communities place people at the top of their priorities, in contrast to unlivable communities whose highest priority is to move the most cars as far and as fast as possible.
The challenge of creating livability requires a large toolbox of diverse applications that must work together to calm traffic, re-orient houses and buildings to the life in the street, promote the safety and security of residents, provide appealing public spaces and pathways, rationalize transportation planning, reduce infrastructure costs, protect the environment, and improve health—all while bringing new life to the local economy.
When communities have reduced the number of traffic lanes, slowed traffic in the remaining lanes, and eased continual movement with the installation of roundabouts, studies show that businesses on average experience 30 percent increases in sales, and property values rise.
In each community, Burden met with and heard the challenges facing mayors, aldermen, city staff, local citizens, educators, health providers, first responders, business owners and employers, students, parents, and active transportation advocates. Since livability is contrary to the last 60 years of automobile-centered town planning, representative input and participation from all community groups provides a greater likelihood for success when towns start to improve walkability and bikability.
“The changes, like back-in angled parking, might seem strange at first, but once the community gets used to them, they appreciate the increased safety and convenience,” said Lou Tobian, Director for Outreach and Education with AARP Arkansas. “What makes these changes so important is their potential to improve significantly not just the economic health of our struggling communities, but our own physical health, also, and the ability of our members to lead fully engaged and creative lives.”