Sidewalks – the sustainable way to travel

This blog post was originally published by a student studying abroad in Angers, France. The theme this summer is sustainability and the professors and students are exploring all the ways France is a leader in environmental conservation and sustainability. You can read more about the students’ time in France online at Sustainability in Angers, France.

Throughout Austin, one can see the many ways our city caters to drivers: the spread of our buildings (just far enough to place a two-lane road and occasionally a sidewalk on each side), the empty lots (space to park the many cars that fill our streets), or the tall bridges surrounding the city (ways for these cars to travel from one city to the other). As for those who prefer a reasonably sustainable mode of transportation? A slim sidewalk and the occasional bus with whom the cars share the street is available.

France is known for its action in sustainability. One would be hard-pressed to find a street made for cars in the cities of France, the ‘roads’ are actually pedestrian and cyclist walkways that would be highly difficult for any cars to go down. Most of the streets in France are designed smaller and windier to deter drivers from entering so that non-motorized modes of transportation can take over.There is also an abundance of specified bike lanes in France, which is a rarity in Austin.

These bike lanes are made to separate the bikers and pedestrian sidewalks from the cars, which not only increases safety but also increases people’s willingness to use them.

If you look at the statistics of cyclist and pedestrian injuries in America vs France and compare the rates of which people bike, walk, and drive in the two countries, it is obvious that these abundant separate bike lanes are a sufficient way at reducing injuries and increasing the use of sustainable transportation.

In one study, it was found that over five times as many people in France use cycling or walking for daily transportation than in the US. Although this difference seems extreme, the study also found that there are six times as many injuries or deaths of cyclist and walkers in the US than in France.

Even on the very popular walking street, South Congress Avenue, it is obvious that the road is made for cars. The very wide, four-lane road is bordered with diagonal parking and a slim sidewalk only big enough for bikes or pedestrians, not both. With the parking surrounding the road, biking on the road is not only difficult but an extremely dangerous activity for the cyclist. However, biking on the sidewalk is extremely dangerous for pedestrians.

A four-lane street with separate sidewalks and all should be plenty of space for cars, bikes, pedestrians, and buses to travel on. Despite the logic, this is not the case. With the plentiful car traffic filling every street of Austin at any given time, and amazingly advertised public transportation, it would stand to reason that the construction of safe pedestrian and biking areas would be an easy and necessary investment. And yet, it seems as though the entire city is built around driving. For a city that claims to support and desire sustainable practices, this appearance is abnormal when a simple but substantially beneficial change could be made.

Looking at a comparison of available and easily obtainable gas in the US and France, one might argue that the formation of French cities is just because of the high prices and taxes on gasoline in France. Although this may have factored into the structuring of their cities, the French are deeply possessed by the desire to sustain. After living in France for three weeks and diving into the culture and habits of its citizens, I can say with no question, that the French have a real concern for the environmental well being and show it in everything they do. From the short showers and ‘no waste’ lifestyles to the consistent use of public transportation and pedestrian walkways at every opportunity and the great abundance of cruelty-free, organic, local products, every aspect of their day to day lives is sustainable.

With the growing awareness of sustainability, the addition of something as simple as safe sidewalks and bike lanes only makes sense.

Story by Kamryn Stanley ’22

Additional source:
Beuhler. R., & Pucher. J. (2012). Walking and Cycling in Western Europe and the United States. Built Environment, 36 (4), 1-9.