The Hacking Tyler, Texas, Project: A Sidewalk Map

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I am in Tyler. While waiting I passed five months, wrote eight blog posts, and hacked four apps. Now I'm in a new place with new responsibilities and expectations, but most importantly, I'm back with the kid in this picture:

Sometime soon I will reflect on my impressions of Tyler, but first I want to celebrate the change by writing about something that was central to my original Hack Tyler post:

Public transportation. I'll have access to a car, but I'm going to do my best to live without being a consumer of gasoline, just as I did in Chicago.

HackTyler-BugImage.jpgSeveral people insisted I couldn't live without a car in Tyler--and they were absolutely right. When I landed at Tyler Pounds Regional Airport I hadn't driven a car in four months. Since I landed, I've driven nearly every day. (Mostly ferrying my son to school and various activities.)

However, I've also done something else since I arrived here: I've walked.

I very carefully selected the house I'm renting--an eccentric, hundred-year-old single-story in the Charnwood neighborhood--so that I can get to as many things as possible without driving. It's within a mile of:

Putting so much thought into where I would live has made me acutely aware of Tyler's pedestrian infrastructure. I'll (hopefully) forestall any accusations of carpetbagging by noting that I also spent the summer reading all 490 pages of the Tyler 21 Comprehensive Municipal Plan as well as the additional 52 pages of the 2010 Pedestrian Access Study (PDF).

The single most surprising thing I learned from all this reading is that, at least on paper, the City of Tyler cares about me. The Tyler 21 plan is overflowing with references to creating a more livable and pedestrian friendly city. Specifically, it sets out intentions to create:

  • a network of parks and greenways (p. 6)
  • pedestrian walkways connecting business and leisure centers (p. 7)
  • a citywide system of bike trails. (p. 234)
  • conditions attractive to the "creative class", by which it seems to mean information workers (p. 86)

In a truly bizarre twist of my expectations, Tyler seems to want me here.

A hypothetical downtown Tyler with greatly expanded greenspace.

I can only take all of this to mean one thing: somewhere in this city is a large contingent of people who either want to live a more urban lifestyle or imagine that encouraging others to do so is the only way to save their city from stagnation. This is a line of thought I am only too pleased to encourage.

Citizens of Tyler: your pedestrian infrastructure is terrible. Nevertheless, it's possible to select a residence that allows you to walk to things you care about. In order to save others some of the time I spent researching where to live, I present my latest map:

tyler.jpg

This map was created from the same GIS data used in the Pedestrian Access Study. It shows the locations of every park, bus stop, school, bike trail, and sidewalk in the city. Type an address into the legend and you can see exactly what infrastructure is nearby.

(Special thanks to my new friends at Tyler GIS who provided me with a bunch of data that wasn't previously available online.)

Now that I've been out and walked the streets of Tyler, I have to say I think the plans laid out in Tyler 21 are impressively on-target. Tyler needs to build a lot more sidewalks. However, I also foresee a few challenges that just building more sidewalks won't solve:

  • Tyler's downtown is a food desert. It is impossible to live within walking distance of a grocery store. Getting a green market as a downtown anchor should be a very high priority.
  • The lack of pedestrian signals makes travel on foot unsafe. Front and Broadway have some of the longest continuous sidewalks in the city, but crossing either one on foot is nearly impossible. (The tunnel under Broadway at Hogg Middle School is a notable exception.)
  • Too many bus stops lack shelters. Nobody wants to stand on the corner and look lost. If there isn't a shelter, there effectively isn't a bus stop.

My ability to live without a car will be extremely limited in Tyler and there is still a strong possibility I'll end up buying one (for the moment I have a car whenever I have my son). Still, I'm heartened to see some indications that urbanism is taking hold in Tyler and I hope I can help encourage it. In the meantime, you'll be able to identify me as the guy trying not to get hit by a Dodge Ram crossing Broadway.

Endnote: I'm here! If you're a local who is interested in Hack Tyler or just wants to shoot the breeze, please get in touch. I'm eager to meet folks.


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Christopher Groskopf is the lead developer on the PANDA Project. He lives in Tyler, Texas. Follow his attempts to improve his community with technology at Hack Tyler.

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