Dan Burden’s eyes light up when he’s asked about Brownsville.
“I’ve never seen a town that had more opportunity waiting for people to discover,” he said Tuesday, just hours after taking a quick tour of the city.
Between the city’s downtown grid, cheap living and growing population, Burden, known as one of the world’s foremost experts on urban transportation, said Brownsville has the makings of a future hub as baby boomers and millennials alike have their eyes on sustainable urban living.
Burden essentially invented the field of accessible urban transportation studies while working with the Florida Department of Transportation in the 1980s. By focusing on cyclists and pedestrians, he helped to grow that state into a place where quality of life took priority over vehicular traffic before retiring.
Now he travels the world as a consultant to help cities evaluate their accessibility, partnering often with AARP to challenge municipalities to rededicate their efforts toward projects that create pedestrian and bicycle-friendly streets and areas.
Burden was in Brownsville this week to evaluate the city’s “walkability” and meet with citizens to determine what kind of Brownsville its citizens want to build.
He championed a continued focus on downtown, calling its streets and alleys opportunities for growth.
The proximity of the University of Texas at Brownsville, the United States’ border with Mexico and the city’s historic downtown, he said, makes the city ripe for development.
“It’s so rich in promise,” he said, noting that he has been to more than 3,500 communities worldwide to talk about how people-centric transportation planning can lead to economic investment.
He said the city is on the right track with projects like Complete Streets, Build-A-Better-Block and recent investment in hiking and biking trails.
The Brownsville City Commission on Tuesday approved the city’s hike and bike master plan and will soon begin work on a 2.5-mile connector from the current trail to Fort Brown.
Burden said a plan to begin with downtown and eventually work toward improving accessibility in nearby neighborhoods will attract new interest downtown, growing the tax base and giving the city a better ability to expand its infrastructure to Brownsville’s outer areas.
Burden spoke Wednesday night at an event at UTB to a gathering of city residents to discuss how to create an age-friendly Brownsville, with a focus on sustainable transportation options.