Life Can’t Imitate Video Games

In reality, we are all pedestrians. Some of us are also drivers. That means we can’t treat driving or walking like a Grand Theft Auto or Pedestrian Killer video game. Whether you are walking through a parking lot to your car, walking along a sidewalk to lunch, walking through the grass of Zilker Park or crossing through an intersection, we all have responsibility to make sure we operate our cars and our shoes safely.

Austin has seen a recent spike in pedestrian fatalities for 2012. This is a serious problem in need of a solution. Not only because these fatalities cause great emotional, physical and economic damage, but also because we are all pedestrians.

The Problem

Traffic fatalities involving vehicles have been on a steady decline for years. However pedestrian fatalities have spiked this year in Austin, according to the Daily Texan, pedestrian fatalities are up nearly 29% over the past 12 months.

In 2012, Austin has seen 19 pedestrian fatalities through June. There were 19 pedestrian fatalities in all of 2011. We are on a record setting pace and I don’t think this is a record we want. While these statistics are alarming, hope is not lost. The Austin Police Department and the City of Austin have begun steps that will decrease pedestrian fatalities and there are many opportunities for pedestrians, like you, to get involved and make a difference.

What’s being done now

Austin Police Department

In the fall of 2011, APD created the Pedestrian Enforcement Safety Team (Yes, PEST is the unfortunate acronym). Lt. Reyes of APD puts it best, “This problem isn’t just a law enforcement issue. We need the cooperation of everyone in society to make an impact.” That means you; that means today.

APD is increasing enforcement efforts to increase awareness amongst both drivers and pedestrians of safe and legal behaviors when travelling around Austin. APD is also handing out flyers with information on the responsibilities of both drivers and pedestrians. You can see the flyers here and here. While these flyers are a start, APD freely admits they are not in the business of marketing and graphic design. These flyers could be much more effective if given a little revamp by Austin’s creative gurus. Who out there can help APD redesign their flyers in order to reach more people, educate more drivers, educate more pedestrians, save lives? Let us know if you are the one to step up and help. Email

Transportation Safety Summit

In the spring of 2012, Council Member Martinez sponsored a resolution to hold a Transportation Safety Summit. The purpose of the summit is to bring together City agencies and community members to address the safety issues of all modes of transportation: cars, rail, bus, bicycle and pedestrian. The summit will be held in the fall of 2012. We will publish more details as they are released.

What You Can Do today to make Austin safer

Tell us on Facebook, Twitter, or by email specific locations you think are a safety problem and please describe an example of the problem.

Lead by example.

If you are a pedestrian, use cross walks, wait for a “white walking guy,” stay for the orange palm of the hand.  Wait to text until after you cross, etc.  Mostly common sense, right?

If you are a driver, slow down, yield to pedestrians crossing the street and realize walking is slower than driving; pedestrians need a bit more time to get through the intersection.

Long Term Solutions

Metro, the regional government for the Portland area, recently released a major report on the cost of traffic crashes in the region. The report found that serious traffic crashes, those that cause fatalities and serious injuries, cost Portland more than traffic congestion, by over $100 million. The report was brought about by the Regional Transportation Plan that calls for a 50% reduction in collisions for each mode (pedestrians, cyclists & vehicles) by 2035. That is a serious goal that calls for taking a serious look at the causes and locations of these crashes. The most notable findings from the recent Metro report are:

  • Arterial streets have the highest rate of fatal and severe crashes for all modes. (Austin examples: Lamar, Congress, Guadalupe, Riverside)
  • Crash rates rise with the number of lanes (on non-freeway streets).
  • For pedestrians, the most serious crashes happen more often after dark.
  • Crashes involving pedestrians and cyclists at night happen disproportionately where street lighting is not present.

The report makes several key recommendations to make roads safer for all users. These include:

  • A regional arterial safety program. The program will focus on corridor wide crashes and take a systemic look at causes and solutions for the entire corridor, instead of focusing on an intersection alone.
  • Strategies to increase safety for all users should be context sensitive. Meaning, once a high crash corridor is identified, the strategies to make the area safer should be targeted specifically to the crash types and issues facing that corridor. Not just a one size fits all for the entire region.
  • Adopt and encourage policies that reduce the need for driving, thereby reducing the number of miles travelled.

It’s time for Austin to take that first step and commit the resources, time and leadership necessary to tackle this growing problem. Each pedestrian fatality costs our great city $1,410,000.  That’s over $1M per person! And that does not even begin to cover the emotional toll on the families of the victim as well as the driver involved in the crash. Here are some items we as a city could begin with to solidify our commitment to making Austin safer for everyone.

  • Analyze crash data: Much in the same way as the Portland study, we need to know where the crashes are occurring most frequently and the causes behind them. This will allow us to formalize a strategy of how we will address reducing the number of crashes.
  • Map out the work various agencies, non-profits and advocacy groups are already doing in the realm of traffic safety. Once the current work is known, we can identify gaps that need to be filled and areas where groups can work together and leverage skills and resources.
  • Commit to taking a comprehensive approach to traffic safety. It is not enough for law enforcement to take on this work alone. Nor is it a job only for traffic engineers. Any strategy we create needs to address the areas of education, engineering and enforcement as well as evaluation of our strategy and its progress over time.
  • Finally, let’s set a goal that we can reach for that will make a noticeable difference in the quality of people’s lives. Think big. How about we reduce the number of traffic deaths to zero? Think that’s unrealistic? NYC and Sweden have already set their sights that high. Why can’t we?


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