What Can Austin Do About Traffic Fatalities?

Traffic can be a headache, but it can also be deadly. Austin has witnessed many traffic-related deaths and injuries this year, affecting drivers, passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians. From the downtown SXSW tragedy to the death of the high school football player just last month, the complex issue of traffic safety has been on the minds of local leaders and advocates.

Austin’s City Council has taken the first step towards a unified effort to address local traffic fatalities. Vision Zero aims to achieve zero fatalities and zero serious injuries in the roadway, and has been successful in cities across the country, including New York, Chicago, Miami, and Los Angeles. Austin’s City Manager will create a Vision Zero Task Force, whose work will build on the many local, piecemeal initiatives that have preceded it. Austin’s Vision Zero Task Force should report back with recommendations by November 2015.

The same day this resolution was passed, a similar conversation was happening at the “Transportation in the Next American City” workshop. Chuck Marohn, president of Strong Towns, posited that drunk drivers and distracted pedestrians are not the only culprits of unsafe streets. Street design is a major factor in whether we survive the trip, Marohn emphasized, saying,

“If you need a sign to tell people to slow down, you designed your street wrong.”Screen shot 2014-12-10 at 12.32.03 PM

Austin is already tackling some street design issues in order to make downtown streets more safe and accessible for all users, not just those in vehicles. The Complete Streets initiative will impact all Austin streets, and means that street design will be geared toward everyone from pedestrians and cyclists to motorists. And as part of Great Streets, the City will begin converting some downtown streets from one-way to two-way in the New Year.

Individuals can play a role in safer streets too – without a doubt, some of the problem is getting people to stop drinking and driving. There are simply too many options available to excuse driving under the influence this Holiday season, and groups like ATX Safer Streets have ideas to help you get home safely.

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