Making Austin Streets Safer

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Draft map of 2010-2014 traffic fatality concentration courtesy of the Austin Transportation Department

Austin’s traffic fatalities have been grabbing headlines lately, and rightly so – as of this writing, the city has seen 76 traffic fatalities, more than it had in all of 2014, and it’s only mid-September. Of those deaths, 37 were drivers, 23 were pedestrians, 11 were motorcyclists, and one was a bicyclist.

According to the Austin Transportation Department, Austin’s pedestrian fatalities are double the national average.

The city has swung into action to address this – and in fact had already started on several initiatives before the 2015 traffic fatality numbers started adding up.

A Vision Zero task force is working on a proposal right now; City Council has adopted a Complete Streets policy; the City is participating in the Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets; in coordination with the Bicycle Master Plan, the City is adding improved bike and pedestrian facilities to Austin streets; and the Transportation Department is currently working on a Safety Improvement Action Plan. The City also discussed last week how to make five of Austin’s most dangerous intersections safer.

These are all great steps. Design is a big part of safe streets, and policies like Complete Streets and infrastructure like bike and pedestrian networks can help make the streets safer for all users.

But it would be a mistake to lay the burden of safe streets entirely on the public sector’s shoulders. All of the people using streets – pedestrians, cyclists, and especially drivers, who are controlling massive vehicles – need to accept some responsibility for safer streets, too.

It’s not an easy task, to be sure. Studies show that when we get in car surrounded by all that glass and metal, we tend to lose individual accountability. Dangerous behavior like swerving around a slower driver or running a light is easier to rationalize when we are only thinking of where we’re going, and how we’re going to get there, and we lose awareness of what (and who) is around us.

So while we applaud the infrastructure and policy changes the City is taking on, we also need concerted efforts to make behaviors safer out on the road. Maybe this is a “broken window” approach to bad driving behaviors. Maybe it is a public education campaign. Maybe it’s you making a personal commitment to step outside of your driving habits every once in a while to get a glimpse of the road from a different perspective by walking or using some other travel option.

One Response to Making Austin Streets Safer

  1. Robert Mick says:

    Enforcing the same safety rules on bicyclists as the motorist will help lower the fatalities, too. I own six bicycles, and commute regularly. For my safety, and that of the motorists, I obey all of the traffic laws, even when it is inconvenient. But I frequently see bicyclists ignoring stop signs and stop lights, and not maintaining safe distance margins with automobiles. When a bicyclist rides up within two feet of my vehicle between lanes or between my vehicle and the curb, they are jeopardizing their own safety.