While Austin continues to grapple with solving its traffic congestion, and drinking and driving problem, the city must consider another unsavory, yet not wholly unrelated problem — avoidable pedestrian deaths.
According to a new report by National Complete Streets Coalition the Austin-Round Rock metro area experienced 251 pedestrian deaths from 2002 – 2013, enough to make it the 24th most dangerous in the nation.
The report entitled “Dangerous by Design” ranked America's 51 largest metropolitan areas based on a Pedestrian Danger Index that calculated how safe streets were. The conclusion was that a majority of pedestrian deaths could be prevented by better design that not only considered speeding automobiles but also foot and bike traffic.
See more below the jump…The study found that victims were more likely to be minorities, elderly, or children, a disturbing trend with demographic changes and an aging Boomer population. It also found that cities that are denser, more walkable and have lower speed limits tended to be safer.
As Austin's population explodes, and infrastructure struggles to keep up one way the city tried to cope is through tougher enforcement. Ironically that resulted in one high profile incident that backfired on APD after officers arrested a jogger who jaywalked across a West Campus street. She was cited for failure to identify but her run in was caught on camera and went viral. Much of the outrage was focused on APD while Chief Acevedo defended his officers who were working a pedestrian traffic initiative at the time of the arrest.
A few weeks later APD began a pedestrian safety initiative in South Austin that focused “on reducing traffic crashes involving pedestrians.” The announcement was accompanied by the a list of safety tips and said that the ultimate goal of the initiative was “to change behavior, not to write citations.”
Of Course no one likes to receive citations, but like “ghost bikes” they do get people's attention. Austin's ghost bikes have appeared since 2005 to mark locations where cyclists have lost their lives due to accidents.
According to Bicycling.com Austin is America's 13th friendliest city for cyclists. Part of the profile the site highlighted was that, “the city installed 35 miles of bikeways in 2011; a new urban-trail plan emphasizes off-street paths, like the 6-mile Lance Armstrong Bikeway.”
Bike Austin is a non-profit organization helping to increase the city's friendliness by working towards better integration with mass transit and developing best practices for safely sharing the road between automobile and bicycle traffic. They are also working to get Austin's cycling community to get more involved with public policy initiatives. And, it's good timing since the expansion of B-cycle bikeshare program has grown that community to include more novice and less frequent cyclists.
The combination of enforcement by APD, and community outreach by groups like Bike Austin and ATX Safer Streets will hopefully reverse the deadly trend that has plagued our fair city. The study finds that more data is needed to to track and improve the situation for pedestrians, but they have suggestions that have already shown to improve conditions:
Generally, designing for safe, walkable communities begins with understanding how people use- and want to use-streets and public spaces to access destinations. From there flow general considerations such as separate people walking from people driving vehicles; keep traffic speeds low; ensure all sidewalks and curb ramps are accessible to people with disabilities; and clarify where each road user should be expected to travel. With these principles set, transportation planners and engineers can select from a large set of nationally used appropriate design elements, including but not limited to: wide sidewalks; curb extensions; refuge islands; pedestrian countdown signals; leading pedestrian interval signal timing; midblock crossings (especially at transit stops); pedestrian hybrid beacons; narrow travel lanes; planting street trees; restricted right turns on red lights; compact intersections; back-in angled parking and smaller curb radii.
Austin has already begun to implement some of these practices, but with your input policymakers can be assured they have the support they need from the community to speed up this process. Regarding better connected public transit Project Connect is working on a comprehensive plan to expand options and have scheduled events all over the metro area where you can voice your concerns.
You can view the Austin American Statesman's interactive guide to pedestrian and bicycle deaths.
You can follow me on Twitter at @joethepleb.