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Austin traffic deaths outlier in statewide trend

Tuesday, February 12, 2019 by Ryan Thornton

As streets are growing more dangerous year by year in Texas’ largest cities, Austin may be heading in the opposite direction.

Data compiled by Pedestrian Advisory Council Member Adam Greenfield indicates that San Antonio and Dallas have experienced sharp rises in traffic deaths and serious injuries over the previous decade, with Houston following at a slower rate.

In contrast, Austin appears to be managing its population boom so that traffic deaths have slowly decreased since 2015. With 74 vehicular fatalities in 2018, Austin streets are now about as safe as they were in 2004.

Even so, 74 traffic deaths is still very high in proportion to Austin’s population. For comparison, New York City, with a population nine times larger than Austin’s, counted 200 traffic deaths in 2018. But the most important point of comparison is the city’s own goal under Vision Zero to eliminate all traffic deaths by 2025.

The chances of success largely depend on whether or not the state makes safety a priority. As Greenfield explained at the Feb. 4 meeting of PAC, the overwhelming majority of Austin traffic fatalities last year, including those of pedestrians and cyclists, occurred on roads owned by the Texas Department of Transportation. Notably, 26 percent of traffic deaths citywide took place on Interstate 35.

“When is an emergency triggered at TxDOT?” Greenfield asked rhetorically. “It seems that 19 deaths, or 26 percent, was not enough.”

The city has identified I-35 as part of a larger “high-injury network” of roads that make up only 8 percent of Austin’s street network but have 70 percent of its vehicular fatalities and serious injuries.

PAC Chair Jay Blazek Crossley said that based on his correspondence with the department, it appears to be aware of the continued crisis along its corridors and might even have a plan to address the problem. “But,” Crossley said, “they are very good at not at all revealing anything about what that might be.”

Photo: Public Domain, Link.

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