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Transportation Department lays out plans for speed management

Monday, July 15, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

The Austin Transportation Department will ask City Council for $500,000 in new funding in the next budget to pay for a speed management program that will support Vision Zero’s goal to eliminate traffic deaths in the city.

The funding would pay for a program manager, signage and other engineering solutions on streets found to need traffic calming measures, speed studies, and outreach and education efforts. Transportation Department representatives have been making the rounds at city boards and commissions this month to discuss the program that will look at reducing high speeds and other hazardous driving behaviors on neighborhood and “collector” roads as well as arterial and corridor streets.

In a June 24 memo outlining the program, Transportation Department director Robert Spillar said the rapid growth throughout Austin is causing more intense usage and higher speeds on roads that were originally created for residential and low-intensity use.

“Many of our current Level 3 and 4 streets were originally designed as rural/suburban highways with wide travel lanes and long distances between pedestrian crossings meant to facilitate fast motor vehicle travel speeds,” he wrote. “With increasing development and human activity in these areas, the risk of a severe crash occurring increases dramatically. While all streets should function with safe speeds, some streets have more egregious and pervasive speeding problems than others. Given limited resources, ATD will prioritize streets to address with speed management strategies.”

The department is currently seeking input to an online survey, open through Aug. 10, on traffic behaviors throughout the city. Residents will be able to learn more about the program and give their thoughts on how best to reduce high-speed driving at a series of three open houses through Aug. 3.

During a presentation at last week’s meeting of the Urban Transportation Commission, department staff discussed the strategy for selecting streets for speed reduction measures, as well as methods such as speed humps, dynamic signage and so-called “horizontal shifts,” including roundabouts that can help meet the goal of reducing the number of drivers who travel 10 miles an hour or more above posted speeds.

Lewis Leff, a transportation safety officer for the city, said special attention is likely to be paid to connection points between neighborhood streets and transit corridors that are becoming a focus for the city in an attempt to reduce traffic and increase mass transit usage.

“If we’re investing time and money for the mobility corridors, with the thought that if you’re in the neighborhood and want to get to the corridor safely walking, perhaps that’s a criteria we need to look at,” he said.

Commissioners spent time during the presentation pushing for more cooperation with the Texas Department of Transportation to address safety conditions and speed on state frontage roads. Another area of concern was how to make drivers more observant of cyclists on streets such as Oltorf and Manchaca that have become major connectors but are not engineered for non-vehicular use.

Commissioner Dan Hennessey said he and others are encouraged by the program’s intent and pushed for the city to commit more resources toward its success.

“Every presentation we get here talks about safety – and then we get $500,000,” he said. “It’s a nice start, but it’s a dent. What could happen to really seriously jump-start this?”

Leff said the plan for the money, if approved by Council, is to emphasize signage in priority areas as a way to “stretch our money” and achieve a significant impact in speed reduction.

Photo courtesy of the Austin Transportation Department.

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