Earlier this week, a teenage boy was bicycling in Northwest Austin when he was suddenly struck by a car. The driver stayed on scene to help and the boy was immediately transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries. The next morning, he was pronounced dead. This was the third child bicyclist accident that resulted in death this last month in Austin.
In response to the tragedy, the Austin Police Department (APD) encouraged bicyclists to wear protective gear, especially helmets, while riding. However, Bike Austin released a statement of its own to the Austin American-Statesman in response, saying that APD calling on bicyclists to wear protective gear “is a distraction from the actual threat to children’s safety on our streets: Inadequate bicycle and pedestrian safety infrastructure.”
Is Austin Safe for Bicyclists and Pedestrians?
According to the League of American Bicyclists, Texas ranks in the bottom half for the level of bike-friendliness. Austin ranks 91st on a list of 154 cities for “bikeability,” according to Walk Score. And while the number of cyclists who commute to school or work is increasing, the network of bike lanes and bike trails is a patchwork, at best.
Organizations, such as Bike Austin, Bike Texas, Please BE KIND to Cyclists, Vision Zero and others, are trying to make Austin a safer place through initiatives like Austin’s Bicycle Master Plan and Sidewalk Master Plan. If funded, these initiatives should provide a connected and safe alternative transportation system and would complete high-priority sidewalks.
However, even with these initiatives, the city is not focusing enough attention on child safety. Children who walk to school or ride their bikes are at risk for injury. In a previous blog post, we wrote about how parents have filed multiple reports saying school zone crossings are no longer safe. Yet, the city has failed to decrease speed limits, install additional crosswalk locations, install more bike lanes and create alternative traffic routes to better manage congestion around school zones or parks.
While we don’t disagree with APD in that wearing protective gear and educating children on how to stay safe is important, we do agree with Bike Austin in that Austin needs better bicycle and pedestrian safety infrastructure, particularly in areas where children are known to attend school or play.