Earlier this month, a man was walking in the crosswalk at Seventh Street and Comal Street when a drunk driver hit him and sent him 20 feet into the air. The pedestrian sustained a traumatic brain injury and fractures across the side of his body. His devastated family visited him every day in the hospital, including his brother who also lived on the east side of Downtown. Not one week later, his brother was hit while crossing the IH-35 frontage road at 11th and 12th Streets, less than one mile from where the first accident occurred.
In less than one week, two brothers were in pedestrian accidents while trying to cross the streets on the east side of IH-35, which is known to have a high volume of pedestrian traffic and little pedestrian-friendly infrastructure to support it.
Is Walking in Austin Dangerous?
It’s a hard truth to accept, but Austin is just not safe for pedestrians. To help with this problem, the City Council adopted Vision Zero to help reduce the number of deaths caused by traffic accidents to zero. The Vision Zero initiative in Austin consists of a planning and zoning department that will hopefully create change through education, increased enforcement and better engineering for Austin’s transportation infrastructure. However, the initiative is facing quite a few obstacles.
There is bad lighting on Austin’s streets and even crosswalks. This means that whether or not a driver is impaired, pedestrians are hard to spot. One member of Austin’s Vision Zero initiative is advocating for more street lamps. However, each street lamp costs approximately $7,000 and there is no guarantee the City Council will allocate funds for this improvement.
Additionally, there are not enough crosswalks and sidewalks in the Austin area by about half. What’s worse is that, at the current rate of installation, the city will not meet the minimum amount of sidewalks it needs for another 200 years. As is, pedestrians are forced to hug the roadway when walking around town. Vision Zero proposed something called “Complete Streets,” which is a program that, if implemented, will design and install streets that accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. While this is a fantastic improvement, what about the streets that are already designed and in use? The plan does not specify whether the current streets will receive improvements.
According to the Austin Police Highway Enforcement Unit Commander, a driver going 40 miles per hour or faster has a 90 percent chance of killing a pedestrian in an accident. That said, we as Austinites should hope for a culture shift in regards to how drivers and law enforcement view pedestrian safety. Hopefully, Vision Zero can accomplish this and soon.