Jan 23, 2023 - News

Austin's troubling traffic deaths

Illustration of a stop sign with a memorial wreath.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Despite Austin's efforts to tamp down traffic deaths, they just keep going up.

The big picture: Austin voters approved $65 million in bonds in 2020 to carry out traffic safety measures to prevent roadway injuries, but a record 122 people died on Austin roads last year.

  • And the city has already seen at least three fatal crashes this year.

By the numbers: Traffic fatalities are going up on a per capita basis, too, from 7.5 deaths per 100,000 in 2018 to 11.5 in 2022, per city statistics. (Serious injuries have generally held steady.)

  • Most of the crashes happen on state highways such as I-35 — wide roads that are designed for higher speeds.

Yes, but: The city has recorded a 31% decrease in serious injury and fatal crashes on the stretches of about 20 roads where the city has made improvements over the last half-dozen years.

  • These areas include: East Oltorf Street and Parker Lane, Lakeline Boulevard and 183, and Slaughter Lane and Menchaca Road.
  • "Changing the design of our streets is the most effective strategy for reducing severe crashes over time," per a 2022 city analysis.

Between the lines: Austin has a Vision Zero policy that calls for safer street systems, lower speed limits and redesigning the most dangerous intersections.

  • Vision Zero had a ten-year goal set upon the initial policy adoption back in 2015, and "the city has consistently recognized that's an ambitious goal and something that no government of our size has accomplished in such a short time frame," city transportation department spokesperson Jeff Stensland tells Axios.

Of note: Austin authorities can implement traffic safety measures only on streets the city owns — roads and highways overseen by the Texas Department of Transportation are under state control.

What they're saying: "It is illogical not to have a goal to end traffic deaths," Jay Blazek Crossley, who oversees the nonprofit Farm & City, which pushes for Vision Zero plans across Texas, tells Axios. "In general, our society has willfully ignored the toll. Part of it is simply pulling the blinders off all our eyes and saying, 'No, this really sucks.'"

The bottom line: Even as cars have new safety features, drivers are more distracted than ever.

  • Just take a glance, next time you're in stop-and-go traffic, at the driver next to you. There's a good chance they'll be glancing down at a cell phone.

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