Nearly 50 government, advocacy and other groups joined in Austin's first transportation safety summit Oct. 5 to address a growing concern over increased traffic accidents and pedestrian fatalities.
“We obviously have had a spike in incidents this year with traveling modes of our community,” Austin Transportation Department Director Robert Spillar said. “We had some significant fatalities, some significant incidents that have made us pause and ask, 'Is there more we can do?'”
Among the organizations present were representatives from ATD, Capital Metro, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas and the Austin Police Department.
The summit is what many, including Spillar and Councilman Mike Martinez, hope is just the first of many safety summits to come.
“Agencies have always collaborated in ones and twos. This is really, I think, the first time in a long time that the agencies have gotten together as a group and really talked about how do we think about safety more holistically,” Spillar said.
Participants worked in groups to offer solutions to three emerging safety concerns: distracted and aggressive driving, pedestrian safety, and insufficient or lack of infrastructure such as sidewalks or bikes. Solutions were posted, and participants selected the top ideas to discuss further after the summit to turn into real results.
Martinez said the city will follow up with all the information gathered and determine if a second summit needs to be planned.
“Ultimately what I would like to see is some policy document that can be handed to the council, the county, the governing bodies that are reflected in the room and allow those bodies to make decisions on how we improve transportation safety,” he said.
In terms of traffic fatality rates, CAMPO Director Maureen McCoy said that with the exception of 2004 and 2008, the Central Texas region has been below the state and national trends.
“That is really a plus for our region,” she said.
However, compared with other metropolitan areas of similar size, she said the data shows that Central Texas is one of the highest locales for traffic fatalities, topping Orlando, Atlanta, Detroit and Portland, Ore., the past few years.
“There is a reduction in all of our regions, but we're still higher,” she said.
Commander Pat South of the highway enforcement division with Austin Police Department said the trend of motor vehicle fatalities is increasing in Austin.
“From this time last year, October to October, motor vehicle fatalities have increased by 24 percent, and more significantly, auto-pedestrian collisions have increased by 41 percent,” he said. “Those are the two primary areas that we've been focusing on.”
Data from the police department show the three top intersections for traffic collisions between April and June are at West Parmer Lane and North Lamar Boulevard, East 11th Street and North I-35, and East Rundberg Lane and North I-35. For pedestrian fatalities, factors involved in the incidents included 12 intoxicated pedestrians, 15 people crossing mid-block or where crossing is prohibited, two intoxicated drivers and seven drivers who failed to stop and render aid.
Since June, the police department has been working to combat the number of pedestrian fatalities by issuing citations to pedestrians illegally crossing and drivers not yielding to pedestrians.
Although not every motor vehicle crash or pedestrian death can be prevented, Martinez said he believes that the city and other organizations can do more to decrease the number of accidents and deaths.
“I want us to think as creatively as we can and try to bust that notion that there isn't anything that can be done in certain circumstances,” he said.