Zabree is just one person behind the statistics that startled Austin’s Pedestrian Coordinator, Joel Meyer when he first came to work for the Austin Transportation Department. He says he also noticed that much of Austin's growth and development has come in areas where old streets and highways weren't built with pedestrians in mind.
“We want to make sure that as the city grows we want to make sure that all of these different roadway types are being addressed,” said Meyer.
Austin city leaders admit to the KVUE Defenders poor planning going back decades still puts Austinites’ safety on our streets at risk today.
The KVUE Defenders crunched the numbers using auto-pedestrian crash data obtained from the Austin Police Department and the Texas Department of Transportation. We found 2,442 pedestrian involved car crashes since 2012. Pedestrians were injured in 1,671 of those crashes and 138 have been fatal.
Auto-pedestrian crashes in Austin between 2012 and October 2017. Data provided by Austin Police Department.
Injuries and deaths from auto-pedestrian crashes in Austin between 2012 and October 2017. Data provided by Austin Police Department.
Each year, city leaders promised change but the numbers keep rising.
A recent national study ranks Austin higher for pedestrian danger than larger cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia.
These crashes change the lives of everyone involved, the pedestrians, the drivers, and their families. City officials admit it’s not just careless pedestrians and inattentive drivers causing the problems. It’s a pedestrian infrastructure that’s dangerous by design.
“I was very concerned when I moved here when I saw the amount of pedestrians that were getting hit on the roads,” said Meyer.
Meyer is tasked with fixing Austin's pedestrian infrastructure. It’s now his job to help prevent more auto-pedestrian crashes like the one that left Zabree permanently disabled. The KVUE Defenders asked Meyer what the city is doing to prevent more people from becoming part of the statistics.
“(We’re) really looking at traffic safety holistically…looking at strategies the city can do from an engineering standpoint, from an education standpoint, from an enforcement standpoint to really look at all the different factors,” he explained.
The KVUE Defenders also analyzed the last five years’ worth of auto-pedestrian crash data to find the most dangerous stretches of road for pedestrians in Austin.
The data show North Lamar between U.S. 183 and Braker Lane has had 75 pedestrian-involved crashes. Riverside Drive east of Interstate 35 has had 51. South Congress Avenue between Oltorf Street and William Cannon Drive has had 44. And there have been 41 on or along North I-35 between U.S. 183 and Parmer Lane. These areas are mostly in poor parts of the city with a large number of minority residents. Joel Meyer says that’s no coincidence.
“Minority populations, non-English speaking populations are really disproportionately affected by pedestrian crashes,” said Meyer.
After the city recently studied the issue, the demographics of the victims and the areas where most auto-pedestrian crashes occur caught Meyer’s attention. But why is the safety of minorities in these parts of the city at greater risk than others?
“A lot of it has to do with just historical underinvestment in those communities. So lack of sidewalks, lack of safe crossing opportunities,” said Meyer.
But perhaps the most perplexing of all is the 147 pedestrian-related crashes on I-35 and its frontage roads across Austin. The fact that people try to cross six lanes of the busy interstate baffles police.
“It happens every day. It happens every single day,” said Austin Police Detective Patrick Oborski. “You think you can judge a car that’s going 65 mph but those cars get on you that quick and there’s no way you can take any kind of evasive action as a driver."