AUSTIN, Texas — December brings its fair share of challenges with drunk drivers and icy roads, but new data says pedestrian deaths in Austin are higher than fatalities in any other crash.
Lewis Leff, a transportation safety officer for the Austin Transportation Department, explained that last year was a record year for fatalities in Austin.
"We have large vehicles that are engaging with other vehicles or are engaging with people that are outside of vehicles," Leff said.
In 2022, pedestrians deaths made up over 40% of traffic fatalities. This metric has increased by around 10% compared to 2021.
One of the biggest reasons why deaths have increased is due to speeding, according to Leff. Another cause is an increase in drug and alcohol use among drivers.
"There are certainly factors, like the presence of more people and more activity on the ground," Leff said. "And we're seeing some of that activity come back on our streets as we get back to maybe what the new normal looks like."
Leff said Austin doesn't have the infrastructure to house the increase of cars in the area, and it takes time to create to a built environment citywide that prioritizes safety
"[Back] 150 years, when people moved to Austin originally, they were walking for the most part," Leff said. "We used horses and carriages, and our streets were not designed ... around the car."
What is the City of Austin working on to make streets safer?
For years, the City has been working to redesign local roadways.
"Safer speeds for drivers and vehicles so that we can reduce the risk when a collision happens with severe injury or death," Leff said. "That includes better lighting. That includes more pedestrian crossings and bicyclist crossings that are safe."
The City has made progress in some areas, but there is still work to be done. Leff said the City has community support through bonds, in addition to applying for federal grant money.
"We've applied for and received our Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program grants," Leff said. "We've had over $6 million of grants awarded to Austin for those projects, which is mostly street lighting and new traffic signals."
The City has also applied to the Safe Streets and Roads federal grant opportunity. Leff said, come January, the City will know whether or not they will be accepting $20 million in federal funds to do more work across Austin.
What has the City previously done to make streets safer?
In 2016, the City allocated $3.8 million for safety improvements across Austin's top crash intersections, according to a recent report.
"That same year, Austin voters approved $15 million for Vision Zero intersection safety projects as part of the 2016 Mobility Bond," the release states. "Voters also approved funding for safety investments in Bond referendums in 2018 and 2020."
These changes have included traffic signal timing, refreshing crosswalk markings, concrete medians and shared-use paths. The report said the city has seen a 31% reduction in the annual number of fatal crashes and injuries in these locations.
Other projects include improvements in major, signalized intersections. According to the report, streets that received engineering countermeasures, high visibility signage and targeted enforcement saw a 17% decrease in serious injury and fatal crashes.
This week, Austin Transportation sent a memo to the Austin City Council analyzing options for increased traffic safety enforcement. In the memo, the department said traffic enforcement remains a critical in high-speed, high-volume roadways owned by the state.
The KVUE Defenders have been tracking auto-pedestrian crashes for years. Check out one of their most recent investigations.