- Traffic fatalities and serious injuries in Austin, Texas, remain above pre-pandemic levels, even though the city established its Vision Zero program in 2015, according to a report published by the city on Tuesday.
- The number of people seriously injured or killed on Austin roadways in 2021 and 2022 were 633 and 654, respectively, above the average of 614 people from 2016 to 2019
- But there were large differences between city- and state-owned roadways, suggesting that cities may not achieve their Vision Zero goals without state support. “Fatal crashes occurring on State-owned roadways increased substantially while those occurring on City-owned streets remained relatively flat,” the report says.
Public officials are increasingly concerned about roadway deaths and injuries, leading more than 45 communities to adopt Vision Zero initiatives as of August, according to the Vision Zero Network. Such programs acknowledge that people often make mistakes, emphasizing a multidisciplinary approach to designing roadways and policies to prevent or reduce the severity of crashes.
The city of Austin touted some of its Vision Zero accomplishments in the report, noting that projects to improve safety at major intersections led to a 31% reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries at those locations. But the report acknowledged that “with more than 280 square miles within the city limits and a rapidly growing population, systematically redesigning Austin’s entire transportation system will take time.”
In 2021 and 2022, there were 71 and 83 fatal crashes in Austin, far outpacing the average of 46 during the four years before the pandemic. At the same time, there were 35 and 28 fatal crashes on city-owned streets in 2021 and 2022, after averaging 30 per year from 2016 to 2019.
The report says that larger vehicles, speeding and impaired driving, and reduced traffic enforcement are partly to blame for the rise in traffic deaths and serious injuries.
“The core of the problem, however, remains that we have a transportation system that was not designed to account for human mistakes and does not adequately mitigate the potential severity of crashes,” the report says.
The city is working with the Texas Department of Transportation to reduce traffic deaths in Austin, the report says, inviting state representatives to review fatalities and participate in design workshops for the nearly $1 million “cap and stitch” program to reconnect communities divided by Interstate 35. The Vision Zero program is also funding safety improvements at some dangerous intersections on state-owned roads.
TxDOT announced last year that it plans to use additional median barriers during the I-35 reconstruction to discourage pedestrians from crossing the highway, the report says.
“An initial segment of barrier was installed in 2020 in central Austin and has shown a 50% reduction in the annual number of pedestrian fatalities following installation,” the report says.
When asked how the city plans to address crashes on state-owned roadways, a spokesperson for the Austin Transportation and Public Works Department did not comment further, referring back to the report in an email.
Traffic deaths in Austin led to more than 8,000 years of lost life, a public health measure that accounts for how many years a person would have lived if they had not died prematurely, the report says. In 2021 and 2022, Black people made up 15% of all traffic fatalities and serious injuries in Austin, even though they were just 7% of the city’s population.
“Austin’s Black population continued to be significantly overrepresented among severe crash victims,” the report says.
Crashes also led to over $6.8 billion in economic losses from medical expenses, motor vehicle damage, wage and productivity losses, and other costs.