2016 brings fewer traffic fatalities, road improvements to Austin

Hannah Daniel

Traffic fatalities on Austin roads have decreased by 38 percent in 2016 since this time last year.  

As of Aug. 31, 46 fatal collisions have caused 46 deaths in Austin this year. In 2015, 75 people died as a result of 66 fatal collisions by Aug. 31.

The city saw more traffic-related deaths in 2015 than ever before and has since increased efforts in the three Es of traffic safety: engineering, enforcement and education, said Blake Johnson, operations lieutenant for the Austin Police Department Highway Enforcement Command. Although the exact cause of the decrease cannot be identified, he said he hopes these initiatives have played some role in reducing the number of deaths.

“One fatality is one fatality too many, so we’re pleased with this reduction,” Johnson said. “We’d like to see that downward change progress even through 2017 and 2018 through these efforts, but it’s hard to say.”

The city of Austin has adopted an approach called Vision Zero to reduce transportation-related injuries. Under Vision Zero and the Austin Transportation Department’s Safety Improvement Program, improvements will be made to Austin’s five most dangerous intersections, as determined by the city. Upal Barua, ATD senior traffic engineer and lead for traffic safety engineering, said the improvements include construction of raised medians and right-turn islands and replacement of pavement markings for pedestrian crossings.

Construction is already underway on the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and the I-35 frontage road. There will be right-turn lane closures along MLK Jr. Boulevard because of the construction, which is anticipated to be completed by mid-October. Despite the inconvenience posed by the construction, Barua said the benefits make it worthwhile.

“There are going to be some temporary effects on traffic, but overall, it is going to improve safety and mobility in the long run,” Barua said. “There is some pain in the short-term, but in the long-term there is going to be gain.”

Austin’s fatal collisions are concentrated along high-traffic roads, including I-35 and East Riverside Drive. Biochemistry junior Bridgette Eduok, who lives in the Riverside area, said she is relieved by the decrease in fatalities.

“That definitely makes me feel good,” Eduok said. “I’m a commuter, so to know that my chances of having that kind of an accident are smaller makes me feel safer about being on the roads.”