Austin experiences record pedestrian deaths while UT sees zero

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Photo Credit: Emma Overholt | Daily Texan Staff

The University and West Campus did not see any pedestrians hit and killed by vehicles in 2018, but the City of Austin recorded the largest number of pedestrian-traffic fatalities in more than 10 years,according to Austin Police data.

Out of 74 total traffic fatalities in 2018, the data indicated 31 of the fatalities were pedestrians — the largest annual count of pedestrian-traffic fatalities since 2008. The last time Austin approached this number was 2015, when police recorded 29 pedestrian-traffic fatalities.

Dustin Farahnak, a UT Police Department officer, said several factors contribute to campus street safety and the lack of pedestrian deaths at UT, including constant police presence and a 15-mph speed limit.

“Beyond speed, enforcement and lighting, I also have seen that communication and demands from our community are greater,” Farahnak said in an email. “We hear (from faculty and staff) when scooters, carts and cars are driving poorly, disregarding crosswalks or otherwise causing concerns … UTPD tries to be responsive to these concerns.”

Despite UT being free from pedestrian fatalities, Farahnak said he personally encounters at least one pedestrian-traffic accident every six weeks.

“The risk of an auto versus pedestrian collision exists on campus,” Farahnak said. “We must all be cautious and take our safety into our own hands. Being aware of our surroundings and being patient are two vital steps to being safe when travelling.”

Joel Meyer, pedestrian coordinator for the City of Austin, said most pedestrian traffic fatalities occur in either suburban or high-speed areas, because these areas aren’t designed for safe walking. In turn, Meyer said UT’s lack of pedestrian deaths can be attributed to its high concentration of pedestrians.

“Around campus and West Campus, the streets are actually a lot narrower, people are going a lot slower and there’s also a lot of pedestrian activity there,” Meyer said. “Because there’s so many people walking, it actually creates this safety in numbers situation where people are looking out for pedestrians and expect them to be there.”

It is difficult to identify the reason for the 2018 spike in pedestrian-traffic fatalities, Meyer said, but the Austin Transportation Department is taking some concrete steps to stop the increase from becoming a citywide trend.

“There’s not a lot of opportunities for pedestrians to cross the street safely, so we’re looking at how we can retrofit our city to try to make them safer,” Meyer said.

To help, Meyer said the Austin Transportation Department received $4 million from Proposition G last November designated for pedestrian safety.

“We’ll be using that to install more crossings around town to give pedestrians a safe place to cross the street,” Meyer said. “That’s one way we’re doing it, but we’re also looking at education and enforcement efforts that we can kind of wrap around those engineering improvements and really get the most bang for the buck.”

Biochemistry sophomore Eoin Doyle said he walks to class every day from West Campus and often feels concerned for his safety as a pedestrian. Doyle said he’s wary of passing vehicles, because zero pedestrian deaths at UT does not mean zero
pedestrian accidents.

“People drive like maniacs in West Campus, so it’s crazy to me that nobody has been seriously hurt,” Doyle said. “I’m certainly very aware of imminent danger at any crosswalk in West Campus.”