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One Way to Protect Pedestrians? APD Says Ticketing Power on More Highways

Miguel Guitierrez Jr./KUT
Pedestrians cross Cesar Chavez Street near Congress Avenue. The Austin Police Department suggests increased enforcement of pedestrian behavior could reduce the number of fatalities on and near Austin roadways.

More power over more highways.

That’s part of what the Austin Police Department hopes to attain in its effort to reverse last year’s record number of fatal car accidents, which resulted in 102 deaths, and limit the number of pedestrian deaths, which totaled 30 last year.

“There was a city ordinance … that had not been updated for a long time,” APD Lt. Robert Richman said following a presentation to the city’s Pedestrian Advisory Council on Monday.

That specific ordinance restricts pedestrians from crossing certain highways, such as Interstate 35 and U.S. Highway 290. But since that code was penned in 1992, other highways have been built, such as the 183A Toll Road. It’s one of several (along with U.S. Highway 71, State Highway 45, State Highway 130 and Loop 360) that APD is suggesting be tacked on to the city code.

APD’s proposed changes would also address all parts of a highway, ensuring that a pedestrian caught on the shoulder or the median would have little defense against a citation.

“The law already gives us the ability, and some of the other laws, to be able to enforce not crossing in a crosswalk and things of that sort,” said Richman. “But we want to put this and encapsulate it under the city ordinance so it’s very defined so that they understand this is a high-speed roadway, and these are the ones we’re focusing on.”

Richman noted that while some portions of Austin have pedestrian-focused infrastructure such as crosswalks, sidewalks and pedestrian hybrid beacons, that’s not often the case when it comes to the city’s highways – many of which cross major sections of Austin, giving some people limited options when it comes to getting around without a car or access to a bus or bike.

“We don’t have the infrastructure that we wish we had in the perfect world where it was on every street, where it was on every roadway,” Richman said.

The advisory council decided Monday to table the proposed ordinance change. Members told APD that they wanted to know how exactly each pedestrian accident happened – for example, whether a pedestrian was sideswiped or hit head-on – before they could support more enforcement.

Monday night’s discussion can be considered part of a broader conversation about traffic safety as the city prepares to lay out a final Vision Zero plan to members of City Council next month.

This story was produced as part of KUT’s reporting partnership with the Austin Monitor.

Audrey McGlinchy is KUT's housing reporter. She focuses on affordable housing solutions, renters’ rights and the battles over zoning. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @AKMcGlinchy.
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