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‘Don’t Block the Box’ tickets are rare these days, with only three issued in Austin last year

Street signs against a cloudy sky. The signs indicate "Don't Block the Box, $500 Fine" and "No Right Turn on Red Except Bicycles." To the left, a street name sign reads "Guadalupe St."
Manoo Sirivelu
KUT News
Citations issued for "Don't Block the Box" violations have decreased to three in 2023.

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Anyone driving in downtown Austin has probably seen the "Don’t Block the Box" signs above intersections, threatening a fine up to $500 if you block the intersection from cross traffic. The Austin Police Department does hand out fines, but according to data from the Municipal Court the number has dropped from 109 citations in 2018 to just three in 2023.

APD Lt. William White, who is in charge of highway enforcement, said traffic patrol has not been high on the list of priorities, especially as the department is facing a staffing shortage.

“If we have people to work at problem areas with traffic then we try to assign people to look at those particular problems. But again, it can depend on call load, and oftentimes officers are just tied up responding to the 911 calls,” White said.

There are more than 200 "Don’t Block the Box" signs installed throughout the city, according to Jim Dale, deputy director of Austin Transportation and Public Works. The total cost for building and installing all of those signs is approximately $29,000.

The Transportation and Public Works Department has faced difficulties in measuring the campaign's effectiveness and have not measured its success since.

“You could see the benefit and the traffic clearing out compared to the problems we were seeing when we first decided to put up the signs … just being able to measure it was a challenge with the tools we had available at that time,” Dale said.

Dubbed "Don’t Block the Box," the campaign against blocking the intersection was launched nearly a decade ago because police were seeing a rise in people blocking cross traffic.

“It literally was like shooting fish in a barrel. People would just do it left and right, until we started getting out there and really enforcing those traffic violations,” White said.

Though ticketed enforcement has slowed, new signs can be put up. Residents can call 3-1-1 to report congested intersections that don’t have a "Don’t Block the Box" sign. Transportation and Public Works Department will examine those intersections to see if a congestion problem could be resolved with altering the timing of traffic signals, Dale said if not, most times a "Don't Block the Box" sign will then be installed. The latest sign went up in June 2023.

“We think there's still value in the sign being up there … they don't get everyone's attention, we'd love for them to, but the people's attention that they do get does help keep those intersections clear of traffic,” Dale said.

There are no plans to increase patrol at intersections, but if an officer sees someone blocking the box, they can be fined. Regardless, White said the dangers of blocking oncoming traffic should be reason enough to avoid the violation.

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