In 2016, 678 pedestrians died in Texas. That’s a 21.5 percent jump since the year prior. According to data from the Governors Highway Safety Association, pedestrian deaths nationwide increased 27 percent from 2007 to 2016 while all other categories of traffic deaths plummeted by 14 percent. Cars have become safer. Our streets have not.
Texas accounted for about 10 percent of the nation’s 6,000 pedestrian deaths, and the state has three counties on the dubious, depressing list of the 10 where they are most common: Harris (128) and Dallas (84) and Bexar (68). So what can we do? I’d like to direct you to this essay from TheMap.io’s Robert Mundinger, who has been quietly doing the lord’s work in exploring urban issues on Medium. This post is about the Vision Zero initiative, a strategy with the goal of eliminating pedestrian traffic fatalities altogether. Cities that participate admit that these are preventable occurrences. The strategy encourages urban design that makes streets as easy as possible to navigate for drivers and pedestrians alike. The initiative gets support from the mayor, and brings together numerous city departments to focus on what can change to improve the outcomes.
Thirty-four American cities have signed onto the initiative, including Austin and San Antonio. In the latter’s case, 54 people took to the steps of City Hall, one for every pedestrian death in the previous year. San Antonio’s City Council created a planning document with actionable items to help reduce those deaths. The city earmarked $2 million for the effort and funneled another $10 million into fixing sidewalks.
Dallas hasn’t drawn such a formal line in the sand, but Mundinger has a rundown of some of the elements common in the Vision Zero approach that have been happening here. The city has embraced Complete Streets initiatives, like you’ve seen in Lower Greenville: Narrower driving lanes, wider sidewalks, off-set parallel parking, large and bright crosswalks, greenspace. In some areas, like the tangle of concrete that is Olive at Cedar Springs, re-design will be required. This has happened in some places, like making traffic along Houston Street two-way. Another example is the two-way’ing of McKinney and Cole.
The numbers are startling, but Mundinger mentions the reason the city—and the other large Texas municipalities, for that matter—needs to focus on improving this problem is that it’s only going to get worse. Dallas is getting denser. You’re seeing increased infill in neighborhoods all over the city, even in places that fought tooth and nail against it, like North Oak Cliff and parts of Oak Lawn. And as more people move into the city center—18,000 did just last year, more than double the population increase in the entire decade from 2000 to 2010—Dallas’ streets will need to safely accommodate additional modes of transportation.
It’s been three years since San Antonio formalized its Vision Zero Action Plan. Last year, there were 44 pedestrian deaths, the fewest in the past five years. Austin’s has fell from 30 pedestrian deaths in 2015 to 23 last year, although critics say the city hasn’t gone far enough to meet its goals.