Austin is a progressive city in so many ways, but being pedestrian and cyclist-friendly are not two features the city can boast.
On Saturday, I read yet another article about a pedestrian killed by a drunk driver in Downtown Austin. I shared on Twitter that this is becoming an epidemic in our city, and that it needs to change. The next morning I woke up to discover that the pedestrian who was killed was an acquaintance of mine. Kelly, known as ATX Hipsters online, was a big supporter of bloggers, writers, musicians and social media people in Austin. He shared our blog posts, our music and our stories just because he wanted to. He always went out of his way to say hello to me, and he was a friend to many people.
While police were tending to the crash that killed Kelly, ANOTHER drunk driver crashed into that very scene (no one was killed). Kelly’s death was one of TWO pedestrian deaths on Saturday night (the other occurred in the Zilker Park area). These two deaths follow the target=”_blank”>four pedestrian deaths of Jamie West, Sandy Le, Steven Craenmehr and DeAndre Tatum during SXSW on March 13th. These six deaths follow the pedestrian death of Henry Lopez on Hwy 183 on April 8th. These seven deaths follow the pedestrian death of Gary Lynn Shipwash on South Lamar on April 2nd. These eight deaths follow the pedestrian death of Danny Wayne Worley on North Lamar on March 24th.
In the past six weeks, NINE pedestrians have been killed. Seven of these nine pedestrians were killed by people under the influence or in hit-and-runs.
Austin has a problem, and the city cannot deny it any longer.
There are many factors that feed into this problem:
1.) We live in a alcohol-friendly city that promotes and encourages drinking.
2.) We have inadequate public transportation; our light rail is completely inefficient with limited routes and run times, as is our bus system.
3.) The city encourages some but not all car-sharing programs; read about the Uber debacle during SXSW for a glimpse.
4.) Austin is a car-dependent city. According to Walkscore.com, though Austin is the 11th largest city in America, it is the 34th most walkable large city in the country. And though Austin often shows up on lists for top bike-friendly cities, most cyclists will tell you that it is not.
Kelly was three blocks from his house when he was struck down (this I learned from the beautiful post that Ben at Austin Bloggy Limits shared on his blog). He had done the right thing: he lived downtown, which means he could walk to more places, and he hated drunk driving (a fact that many of his friends have been sharing online). He was responsible and he cared about his city, and he was killed for it.
The deaths need to stop, and it is up to us to tell City Council that enough is enough.
I encourage you to follow ATX Safer Streets, a new coalition of concerned citizens advocating for safer transportation (thanks to Zack Teibloom for making me aware of them). They will be having a launch party at The Brixton on May 11. Another way you can get involved is by contacting your city officials and letting them know that better public transportation is a top issue for Austinites. ATX Safer Streets has made it easy for you to do that here. Also, check out Austinites for Urban Rail Action to learn more about how they’re advocating for a better light rail system.
I will be posting an interview with ATX Safer Streets this week so you can learn more about what they do and how you can help.
It’s time that we stand up.
Thanks for posting this! I agree with you 100% and am about to check out ATX Safer Streets!
Please be part of the change and join Bike Austin and the Austin Cycling Association (unifying now as one organization) this weekend for a community summit on the future of bicycling in Austin:
Hi, Todd! I will add this to my blog post tomorrow.
The bike-friendly rankings are largely based on city efforts to build bike infrastructure, not on the lived reality of cyclists. They have their purpose, such as validating the work of public-works staff who work on bike projects, but they’re somewhat misreported in the press since they emphasize infrastructure over enforcement and broader affordances for cycling like neighborhood connectivity.
Regarding drunk driving, I think its importance is vastly overstated. Alcohol is involved in fewer than half of car-related fatalities. It’s easy to blame drunk drivers as irresponsible, but the real problem is careless and aggressive drivers more broadly. It’s my sense that law enforcement doesn’t want to deal with careless driving more broadly, so they target drunken drivers – but it’s likely the case that these deadly drivers are dangerous when sober, too.
I don’t disagree with you about aggressive drivers. Typically aggressive drivers are the ones OK with driving drunk too. The night after Kelly died, I was driving home on I-35 and was swarmed by around ten aggressive cars dangerously cutting each other off on purpose. I tried to pass one when he slowed down, but he wouldn’t let me pass. It was a game to him. Driving a dangerous piece of machinery is a game to so many people.
Totally agree, let’s stay on top of this. I think making this an issue for upcoming City Council races is imperative.
We need them on the record for ride share and rail, expanded bus routes as well as allowing folks to park cars over night downtown in certain zones or areas without being towed.
Thanks for your comment, Joe. Are you going to go to the ATX Safer Streets event on the 11th?
Great article, but using “on the heels of” so many times when talking about car-related pedestrian deaths may not have been the best choice.
Way to get the word out!
I wasn’t happy with my wording there anyways, so I changed it. Hopefully it sounds better. Thanks for your comment.
I think the city needs to invest in redesigning the main thoroughfares to accomodate real bike lanes. NYC and other major cities have done this successfully. We cant have bicyclists occupying lanes of traffic with cars its suicidal.
Thanks for posting this Lauren. Sharing on Twitter and FB.
I can’t help but think that this is Obama’s fault
Great article. As someone who prefers to take the bus or bike when going out, I’ve found that the bus service is limited and ends early and that bicycling at night (especially on the East Side, where I live) can be highly treacherous. Drunk driving in ATX is out of hand.
One thing Austin can do is improve the taxi ratio. I have waited soooo many times to get a non-existent taxi… very frustrating. Recently, waited 72 minutes at Bass Concert Hall for a taxi. Downtown at 1am-2am, forget it. We may have the 4th largest traffic congested city in North America but are the worse in taxi availability. No wonder people risk driving after drinking…
This is one of my favorite topics to talk about in Austin.
Drunk driving aside (we all know that is bad), I agree some things need to change on both sides of the argument.
Austin should have more walkways and sidewalks available for pedestrians. Crosswalks should be useful as well as accessible given the huge population of blind people around downtown. What we also need are people to be watchful for vehicles. Most of the pedestrian accidents are caused by the pedestrians not paying attention. If a car is coming, do not walk, even if you might have the right of way. It’s not worth it to get hit and become a statistic. Granted, the car should pay attention too but the car doesn’t go to a hospital if it gets hit by a pedestrian.
This also go with bicycles. We need more bicycle lanes, not full lanes that bicycles can ride in. We need to have everyone revert back to what our parents told us as kids. Bicycles should yield to vehicles and stay out of the way, not dart out into traffic or ride down the middle of the street. Stay to the side and cross at crosswalks. Same argument here that I said for pedestrians, cars do not go to the ER when a bicycle hits them.
Keep in mind that cars were developed to go faster than a pedestrian and a bicycle, therefore these slower forms of transportation should stay out of the way. Austin could help with this but there are also bad decisions (letting bicycles take up full lanes) and people with entitlement opinions (I should be allowed to ride my bicycle on the road!) causing problems.
Bicycles are vehicles, so other vehicles yield to bicycles when they do not have right of way and bicycles to other vehicles when it is reversed. I don’t ride my bicycle as a vehicles (going places versus riding in the park) and cross at crosswalks-how is that practicable? Why not ride your car in reverse to work tomorrow? You don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
entitlement opinions? Those are prevalent with drivers getting annoyed at pedestrians and bicyclist.
I even read a comment by a guy who deliberately runs over them.
And, yes pedestrians should be highly aware of their surroundings, as am I, but thats mainly me not wanting to be hit…again.
I was hit at 4th and Congress in August of 2013.
I was a pedestrian crossing Congress and 4th, with a walk sign, in the crosswalk.
The driver ran a red light and flew mw 30 feet, where my skull hit the pavement.
I was not at fault, and the driver paid no consequences. She had an at fault accident when I was in the hospital. Careless people who are wrapped up in their own bubble should be penalized.
Still recovering, and I have TBI (traumatic brain injury) because of someone elses actions, and the kicker is people blame the victim. Everytime, no matter what.
Yo. Live where you work or close by. If you can’t find a place, I hear Portlandia will welcome you with open arms. We don’t need any more mandates or dictates than we already have in The People’s Republik of Austin. People running down the middle of the street in the bike lane (like on Exposition) or even more cyclists running stop signs or generally riding aggressively in traffic is getting worse not better with the way the City has put more cyclists and pedestrians in harms way with recent changes. No excuse for a driver (drunk or not) to hit and kill someone, but the City’s “solutions” are making the problem worse not better.
Kelly lived downtown and was walking home when he was killed. Though living in a walkable area will definitely help cut down on driving, that is only one of many factors. Kelly did the “right thing,” and he was killed. Also, not everyone can afford to live in a walkable neighborhood.
Not only is drinking in Austin encouraged, it is glorified. I’m not sure being drunk frequently is something that should be socially encouraged or celebrated.
Part of the problem with Uber is Austin Yellow Cab’s lobbying. Of course Austin isn’t going to support Uber when it’s pockets are full with taxi money.
Also, can we encourage more people to wear helmets? In Chicago everyone wore helmets, but I never see them on the streets here.
Thanks for the post. Be safe out there!
The comment on how the bike friendly ranking of a city is calculated was interesting. Minneapolis is ranked No. 1 Having lived there, it gets my vote as the most bike friendly city … 5 months of the year. Austin is ranked no. 11. http://www.bicycling.com/news/advocacy/11-austin-tx
I would like to hear more about individual experiences.
In Austin, I can get anywhere west of I-35, south of Research and north of the river by bike. The ride down Shoal Creek seems very safe. I am not comfortable riding on Burnet even after the recent addition of bike lanes.
I have been hit twice in the past 4 years by drivers who were just not paying attention. So far, no problem with drunk drivers.
One of the most dangerous places to ride is on pedestrian cross walks. I was hit by a truck that moved forward 4 feet getting ready to make a right turn our of mall parking lot. The driver was looking for a gap in car traffic on the left while trying to make a right turn on a red light. Pedestrians and bike riders on the right were ignored. The truck moved into the cross walk and knocked me down. Fortunately the truck stopped so I was not run over. I was able to get up and ride off.
I have come close to being hit on a cross walks before by a driver turning right on a green light. Pedestrians and bikers also had a green light and the right of way.
Please add your stories.
The first change that needs to happen will need to be within the biking community. All to often those riding bicycles do so with complete disregard for the traffic code.
For 17 years I worked on West 5th Street, a one way street going east. Countless times over the years you would see the following…people riding their bikes the wrong way against traffic and people riding their bikes on the sidewalk, even in the last few years after a clearly designated bike lane had been installed. Nearly everyday at lunch I would witness someone on a bike have complete disregard for the traffic lights at W. 5th and Campbell, or 5th and Baylor and even the massively busy intersection at 5th and Lamar.
I can only count on one hand in 15 or more years the number of instances where I have witnessed someone on a bicycle follow the rules of the road as required. While I can’t lump everyone who rides I bicycle into this generalization, it has become ever so hard not too. The cycling community needs to address this head on.
The problems are not confined to the city center either. I live in a condo community off Pond Springs Road in NW Austin, far from what would be considered a part of town that you would think is a bicyclist haven. Yet up and down Pond Springs Road, the city spent tax payer dollars to install yet another bike lane. I am all for designated bike lanes. There should be one one every major surface street in Austin. And yet 2 years ago I came upon a bicyclist that had been injured…but…he was on the wrong side of the road…not any where near the bike lane. He claimed he had been hit by a car…at first even the EMS/APD responders that arrived after my 911 call thought I had hit him…even going so far as to inspect my car for evidence of a collision….only to discover the guy laying on the side of the road with a damaged bike…was…wait for it….drunk…he had left a pool hall down the road drunk on his bike. He lost control and wrecked his bike into a drainage culvert 15 feet away…and then lied about it…he only came clean when pressed by APD.
So first things first…bicyclist unite and get our fellow bike riders (yes I have a bike too) to start obeying the traffic code. This will go a long way to preventing car/bicycle collisions and while it won’t prevent every incident its the law.
Spending money on bikes lanes is a waste of money. How many people have to start biking to work to ease congestion.
The city should begin making more overpasses like Dallas to deal with the problem of too many cars on the road. I’m an avid biker and think riding with the cars is fine. The more people that do it the more people learn how to drive around bikers.
A progressive city and bike lanes aren’t synonymous.
The best way to eliminate drunk driving is to prevent people from owning or renting cars. Start writing you elected representatives to encourage them to draft this legislation!
I agree that the pedestrian accidents with vehicles needs to stop. However, in addition to learning to drive around bikers,A LOT of cyclists need to learn how to bike around cars. Cars are way bigger than a singular person that can be easily missed. This isn’t just about what drivers are doing wrong but what some cyclists are also doin. Ifyou’re going to be on the road, you HAVE to obey the same laws. Far too often I see cyclists cut up to the front of a light, ride between cars ,and run lights. I respect that you are doing your part to limit your footprint and ease congestion but there has to be better symbiosis. And before anyone jumps on my case,it’s absolutely tragic that drunk driving has killed so many. That is certainly not fair and before anyone else is hurt, our entire city (and those moving here) needs an ethics makeover.
While I fundamentally agree that there must be an improvement in public transport, I must take issue with the focus of the blame being the ‘friendliness’ of Austin to bikes and pedestrians. I’ll make two points- I’ll grant you that public transport needs improvement, particularly in light of the drinking culture here. However, I don’t see the parallell between accidents involving drunk driving and the friendliness of the city of pedestrian and bike traffic. That, to me, has more to do with a combination of irresponsible drivers and the city’s lack of an answer when it comes to public transport than it does the general allowance of sober motorists around town to the presence of foot and pedal traffic.
That leads to the second point (as often people walk and cycle because there isn’t a reliable public transport alternative). Often, the behaviour of pedestrians and cyclists in this town is not just less than predictable, its often just as irresponsible as the drivers who get behind the wheel after too many cocktails. I lived here in Austin from 2001-2006, then have been in the Netherlands for 7 years subsequent before moving back late last year. Admittedly, NL has vastly superior infrastructure for supporting urban cycling and public transport. But more than that cyclists must obey traffic laws, and when you drive near them, there is a fundamental understanding between automobile and cyclist about sharing the road responsibly. Not so here. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve seen cyclists here dodge in and out of moving traffic, run red lights and stoplights, cycle non-illuminated at night, etc etc etc, all of which would get you pulled over and fined by bike cops in NL. Its almost as if people hop on a bike and presume that there is an exclusionary zone around them regardless of their behavior on the road. I brought this up recently at a Be Kind to Cyclists meeting and was glad that people were happy to listen. Now, that said, it is also true that drivers here in general could get better used to having cyclists on the road- and certainly more in the way of bike lanes and bike pavements can help address that- but I feel like its necessary to bring up the point that cyclists bear a responsibiltiy in all of this as well.
I do not like Austin. Unfortunately this is where I earn my living. It’s all a facade. Smiling faces..you know, the song.
Wish I could move. Unfortunately this is where I earn my living. It’s all a facade. Smiling faces..you know, the song.
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I’m considering moving to Austin from San Francisco. I LOVE my bike and would never stop riding her for as long as I’m able. This is a huge factor of my decision whether or not to move and reading this blog kinda helped. Bummer to see it’s not as cool as I had hoped…but no city is, right? Or perhaps there is a dream city where bicycles are everywhere and people are friendly and not on their phones every second.
A girl can hope.