Austin considers lowering neighborhood speed limits

30 mile per hour speed limit sign in Mueller development (KXAN photo/Alicia Inns)
30 mile per hour speed limit sign in Mueller development (KXAN photo/Alicia Inns)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Bill Berman spent Wednesday afternoon stringing his holiday lights at the intersection of fast and dangerous.

“There are a lot of speeding cars and construction trucks and traffic,” he said. The speed limit down his Mueller street? Thirty miles per hour.

“I think 30 is too fast for a neighborhood like this with how dense it is and has so much pedestrians,” Berman said. The Pedestrian Advisory Council, Walk Austin, Vision Zero ATX and several other pedestrian advocacy groups agree. Now they are pushing for the city to examine and lower the speed limit to 25 mph.

“When you’re going those faster speeds, even 30 miles per hour feels comfortable down a residential street, but it’s really terrifying when you are walking down the street,” said Tom Wald, a Walk Austin representative.

According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, 47 percent of all pedestrians struck at 30 miles per hour suffer critical injuries and 1 in 5 die. Those numbers decrease significantly when the speed limit drops to 25 miles per hour: Thirty percent of pedestrians are hurt and 12 percent are killed.

“It’s just a matter of the laws of physics, when we double the speed, we quadruple the amount of impact we have,” Wald said.

In the coming week, councilors will discuss a pilot program — a way to test speed problems in an entire neighborhood.

“You can look at all the characteristics of the different streets in the neighborhood and makes recommendations about which might be 25, which ones should be 20. Taking into account the configuration of the road, who it’s driving past. all of those things,” said District 5 Council Member, Ann Kitchen.

Five miles per hour may not seem like a big change, but it just might make all the difference when it comes to life or death.

“It may not seem like such a big deal on TV, but if it’s someone close to you, that means everything to you,” Wald said.

The efforts to change neighborhood speed limits go beyond Austin city limits. Council Member Kitchen says Austin is looking to join the city of Houston in pushing the state legislature to adopt a “Safe Neighborhood Streets” bill to lower the default speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph statewide.

Cost could be a factor. The city engineer says replacing the speed limit signs costs about $150 each.

On Thursday, the Austin City Council will decide whether to lower the speed limits on two major streets. The change is being requested by TXDOT’s transportation engineer. On North Lamar Boulevard, the speed limit would be reduced from 45 to 40 miles an hour, between Morrow Street and Braker Lane, then pick back up to 50 all the way to East Parmer Lane.

It’s the second street where speeds would be reduced, dropping from 65 to 55 between I-35 and Harris Glenn drive and from 65 to 60 for the rest of the drive to Dessau Road.

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