Austin pedestrian crashes affect more minority, lower-income communities

People waiting at a crosswalk during SXSW. (KXAN Photo)
People waiting at a crosswalk during SXSW. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A pedestrian safety plan released this week after a year-long analysis of crash data shows certain demographic groups are impacted more than others when it comes to Austin crashes.

Minority, non-English speaking and lower-income communities were found to have higher rates of serious pedestrian crashes.

Between 2010 and 2015 there were nearly 1,900 people who were involved in pedestrian crashes just walking, leading to 121 fatalities. For every pedestrian killed in Austin, there are another 10 serious injuries, the city reports. The plan, still in draft form, is meant to serve as a holistic framework to improve pedestrian safety across Austin.

“Somebody hit him and they just left him there,” Jessica Venson tearfully told KXAN nearly a year ago to the day. “That’s probably the piece I can’t, I still can’t cope with. Why somebody would do that.”

Venson reflected on that on Thursday, recalling standing by the hospital bed of her brother Spencer, who was suffering from a traumatic brain injury and two broken legs.

“He said he was just crossing the street. It was kind of late at night so he was crossing the street and he really says he doesn’t remember he just kind of saw lights coming towards him and he was just up in the air and then that was it,” Venson said.

“He’s never going to be able to walk the same, it’s been, again, almost a year and he walks well but it’s never going to be back to what it was prior to the accident.”

It turns out Spencer’s injuries are part of a larger trend. “We found a lot of areas in east Austin, northeast Austin are particularly hard hit,” Joel Meyer, pedestrian coordinator for the Austin Transportation Department, said.

Meyer said the demographic findings stood out to him in the draft Pedestrian Safety Action Plan.

“Lower income communities are dependent on walking and biking to work simply because, you know, car ownership is really expensive,” he said. “So those are areas we really want to be able to focus on and going back to that historical under-investment in certain areas of the city, where there’s maybe a lack of sidewalks.”

Meyer told KXAN the plan will take into consideration the income of the surrounding area, proximity to transit and car ownership, to help prioritize pedestrian safety improvements.

ATD says street design can play a big role on how serious a pedestrian crash is. The department found more than 64 percent of deadly pedestrian crashes happen on roads where the speed limit is 45 or more. Crashes on streets with sidewalks missing on both sides are twice as likely to result in serious injury or death and places with street lighting can reduce the probability of crashes happening after dark by about 8 percent.

To share your thoughts on the plan with city leaders, visit the Pedestrian Safety Action plan website. The plan will go before the city council this fall.

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