Have Austin roads gotten too dangerous? Rethinking public safety.

I’ve been holding off on writing this post for several days. It’s really been hard to express my thoughts in a coherent way. Not only am I filled with anger and sadness at having to write another post about the tragic death of an Austin cyclist, but I’m also trying to wrap my head around the change that will be required to keep this from happening again. And I don’t want to sound condemning.

We as a city and a society are at a crucial point in history. The winds of change are blowing through, bringing new thoughts and new ideas. As that new philosophy starts to pollinate our minds, it causes a cultural clash. And in the midst of that, it gets a little chaotic.

Simply put: People are rethinking the way our streets should be used. Some see bicycles as a better way to commute. Plus, with massive growth over the last couple years, Austin is due for an infrastructure facelift. Now is the perfect time to talk about what we can do to improve the city to make it a safe place for everyone.

Another day, another tragedy

But first, I’ve got to share this:

This past weekend, a cyclist was struck from behind and killed while riding in the huge shoulder of 360. Here’s a picture of him smiling while on a bicycle. In this moment, he may be dressed as a cyclist, but you can see the joy and underlying humanity that connects each one of us.

Verter Ginestra was killed this past Saturday on 360.

Verter Ginestra was killed this past Saturday on 360.

Who blames who?

I could condemn the driver–but what good would that do? The person is also a human. And like all of us, that person has memories, sadness, and pain.

Rather, I’d like to think about what in our society has lead to nearly a dozen cyclists killed in 2012.

Is it because some rogue cyclists run red lights and stop signs? Maybe, but none of the folks killed got hit because of that. And for the record, I see at least 5 cars a day running red lights on my commute to work.

[See my previous post: 14 Tips to Help Cyclists and Drivers Coexist]

What about texting? I see tons of drivers texting despite it being against the law.

There are tons and tons of reasons to place blame. But that’s not going to help. Whether they are drivers in a hurry or cyclists who are trying to be bad asses, there will always be rogues. Nothing will change that.

Learning from the past

I read an article in Atlantic Magazine this week about the birth of Jaywalking. In the 1930s, there was a lot of resentment against cars for endangering the streets. After one particularly bad accident in Cincinnati, cities decided to start limiting cars through local ordinances. Knowing that more limits would decrease car sales, the automotive industry started lobbying to lessen restrictions and change perception of responsibility. Instead of manslaughter for a driver causing an accident that killed someone, they started shifting the ordinances to penalize the pedestrian who jaywalks.

It’s an interesting read that made my mind flip. For me, I thought streets had always been controlled by cars. I didn’t know that there’d ever been a time when people had questioned the purpose and use of the streets.

Vintage Bicycle Accident Cartoon

It got me thinking: What can be done to take back the streets? Aren’t we all just trying to get to work in the morning and home in the evening? Until we move beyond the automobile, what can we do to make the streets safe for cyclists, pedestrians, and cars?

Ok, what to do?

The answer is being addressed all over the country. LA, the pinnacle of car culture, is building 832 miles bike routes, making it the largest network of bicycle-protected lanes in the country. They are also putting problem roads on road diets, a new way of controlling traffic flow to make streets more pedestrian and bike friendly. (Check out Curbed LA’s full coverage of bikeification of the city).

Although Austin claims to be bike-friendly, it’s a joke; rather, we are a city that has a lot of cyclists, and our city government has built token bike ways. Our current bike lanes are shoulders with a bike logo in the middle.  And, I mean, seriously: 4 blocks of protected bike way on Rio Grande, 2 protected blocks on 4th St, and another protected bicycle way that parallels the Lady Bird Lake trail does not a “bike-friendly” city make. Plus, meandering through neighborhoods, the current bicycle trails aren’t practical for commuting.

We need to move Austin away from the automobile in a smart way. We should look at commuting patterns to make safe, protected, viable North-South and East-West routes. We need to look at areas with heavy foot traffic and see how to make them safe. And maybe someone in the City Planning can look at this map:

Bicycle vs Car Accident Map in Austin

Bicycle vs Car Accident Map in Austin

[Check out the full interactive map of Bicycle vs Car Accidents here (via KVUE).]

That map shows the  location of bicycle accidents since 2009. What’s interesting about it is that all of those accidents happen on major North-South and East-West thoroughfares. And most bicyclists know how unsafe all of those intersections and roads are. In fact, last week I was thinking about writing a post called: South First, Barton Springs, or South Lamar: Where will the next death take place?

Yes, we NEED safe streets for ALL people. And we need it now, not after another 100,000 people move to our city. Not after more high-density condos and offices go up downtown. Not after another cyclist gets hit. We need it NOW.

Today, you can join hundreds of cyclists in a peaceful ride to help ensure that our roads are safe for everyone. Won’t you join?

EXPERIENCE: Pedaling for Safer Roads; Thursday, May 3rd, 2012; 7-9P; Meet at City Hall then slow ride to the Capitol. Facebook Event

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About Chris Apollo Lynn

78704er, cyclist, part-time DJ, new media mad scientist, urban farmer, not a robot, ready for End of Days.

10 thoughts on “Have Austin roads gotten too dangerous? Rethinking public safety.

    • Chris Apollo Lynn

      I went to look at it yesterday and was like, “is this even real?” It reminded me more of a demo apartment or a filmset. It looks nice, but upon closer inspection, you see that it’s just a way to support an illusion–a token gesture to feign caring for cyclists.

      Oh, and thanks for sharing the link. Nothing butters my bread more than people who park in bicycle lanes, btw. People who think they are some how above that.

  1. M1EK

    ” I see at least 5 cars a day running red lights on my commute to work.”

    I call BS on this – at least, in the way “running red lights” is meant when referring to lawbreaking cyclists.

    If it helps, a distinction I once made is between “running the red” and “running the orange”. Running the orange, totally made-up, is when a light changes from yellow to red, and the person keeps going – through a “fresh red”, if you will. This is done in roughly equal proportions by cyclists and motorists.

    “running the red” can then be reserved for more egregious violations – where a light is red and has been red and the person in question just decides it doesn’t apply to them. This hardly ever happens with motorists, and happens very frequently with cyclists.

    I live near Speedway and 38th – have for about 10 years. I have not seen one single car run the red (not the orange) in the 10 years I have lived there. I see a cyclist run the red across 38th almost every day.

    None of this matters all that much in the specifics of this case because, as you note, none of the recent cyclists killed were disobeying the law. But it serves cyclists very poorly to be in denial about how the majority of cyclists behave on the road – and that is “badly”. No, don’t bring up people rolling stops (both cars and bikes do this in equal proportions). No, don’t bring up speeding (bikes would if they could, I have no doubt). Red lights and stop signs? Drivers treat them with seriousness; cyclists treat them as suggestions.

    (I biked about half the time to work for about ten years here in Austin; and served on the UTC from 2000-2005 as the bridge between cyclists and drivers).

    • Chris Apollo Lynn

      Hi M1EK:

      Actually, sit at these intersections and tell me what you see: Cesar Chavez and Guad, Cesar Chaves and LaVaca, S 1st and Barton Springs, S 1st and Riverside, Bouldin and Barton Springs. People do full on run-the-red all the time.

      I don’t deny your experiences as a cyclist, but having cycled since 2000, I’ve seen a lot of new issues arise that may not have been as prevalent as when you were suiting up and rolling out. Number one: Texting, Facebooking, or any other use of a phone that takes someone’s attention away from watching the road. That makes a car more deadly than it already is.

      Also, asking whether cyclists would speed is moot. Cars going too fast, particularly in residential neighbors, isn’t just dangerous to cyclists, it’s dangerous to other drivers, kids playing, pets, or anyone else that happens to get in the way.

      The point of the article wasn’t to start an “us vs them” argument. It was to discuss what we as society, and particularly the city, can do to maintain safety for everyone and also prepare for an increase in traffic and peds downtown.

      You can see how I feel about the rogue cyclists and drivers in this post:http://republicofaustin.com/14-tips-to-help-cyclists-and-drivers-coexist/

      • M1EK

        Again, for clarification, full-on run the red does not mean “continue after the light turns from yellow to red even though they weren’t even close to the edge of the intersection at the time”. Those people are obnoxious, but that’s a category that both motorists and cyclists fall into in roughly equal measure.

        It means, middle of the red light cycle, i.e. many seconds in, somebody just decides to go.

        I have seen that only a few times the last decade from a motorist, anywhere. I have seen that thousands of times from cyclists, in the same period.

        • Angelina

          I think Chris’ point was that cars break the law too, yet we hear way too much whining about how bikers are to blame. Both have issues. Take a look at all the texters, it’s pretty constant.

    • Ronnie Baker

      I can’t remember the last time somebody was killed after being struck by a “red light running” cyclist… it’s too bad cars aren’t less hard and metallic…

  2. Joseph Arleth

    The history of bikes in urban areas is more interesting than you may realize. As I remember, the Pasadena Freeway in SoCal was actually a well developed bike path with wooden overpasses that ran into and out of downtown LA. There was a toll charged by the developer for its use. Years later, as cars became more popular and people left their cars behind, even in sunny Southern California, it fell into disuse. Eventually, that path was developed by the city into part of the highway system. Here’s a link to an article http://highlandpark.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/remembering-the-great-california-cycleway/. Interesting where cycling came from and maybe we’re trying to get back there again.

  3. Royal Executive Austin

    Roads are becoming dangerous no matter where you are. But Texas could do something about it like being more strict when it comes to giving out licenses and giving penalties to those who break traffic laws. Many just get away with it so authorities should really address this issue.


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