Pedestrian deaths are up this year – a third of the people who have died on Austin roadways in 2016 so far were on foot when they were killed, according to Austin police records.
The tally of pedestrian deaths steadily rose throughout the year, but a rash of fatal crashes in November helped push that number closer to where it fell last year, when a record 102 people died in traffic incidents across the city. Pedestrian deaths last year made up 28 percent of all of the cityâ€™s traffic deaths.
But this year, despite having 25 fewer total traffic deaths so far, the proportion of pedestrian deaths has increased to just over 33 percent.
Police Detective Patrick Oborski said authorities have recorded 75 fatal crashes in Austin in 2016 that killed 77 people. Of those, 26 were pedestrians, the last of whom died Wednesday afternoon after he was hit at South Congress Avenue and Little Texas Lane just after 4 p.m.
At least two more pedestrian deaths occurred in the city on Dec. 17 and Dec. 20 â€” one on Texas 71 and another near the Capitol â€” but those cases were investigated by other agencies, a police spokesman said Wednesday.
By the same time last year, 29 pedestrians had died on Austin roadways.
Austin police Lt. Blake Johnson said the number of pedestrian deaths raises concerns, especially given the number of recent pedestrian fatalities on high-speed roads like Interstate 35, where three pedestrians in November were struck and killed while trying to cross the highway.
â€œOn high-speed roadways like (U.S.) 183 or (Interstate) 35, thereâ€™s no reason a pedestrian should be on that roadway,â€ he said. â€œAt 55 or 60 mph, the reaction time for drivers is significantly reduced.â€
Last year, 83 percent of fatal pedestrian crashes occurred on a highway or high-use roadway, according to Austin police. Johnson said authorities use education and engineering to make roadways safer for drivers and pedestrians, but police can only do so much through law enforcement.
Officers issue citations or make arrests when they can, he said, but stopping someone who is seen crossing a major transportation artery can be a challenge. By the time officers can exit the highway and turn around, the person they are looking for could already be gone, he said.
Police can also make recommendations to the Texas Department of Transportation and the city on how to better engineer pedestrian features. But the key, Johnson said, is getting the public to recognize the danger of crossing high-speed roads to keep them clear of pedestrians.
â€œAny time saved or possible convenience gained by taking that risk is not worth it,â€ Johnson said. â€œPutting your life at risk for that, thereâ€™s no reason to do it.â€
Oborski said the Austin Police Department is working to keep the cityâ€™s transient population away from major highways in the area, adding that they are often the ones who lose their lives in such crashes. Last year, 10 of the 29 pedestrians killed on Austin roads were identified by police as transients.
â€œThere is no rhyme or reason why itâ€™s all happening at once,â€ Oborski said of Novemberâ€™s rash of pedestrian deaths. â€œIt is just bad decisions. People do it all the time.â€
Pedestrian deaths happen throughout Central Texas. Two pedestrians, including a longtime coach at Stony Point High School, died in incidents in Round Rock on Dec. 3, and on Dec. 2, a teenager walked into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler on I-35 in New Braunfels in an apparent effort to end his life.
Texas Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Robbie Barrera said a woman in her 80s was also run down near Manor that same weekend as she walked along the 20700 block of Ed Acklin Road. Barrera said her agency doesnâ€™t investigate as many pedestrian deaths as the Austin police, but the incidents are a problem in surrounding counties and often involve distracted driving or alcohol.
According to Austin police data, the number of pedestrian deaths in Austin reached 26 in 2012, then dropped for two consecutive years â€” to 22 in 2013 and 14 in 2014. In 2015, that number shot up to 29.
Other large Texas cities have seen upticks in pedestrian deaths in 2016:
â€¢ Dallas recorded a total of 46 pedestrian deaths in 2015. By Dec. 15 of this year, 47 pedestrians had been killed, according to Dallas police.
â€¢ San Antonio, which has a population of just over 1.4 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, saw a more significant increase through mid-December. San Antonio police recorded 50 pedestrian fatalities within its city limits through Dec. 12. The total for the same time in 2015 was 37.
The Texas Department of Transportation also recorded an increase in pedestrian deaths statewide in 2016. According to TxDOT records, 623 pedestrians have been killed so far on Texas roads in 2016, up from 559 in 2015.