The City of Austin is currently seeking public feedback on a proposed one-year pilot program for safety improvements on Barton Springs Road after an increasing number of recent crashes caused by excessive vehicle speed, and it’s important that you offer your support to this effort — the unsafe traffic patterns incentivized by the design of this road at the pedestrian-heavy gateway of Zilker Park speak for themselves:
A severe crash on Barton Springs Road occurred in April 2022. A driver traveling westbound at over 50 mph on Barton Springs Road collided into another driver who was turning left at Sterzing Street. The impact of the collision sent the second driver’s vehicle into a crowd of people who were on the sidewalk, resulting in 10 serious injuries.
City staff have analyzed safety data and collected motor vehicle operations data for this segment of Barton Springs Road. Over a recent five-year period, from May 2018 through April 2023, there were 241 documented crashes on Barton Springs Road, 81 of which have full crash reports.
On average, a vehicle-related crash happened every 7.5 days over that five-year period. The comprehensive crash cost for this section of the roadway just under one mile long over the past five years is $19,210,000.
Piloted under the guidance of the Austin Transportation and Public Works Department, the program will gather data on street safety after installing a number of simple and easily reversible design changes to the section of Barton Springs Road between South Lamar Boulevard and Stratford Drive — a region heavily navigated by pedestrians and cyclists as a route to Zilker Park, with the restaurants and bars along this stretch also serving as a major attraction for tourists and locals alike.
The major intervention of this plan, and the one that will most need your firm public support, is the reduction of vehicle lanes to one in each direction between Azie Morton Road and South Lamar Boulevard. This creates additional space for physically protected bike lanes, shorter pedestrian crossings, and other proposed features like safer left turns and relocated bus stops.
Although reducing lanes is always a hard sell for drivers, it’s important to point out to skeptics that this isn’t just a cyclist’s fantasy or even a particularly radical experiment — these are practical, evidence-based design solutions proven to increase road safety based on a substantial body of research by organizations like the Federal Highway Administration, which has determined that these methods can reduce crashes by up to 47 percent, along with reducing speeds and improving mobility for all road users. The plan for Barton Springs is expected to maintain the corridor’s vehicle capacity and not significantly harm traffic flow, according to the city’s own studies of the area:
In the proposed design, motor vehicle capacity along Barton Springs Road would be maintained by keeping all existing lanes at the intersection of South Lamar Boulevard and keeping both eastbound lanes at Azie Morton Road. Motor vehicle capacity along Barton Springs Road is determined by the South Lamar Boulevard intersection since South Lamar Boulevard has heavier traffic and receives more of the signal time than Barton Springs Road at the intersection.
In the westbound direction, after the South Lamar intersection, Barton Springs Road would merge into a single lane until it opens back to two lanes near Lou Neff Road. In the eastbound direction, after the Azie Morton Road intersection, Barton Springs Road would merge into a single lane until it opens back up well before South Lamar Boulevard. Kinney Avenue is a minor intersection that carries lower traffic volumes, so a single through-lane plus dedicated left-turn lanes on Barton Springs Road accommodate all motor vehicle volumes.
— Austin Transportation and Public Works Department
While the city has prepared extensive documentation explaining the features of the pilot program you should definitely spend some time reading, what’s really important is that you fill out the public survey on the plan before June 30, and offer your support for the features described here. There will likely be opposition to this plan, like always — but once these improvements are implemented, we promise that it will be difficult to imagine a Barton Springs Road without them.