San Antonio Calls for Safer Streets With Vision Zero

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Mayor Ivy Taylor leads the Vision Zero Safety Pledge with Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) during the Vision Zero kickoff event on Sept. 15, 2015. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Mayor Ivy Taylor (center, left) leads the Vision Zero Safety Pledge with Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (center, right) during the Vision Zero kickoff event on Sept. 15, 2015. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Tuesday marked the official launch of San Antonio’s Vision Zero, a multi-national awareness and educational initiative that calls for zero traffic fatalities. It’s a lofty goal, but proponents of the plan say these deaths, especially those of pedestrians, are preventable accidents that can be systematically addressed with infrastructure and safety education.

Last year 54 pedestrians were killed while walking in San Antonio, an average of one death per week. To pay tribute to those individuals, 54 people stood on the steps of City Hall as Mayor Ivy Taylor, Council members, and City staff launched the initiative.

Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) wears a Vision Zero shirt in support of having zero pedestrian fatalities in San Antonio. Photo by Joan Vinson.

Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5) wears a Vision Zero shirt in support of having zero pedestrian fatalities in San Antonio. Photo by Joan Vinson.

“We suffer human losses because of culture and public policy decisions that have resulted in the built environment we have today,” said Councilmember Shirley Gonzales (D5), who has long advocated for more City investment in complete street, or multimodal, infrastructure and led the Council’s backing of Vision Zero.

According to the ethos of Vision Zero, individuals and roadway design should share the burden of ensuring safe passage. Priority is often given to vehicles, leaving pedestrians and cyclists to fend for themselves in an environment built for tires and steel.

“We have a high number of traffic fatality rates because we have a fundamentally dangerous environment,” Gonzales said.

Aside from infrastructure like better sidewalks and safer street crossings, the City is looking into reducing speed limits to create a safer environment for those walking and bicycling.

“We’ve made and continue to make policy decisions and direct City staff to construct projects that keep everyone and every mode of transportation in mind,” Mayor Taylor said.

The fiscal year (FY) 2016 budget, passed on Sept. 10, includes maintenance and improvements for sidewalks, school zones, and streets. Compared to last year’s budget, the City increased sidewalk improvements by $10 million and increased street maintenance by $20 million, bringing the total to $65 million. The FY 2016 budget also includes $1 million for safety enhancements around schools including new school zone signs, flashing beacons, and pavement marking improvements.

San Antonio has 4,000 miles of sidewalks in place, and the increase in funding will focus on improving and building the paths from neighborhoods to schools. To make crossing the street safer and more comfortable, the City will create islands in the middle of the street as a “safe haven” for pedestrians.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) attended the Vision Zero launch. Photo by Joan Vinson.

City Manager Sheryl Sculley, Councilmember Rebecca Viagran (D3) and Councilmember Joe Krier (D9) attended the Vision Zero launch. Photo by Joan Vinson.

San Antonio’s population is expected to increase by 1 million by 2040, and with more people comes more cars. As congestion increases, alternative modes of transportation like walking and cycling will become more attractive, which could lead to a decrease in traffic fatalities. That is, if the infrastructure is in place to support foot and bike traffic.

“To be able to accommodate (the one million people) we can’t build enough roads for all of their cars so we are going to need to offer alternative modes of transportation,” said City Manager Sheryl Sculley.

SA Tomorrow, the City’s comprehensive plan to accommodate the influx of people, is divided into three segments, one of which addresses transportation. The Multimodal Transportation Plan, includes all modes of transportation – including walking.

The SA Tomorrow planning process is the future of San Antonio’s built environment.

“The work being done through SA Tomorrow is critical,” she said. “We can achieve Vision Zero only if the built environment is consistent with safe street design.”

In addition to Vision Zero, Mayor Taylor accepted U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s “Mayors’ Challenge for Safer People and Safer Streets.” The effort includes utilizing a “complete streets” approach, to street design, a policy that San Antonio adopted in 2011.

“I was pleased to see that many of the components include actions that the city has already been working on to enhance our safety,” Mayor Taylor said.

Taylor recognized the effort Gonzales has put into the Vision Zero initiative.

“She’s become an ambassador for pedestrian and bicyclists safety,” Mayor Taylor said.

In June, Gonzales wrote an article for the Rivard Report titled, “Vision Zero: Making San Antonio’s Streets Safe.” Her husband, Kevin Barton, is also a strong proponent for Vision Zero.

Of the 54 pedestrians that died in San Antonio, 94% were 18 and older, one in three were 40-60 years old, and 74% of the fatalities happened between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m.

“These fatalities are preventable, they are not inevitable,” Gonzales said, adding there are U.S. cities with one-third the traffic fatality rates of San Antonio. Tokyo, she said, has a fatality rate one-tenth that of San Antonio.

 

 

*Top image: Mayor Ivy Taylor leads a Vision Zero safety pledge on the steps of City Hall. Photo by Joan Vinson. 

Related Stories:

Vision Zero: Making San Antonio’s Streets Safe

Achieving Vision Zero Through Comprehensive Planning

Bringing Vision Zero (Pedestrian Deaths) to San Antonio

25 Mph Speed Limit Would End Pedestrian Fatalities

  • Kevin Barton

    San Antonio’s announcement of their commitment to Vision Zero is an important first step, but the focus announced today and the literature available on CoSA’s website misses the mark.

    I believe strongly in the need for greater safety for people who walk and ride bikes, but Vision Zero is not limited to just pedestrian and cycling safety. Narrowing Vision Zero to just those interests misses the safety interests for people in cars. Narrowing the focus of Vision Zero will result in a less effective effort not only for people in cars, but also for pedestrians and cyclists.

    Just today mysanantonio republished their list of San Antonio’s most dangerous streets. The list is not at all surprising. Any casual survey would very likely turn up the same list of streets. Technically, not streets, but highways and arterials.

    The list looks like this: Culebra, SH 16, US 281, US 90, Loop 1604, IH-35, IH-10, and IH-410.

    A Vision Zero effort that focuses on educating road users about pedestrian safety will fail to address these dangerous roads. However, a Vision Zero effort that does address these dangerous roads cannot avoid acknowledging the fundamental flaws in these road designs that lead to deaths and serious injuries. Recognizing those flaws and prioritizing safety over mobility will lead to a built environment that is safer not only for drivers, but for all road users, and creates a higher quality urban environment.

    Yesterday the MPO approved a $532 million expansion of US 281. That expansion is an $80 million per mile sprawl subsidy that will result in more deaths on US 281. A Vision Zero effort that leads policymakers to question public investment in road designs that have consistently proven to be the deadliest in the city is far more valuable than the effort launched today. A Vision Zero effort that rejects a $532 million sprawl subsidy and instead spends that money building sidewalks and rebuilding our existing dangerous roads is the Vision Zero effort that is needed to end traffic fatalities and serious injuries.

  • Todd

    I have said it before and I will say it again. This is a people problem more than an infrastructure problem. Yes, we need more bike lanes and sidewalks in many areas but we will never have 0 pedestrian fatalities in San Antonio because we have too many people who like to walk in the streets! I see it all of the time – people walking in the streets right next to a perfectly good sidewalk. As well , I see people casually crossing intersections with “don’t’ walk” signs flashing all of the time. These people need education. Even when crossing a street legally it is in one’s best interest to get across the street as quick as possible not lolly-gagging like most people I see.