Deadly northeast Austin hit-and-run sparks safety concerns on busy road

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — After an early Monday morning deadly hit-and-run on Cameron Road, some bicyclists said it’s time the city improves the road.

“Lots of traffic through a pretty narrow space,” said Nick Mahlburg, longtime bicyclists and employee at The Peddler Bike Shop in Hyde Park.

The City of Austin’s Transportation Department is working on potential improvements to Cameron and Dessau roads, stretching from 51st Street near Interstate 35 north to Rundberg Lane, and then along Dessau up to Parmer Lane. It’s a total of seven miles.

In November, transportation officials held a listening session and posted an interactive map online to learn what enhancements the community are interested in.

At present, people report a lack of turn signals and traffic backups are their biggest concerns. Others said a protected bicycle lane would be helpful.

Mahlburg said he doesn’t always agree with a protected bike lane, but if it helps improve safety while maintaining access, he’s for it.

“I don’t think all the problems of Cameron Road would be fixed with just a bike lane, either. I think it comes down to further causes like congestion, the amount of traffic, the lack of infrastructure,” he said.

City transportation officials said Cameron Road is a high-injury network, which means it’s known for its serious and deadly crashes. Between 2014 and 2018, there were 348 crashes along the stretch of Cameron Road and Dessau Road the city is proposing improving, according to the Texas Department of Transportation’s Crash Reporting Information System (CRIS).

Of those nearly 350 crashes, eight involved a person riding a bicycle with seven being killed in the last five years. Three of the seven deaths were pedestrians.

Mahlburg hopes the city improves the road soon.

“Move as quickly as they can because I think Cameron is a crisis zone,” Mahlburg said.

Transportation officials said under the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan (ASMP) a goal is set to reach a “50/50 share of drive-alone trips to other modes such as transit, shared car, walking and bicycling, all in service to a safer, more balanced, efficient and cost-effective transportation system for everyone.”

At present, there is a an online survey the public can fill out. The next public meeting is scheduled for February.

On Tuesday, the city’s Bicycle Advisory Council (BAC) is expected to get an update from transportation officials on the project’s latest.

Christopher Heathcott, a BAC chair shared his thoughts in a statement to KXAN reading in part he is, “deeply saddened that another bicyclist was the victim of traffic violence in Austin, this time on Cameron Road.”

I am further saddened in knowing that more people have died in traffic accidents this year than at the same time last year. Traffic deaths and severe injuries on our roads are unacceptable and preventable. Enforcement of penalties for speeding and distracted or impaired driving is necessary but insufficient. More importantly, we must design safer streets.

Christopher Heathcott, Bike Advisory Council chairperson

Heathcott said the Cameron Road corridor is important “for bicycling and is designated part of the planned All Ages and Abilities Network described in The City of Austin Bicycle Master Plan. Among other design treatments, this road urgently needs bike lanes with physical barriers to help protect bicyclists and pedestrians from motor vehicles. The City should design, fund, and construct protected bike lanes as soon as possible.”

The BAC chair also discusses speed as a crash factor sharing statistics from the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) which states, “the fatality rate of a collision between a pedestrian and an automobile traveling 30-35 MPH is 45%, yet if the speed was reduced to 20-25 mph, then the fatality rate drops to 5%.”

In the statement, Heathcott said, “Accordingly, many US cities such as Boston, Portland, Seattle, New York, and others have reduced speed limits citywide, most to 25 MPH maximum, and some are now pursuing 20 MPH maximum. While Austin City Council recently voted to slightly lower the speed limits on certain roads, we need a citywide speed limit reduction.

Safety and preservation of human life for all users of our roads, especially those who are most vulnerable, should be our highest priority.”

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