AUSTIN (KXAN) — A busy stretch of West Oltorf Street in south Austin is now lined with 100 bright yellow yard signs advising drivers to “slow down.”
The new signage went up earlier this week between South First Street and South Lamar Boulevard thanks to a neighborhood initiative led by Janet Mash. She said she sought to do something about people driving too fast on Oltorf after the driver of an SUV struck her 19-year-old son while riding his bicycle last year and then left the scene.
“He is a dog walker in the morning, and he was coming down Fifth Street. He turned onto Oltorf, and an SUV hit him and carried him on the hood of his car for about a block,” Mash explained. “When he got from Fifth to Fourth, he flew off the hood of the car and rolled. Somebody saw it and called an ambulance.”
Mash said she could only feel grateful her son survived the hit and run, and wheels began turning about what she and her neighbors, like Steven Rivas, could do to address speeding concerns in their neighborhood.
“This is neighborhood activism at its finest, right?” Rivas said. “We’ve tried to get city hall’s attention. They’re busy. We have a lot of faith in Austin Transportation and Austin Police, but sometimes you’ve just got to put a sign outside and get some people’s attention.”
According to online data provided by the Austin Transportation Department (ATD), the stretch of Oltorf between First and Lamar saw two fatal crashes and four wrecks resulting in serious injuries since the start of 2018. Jack Flagler, an ATD spokesperson, said the agency is looking into solutions to reduce bad crashes in this area.
“Reducing high-risk speeding on Austin’s streets is a critical part of the City’s Vision Zero strategy to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities resulting from traffic crashes,” Flagler said in a statement. “It is even more crucial as we experience a local and nationwide crisis of rising numbers of people dying in vehicle crashes.”
Later this spring, Flagler said crews will begin work on improvements like adding curve warning signs, advisory speed signs, raised pavement marks and refreshed striping. He also noted ATD classified Oltorf between Lamar and Pleasant Valley Road as part of its High-Injury Network, which includes city streets where the highest concentration of serious injuries and fatal crashes happen in Austin.
He said ATD staff members will look into putting up electronic speed signs called Dynamic Speed Display Devices along Oltorf. Recently, the city started rotating 14 of these signs throughout areas as another way to alert drivers and reduce the risk of serious wrecks.
Hearing about these projects coming to her neighborhood does give Mash some encouragement.
“I’d be happy with anything they did to help slow down traffic on Oltorf,” Mash said.
However, Rivas said he would like to see a larger police presence in the area to further deter speeders. He’d like officers to add patrols in the stretch of West Oltorf near his home. KXAN reached out Thursday afternoon to the Austin Police Department about this idea, but no response has been shared yet about any potential plans for a targeted traffic operation there.
“We just want the city to help us make this corridor safer for us and all the visitors that are coming into town,” Rivas said.
Neighbors said they specifically chose this week to place all the “slow down” signs through their neighborhood, because they wanted tourists to pump their brakes while visiting Austin for South by Southwest. They said they never intended for these signs to be permanent, so they plan to leave them up another two weeks, so families returning from spring break will see them next and reconsider how fast they’re going.
Flagler with ATD also said the “slow down” signs appear to all be placed on private property, so they’re allowed to remain on display as long as neighbors want to keep them in place.