Pedestrians cross Navarro Street at College Street.
Pedestrians cross Navarro Street at College Street. Pedestrian fatalities accounted for more than 25% of vehicle-related deaths in 2019. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

San Antonio’s traffic fatalities need some serious attention.

Roughly 4,480 people were killed on Texas roads in 2021, making it the second deadliest year on record. Speeding, alcohol and distracted driving are just some of the causes of increasing fatality rates in Bexar County.

The Federal Highway Administration designates San Antonio as a “Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Focus City” because it has one of the highest pedestrian fatality rates in the United States. The traffic fatality rate was 9.76 fatalities per 100,000 population in 2019, with pedestrians making up more than a quarter of fatalities.

This comes at a time when traffic fatalities are reaching new highs across the country.  U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has stated, “The status quo is unacceptable,” and that “zero is the only acceptable number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways.“ Likewise, Congress has introduced House Resolution 565 expressing the desire to “reduce traffic fatalities to zero by 2050.”

While the loss of life is always a tragedy, this is also an economic issue. According to a 2011 study by the American Automobile Association, the economic cost of accidents is over three times that of traffic congestion. In San Antonio, the study estimated the cost of traffic accidents to be nearly seven times the costs of congestion, or $4.3 billion per year in 2009.

In 2019, the Texas Transportation Commission adopted a goal of a 50% reduction in fatalities on Texas roads by 2035, reaching zero fatalities by 2050. Locally, the City of San Antonio and the Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Association have active Vision Zero efforts but apparently without any target dates for reaching the goal.  

One important area for change is roadway design. For decades, the roadways were designed to permit more motor vehicles to travel faster. Clearly, a new design philosophy is needed to make roads safer, particularly for other roadway users like pedestrians and cyclists. 

Fortunately, San Antonio is home to several colleges and universities known for producing new ideas. Further, when it comes to roadway design, university campuses are good places to innovate. Universities do not have to follow all the same facility decision-making and funding processes that the City of San Antonio does, for example. Particularly when it comes to pedestrian safety, college campuses are a good demonstration environment.

UTSA, for example, has introduced the raised crosswalk as part of its main campus roadway system. Raised crosswalks are flat, raised areas covering the surface area of a crosswalk. It’s a combination of a speed bump and an accessible pedestrian crosswalk. With the crosswalk elevated, pedestrians are more visible to motorists. People who have difficulty walking, seeing, or are in a wheelchair can avoid the ups and downs of curb cuts. 

Importantly, raised crosswalks slow down motor vehicles to speeds more appropriate for a pedestrian and bicycle environment. This is an extremely effective approach to reducing pedestrian accidents. As speed increases so do both the likelihood of being involved in a crash and the severity of injuries sustained in a crash.

Raised crosswalks are hardly a panacea since they are only recommended for roads with speed limits of 30 mph or less and relatively light traffic. Raised crossings should generally be avoided on bus, truck and emergency routes as well as arterial streets. 

While raised crosswalks are found in other U.S. cities and other countries, the only example in San Antonio may be at the Main Campus of UTSA. The Federal Highway Administration maintains a clearinghouse of the crash reductions associated with various traffic safety countermeasures. Raised crosswalks have been found to reduce all crashes by 30%-36% and those crashes involving just a pedestrian and a vehicle by 46%. Because they are so effective in reducing accidents at intersections, the City of New York is planning to expand the number of raised crosswalks from 17 to 100 this year.

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Bill Barker

Bill Barker is recognized as a fellow by both the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the American Institute of Certified Planners.