A man crosses Navarro Street at the East Houston Street intersection.
A man crosses Navarro Street at the East Houston Street intersection. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

This month, the San Antonio Police Department will step up enforcement efforts at several dangerous major intersections throughout the city to increase awareness of road safety at a time when traffic fatalities have climbed.

SAPD officers will be looking for drivers who run red lights, make improper left turns, follow too closely, fail to yield, speed, and, of course, drive while distracted by a cellular device.

Drivers who break the law could receive a ticket – starting at $152 for intersection-type traffic violations and more than $200 for speeding – or a specially made pamphlet explaining the importance of being mindful of vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle traffic around them.

“Officers have the discretion to issue warnings or citations based on the nature of the offense,” SAPD Chief William McManus told the Rivard Report via email. But the main focus of the campaign, launched Tuesday morning, “is to educate the public on the importance of vehicle safety and the positive steps that can be taken by every individual to reduce injuries and deaths on the roadway.”

The awareness campaign, funded through a $160,000 grant from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), is administered through the City’s Vision Zero initiative and SAPD. The City provided an additional 20 percent, or about $40,000, in matching funds for the campaign, said Art Reinhardt, assistant director of the City’s Transportation and Capital Improvements (TCI) Department.

TCI developed the pamphlet, in both English and Spanish, that features crash statistics and information about common types of crashes and how to avoid them, Reinhardt said. For example, “if someone is driving 20 miles an hour and hits a pedestrian – they have a one in 10 chance of dying,” he said. “If they’re going 40 [miles per hour], there’s a one in 10 chance they’ll survive.”

SAPD officers also will distribute the pamphlets to drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians who are not involved in crashes or violations, Reinhardt said, as they encounter members of the community who might be interested in traffic safety.

The Vision Zero initiative’s goal is to prevent all roadway deaths and serious injuries. The national program was brought to San Antonio in September 2015 by Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5). Despite its adoption, however, serious crashes are on the rise in the city.

“I do believe that [the campaign] will make a difference,” Gonzales told the Rivard Report. “It’s a huge endeavor to change our culture … and we’ve had a terrible year so far.”

About 162 people are killed on San Antonio roads every year, according to a City news release. The City also stated that in the first six months of the year, traffic-related fatalities were up 44 percent from the same period in 2017.

To determine which intersections to focus on, Reinhardt said, TCI and SAPD worked with University of Texas at San Antonio researchers to find intersections with a lot of traffic and high rates of crashes and traffic violations.

SAPD Traffic Detail officers will spearhead the campaign, McManus said. “A minimum of four officers will be assigned to work the various assignments.”

Another facet of the campaign is to improve internal reporting on traffic incidents, Reinhardt said.

“It’s critical to the transportation industry to try to understand why crashes happen,” he said.

In a video that will be shown to SAPD officers during daily roll call, McManus said the two most common causes of crashes are speeding and distracted driving.

“Major traffic violations are real crimes and have serious consequences,” he said in the video. “And crash reports? Well, that data is used to determine where our roads are most dangerous and what needs to be improved. Properly coded data makes it easier to analyze each and every crash – and with 50k crashes annually, that’s a lot to analyze.

“It’s critical that we fill these [reports] out thoroughly and correctly. Make sure that all contributing factors [to a crash are] are listed.”

Meanwhile, it’s still important to continue to fund traffic-calming measures in street projects citywide, Gonzales said. “There’s $450 million in streets and $89 million just for sidewalks” in the 2017 bond.

Projects and policies that lead to the reduction of time people spend driving their cars is key, too, she said. “I think that real change will come when we start to address city form” and urban design so that residents can live, work, and play in closer proximity.

As for the timing of the campaign, McManus said, TxDOT’s grant required that it be spent by the end of the fiscal year. 

“However, given the importance of the message, we felt it would be most impactful to launch this campaign in the summer prior to the start of the school year to serve as a reminder of our shared responsibility to promote traffic safety,” he said.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...